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PPGPortal > Home > Concept Dictionary > S > Social Capital
 
Social Capital

The degree to which members of a community trust each other and engage in reciprocal relations based on that trust.

(Pal, 2006, p.183)

------------------------

The notion that social capital is a major contributor to effective government and competitive economies is relatively new. Popularized in large measure by American political scientist Robert Putnam, social capital is a subjective concept that takes into account the levels of trust, cooperation, understanding and generosity between individuals and groups, and within communities.  These continually reinforcing 'soft' factors, which enforce a sense of the consistency of behaviour, norms and even application of laws across a society, can have enormous influence in providing the environment to allow institutions and markets to function effectively and efficiently.

The concept that underlies social capital has a much longer history; thinkers exploring the relation between associational life and democracy were using similar concepts regularly by the 19th century, drawing on the work of earlier writers such as James Madison (The Federalist Papers), Alexis de Tocqueville (Democracy in America) to integrate concepts of social cohesion and connectedness into the pluralist tradition in American political science. John Dewey may have made the first direct mainstream use of "social capital" in The School and Society in 1899, though he did not offer a definition.
Social capital lends itself to multiple definitions, interpretations, and uses. David Halpern argues that the popularity of social capital for policymakers is linked to the concept's duality, coming because "it has a hardnosed economic feel while restating the importance of the social." For researchers, the term is popular partly due to the broad range of outcomes it can explain; the multiplicity of uses for social capital has led to a multiplicity of definitions.

In The Forms of Capital (1986) Pierre Bourdieu distinguishes between three forms of capital: economic capital, cultural capital and social capital. He defines social capital as "the aggregate of the actual or potential resources which are linked to possession of a durable network of more or less institutionalised relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition".
James Coleman defines social capital as anything that facilitates individual or collective action, generated by networks of relationships, reciprocity, trust, and social norms. In Coleman’s conception, social capital is a neutral resource that facilitates any manner of action, but whether society is better off as a result depends entirely on the individual uses to which it is put.

Finally, Robert Putnam suggests social capital "refers to the collective value of all 'social networks' and the inclinations that arise from these networks to do things for each other." According to Putnam and his followers, social capital is a key component to building and maintaining democracy. The decline in social capital in the US and elsewhere is seen in lower levels of trust in government and lower levels of civic participation. Putnam also says that television and urban sprawl have had a significant role in making communities far less 'connected'.

The term social capital, while not universally agreed upon, generally refers to the relationships or networks between people in communities, and the resources that permit cooperation between them (Judge, 2003). Three types of social capital - bonding, bridging and linking - together capture the elements of building trust within and across groups.

Engendering positive social capital requires that all three types of social capital are fostered together. Activities that aim to build only bonding social capital between members of the same age group, for example, may only serve to strengthen the cohesion of urban gangs. Likewise, social isolation can result if bridging and linking capital between groups are not built simultaneously, frustrating the potentially positive contribution to conflict resilience (Snoxell, et al., 2006). Such approaches can produce negative social capital - namely, when bonds are formed between groups to produce outcomes that can exacerbate human insecurity.

Building positive social capital between specific groups can be particularly effective in creative problem-solving to foster peace and cohesion at the local level.  In post-conflict environments, people turn to social networks first to provide security and basic services, such as neighbourhood watch groups and garbage collection initiatives (Interpeace, 2006). In Somalia, the Somali Youth Development Network, based in Mogadishu, allows young people to work together in peace-building dialogue and activities (Ali, 2006).

References

Class Lecture. PPG 1001 The Policy Process. University of Toronto School of Public Policy and Governance.
Social Capital. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 24 March 2002, from
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_capital.

Pal, L. (2006). Beyond Policy Analysis: Public Issue Management in Turbulent Times. Third Edition. Toronto: Nelson – Thomson.

Canadian Consortium on Human Security (CCHS) (2007). Human Security for an Urban Century: Local Challenges, Global Perspectives.  Retrieved on July 5, 2008, from
http://humansecurity-cities.org//sites/hscities/files/Human_Security_for_an_Urban_Century.pdf.
     
Social Capital

The degree to which members of a community trust each other and engage in reciprocal relations based on that trust.

(Pal, 2006, p.183)

------------------------

The notion that social capital is a major contributor to effective government and competitive economies is relatively new. Popularized in large measure by American political scientist Robert Putnam, social capital is a subjective concept that takes into account the levels of trust, cooperation, understanding and generosity between individuals and groups, and within communities.  These continually reinforcing 'soft' factors, which enforce a sense of the consistency of behaviour, norms and even application of laws across a society, can have enormous influence in providing the environment to allow institutions and markets to function effectively and efficiently.

The concept that underlies social capital has a much longer history; thinkers exploring the relation between associational life and democracy were using similar concepts regularly by the 19th century, drawing on the work of earlier writers such as James Madison (The Federalist Papers), Alexis de Tocqueville (Democracy in America) to integrate concepts of social cohesion and connectedness into the pluralist tradition in American political science. John Dewey may have made the first direct mainstream use of "social capital" in The School and Society in 1899, though he did not offer a definition.
Social capital lends itself to multiple definitions, interpretations, and uses. David Halpern argues that the popularity of social capital for policymakers is linked to the concept's duality, coming because "it has a hardnosed economic feel while restating the importance of the social." For researchers, the term is popular partly due to the broad range of outcomes it can explain; the multiplicity of uses for social capital has led to a multiplicity of definitions.

In The Forms of Capital (1986) Pierre Bourdieu distinguishes between three forms of capital: economic capital, cultural capital and social capital. He defines social capital as "the aggregate of the actual or potential resources which are linked to possession of a durable network of more or less institutionalised relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition".
James Coleman defines social capital as anything that facilitates individual or collective action, generated by networks of relationships, reciprocity, trust, and social norms. In Coleman’s conception, social capital is a neutral resource that facilitates any manner of action, but whether society is better off as a result depends entirely on the individual uses to which it is put.

Finally, Robert Putnam suggests social capital "refers to the collective value of all 'social networks' and the inclinations that arise from these networks to do things for each other." According to Putnam and his followers, social capital is a key component to building and maintaining democracy. The decline in social capital in the US and elsewhere is seen in lower levels of trust in government and lower levels of civic participation. Putnam also says that television and urban sprawl have had a significant role in making communities far less 'connected'.

The term social capital, while not universally agreed upon, generally refers to the relationships or networks between people in communities, and the resources that permit cooperation between them (Judge, 2003). Three types of social capital - bonding, bridging and linking - together capture the elements of building trust within and across groups.

Engendering positive social capital requires that all three types of social capital are fostered together. Activities that aim to build only bonding social capital between members of the same age group, for example, may only serve to strengthen the cohesion of urban gangs. Likewise, social isolation can result if bridging and linking capital between groups are not built simultaneously, frustrating the potentially positive contribution to conflict resilience (Snoxell, et al., 2006). Such approaches can produce negative social capital - namely, when bonds are formed between groups to produce outcomes that can exacerbate human insecurity.

Building positive social capital between specific groups can be particularly effective in creative problem-solving to foster peace and cohesion at the local level.  In post-conflict environments, people turn to social networks first to provide security and basic services, such as neighbourhood watch groups and garbage collection initiatives (Interpeace, 2006). In Somalia, the Somali Youth Development Network, based in Mogadishu, allows young people to work together in peace-building dialogue and activities (Ali, 2006).

References

Class Lecture. PPG 1001 The Policy Process. University of Toronto School of Public Policy and Governance.
Social Capital. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 24 March 2002, from
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_capital.

Pal, L. (2006). Beyond Policy Analysis: Public Issue Management in Turbulent Times. Third Edition. Toronto: Nelson – Thomson.

Canadian Consortium on Human Security (CCHS) (2007). Human Security for an Urban Century: Local Challenges, Global Perspectives.  Retrieved on July 5, 2008, from
http://humansecurity-cities.org//sites/hscities/files/Human_Security_for_an_Urban_Century.pdf.

Approved for glossaryposting by Ben Eisen on January 2, 2011


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