Social capital

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The notion of social capital has been around for decades. It is with the work of Jane Jacobs (1961), Pierre Bourdieu (1983), James S. Coleman (1988) and Robert D. Putnam (1993; 2000) that it has come into prominence. This is how Putnam (2000: 19) introduces the idea:

Whereas physical capital refers to physical objects and human capital refers to the properties of individuals, social capital refers to connections among individuals – social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them. In that sense social capital is closely related to what some have called “civic virtue.” The difference is that “social capital” calls attention to the fact that civic virtue is most powerful when embedded in a sense network of reciprocal social relations. A society of many virtuous but isolated individuals is not necessarily rich in social capital.

In other words, interaction enables people to build communities, to commit themselves to each other, and to knit the social fabric. A sense of belonging and the concrete experience of social networks (and the relationships of trust and tolerance that can be involved) can, it is argued, bring great benefits to people.

The discussion of social capital in Making Democracy Work, while setting out little that was new or original with regard to the concept, did operationalize it in an interesting way - and made possible the development of the arguments in Bowling Alone.


CONSCISE project

Social Capital consists of resources within communities which are created through the presence of high levels of -

  • trust;
  • reciprocity and mutuality;
  • shared norms of behaviour;
  • shared commitment and belonging;
  • both formal and informal social networks; and
  • effective information channels

- which may be used productively by individuals and groups to facilitate actions to benefit individuals, groups and community more generally.