Over the last five to seven years social capital has started to get on the public agenda.
Many people are not familiar with the term social capital. In everyday
language we speak about the social fabric rather than social capital.
Some of the reasons why social capital is being publicly discussed are:
What is Social Capital?
Social capital is the raw material of civil society. It is created from the myriad of everyday interactions between people. It is not located within the individual person or within the social structure, but in the space between people. It is not the property of the organisation, the market or the state, though all can engage in its production.
Social capital is a ‘bottom-up’ phenomenon. It originates with people forming social connections and networks based on principles of trust, mutual reciprocity and norms of action.
The term social capital was first used in the 1980s by Bourdieu and Coleman.
Robert Putnam - Prompting international discussion
Wide discussion of social capital was prompted after the publication in 1993 of Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy by Robert Putnam. Putnam summarises some of his work:
“ Similar to the notions of physical and human capital, the term social capital refers to features of social organization -- such as networks, norms, and trust that increase a society's productive potential....
Beginning in 1970, Italians established a nationwide set of potentially powerful regional governments. They were virtually identical in form, but the social, economic, political, and cultural contexts in which they were implanted differed dramatically ranging from the pre-industrial to the post-industrial and from the inertly feudal to the frenetically modern.
Some of the new governments proved
to be dismal failures inefficient
historical record strongly suggests that the successful
were civic, not the
other way round.
The social capital
embodied in norms and networks
of civic engagement seems
to be a precondition
development as well as for
Eva Cox - Promoting Australian discussion
In Australia Eva Cox generated considerable discussion of social capital through her 1995 Boyer Lectures . In the Boyer Lectures she said:
“ There are four major capital measures, one of which takes up far too much policy time and space at present. This is financial capital. physical capital makes it onto the agenda because of the environmental movement. So there are fierce debates on trees, water, coal and what constitutes sustainable development. Some types of physical capital and financial capital deplete with overuse, or become scarce or too expensive. We occasionally mention human capital - the total of our skills and knowledge but rarely count its loss in unemployment.
There has been too little attention paid to social capital... Social capital refers to the processes between people which establish networks, norms, social trust and facilitate co-ordination and co-operation for mutual benefit. These processes are also known as social fabric or glue, but I am deliberately using the term 'capital' because it invests the concept with the reflected status from other forms of capital. Social capital is also appropriate because it can be measured and quantified so we can distribute its benefits and avoid its losses.'
We increase social capital by working together voluntarily in egalitarian organisations. Learning some of the rough and tumble of group processes also has the advantages of connecting us with others. We gossip, relate and create the warmth that comes from trusting. Accumulated social trust allows groups and organisations, and even nations, to develop the tolerance sometimes needed to deal with conflicts and differing interests....
Social capital should be the pre-eminent and most valued form of any capital as it provides the basis on which we build a truly civil society. Without our social bases we cannot be fully human. Social capital is as vital as language for human society. “
Themes in the Literature
There is a growing literature on social capital, a number of themes are emerging:
Social capital cannot be generated by individuals acting on their own. It depends on a propensity for sociability, a capacity to form new associations and networks.
“ Trust is the expectation that arises within a community of regular, honest and cooperative behaviour, based on commonly shared norms, on the part of other members of that community. Those norms can be about deep ‘value’ questions like the nature of God or justice, but they also encompass secular norms like professional standards and codes of behaviour.” (Fukuyama, 1995: p26).
Other writers have defined trust in other ways. All discussion on social capital includes the notion of trust.
Some people argue that where social capital is high, there is little crime, and little need for formal policing.
On the other hand, where there is a low level of trust and few social norms, people will cooperate in joint action only under formal rules and regulations These have to be negotiated, agreed to, litigated and enforced, sometimes by coercive means, leading to expensive legal transaction costs (Fukyama, 1995).
The commons refers to the creation of pooled community resources, owned by no-one, used by all. The short term self interest of each, if unchecked, would render the common resource overused, and in the long term it would be destroyed. Only where there is a strong ethos of trust, mutuality and effective informal social sanctions against "free-riders" can the commons be maintained indefinitely and to the mutual advantage of all (Putnam, 1993).
Source for above: Based on extracts from “Social Capital: Family Support Services and Neighbourhood and Community Centres in NSW” Paul Bullen and Jenny Onyx, April 1999
Defining Social Capital
While the themes above are consistently mentioned throughout the literature on social capital there are many definitions of social capital.
There are many other definitions. Wendy Stone and Jody Hughes in “What role for social capital in family policy - and how does it measure up?” (July 2000) state:
Social capital can be understood quite simply as networks of social relations characterised by norms of trust and reciprocity. The essence of social capital is quality social relations....Thus, social capital can be understood as a resource to collective action, which may lead to a broad range of outcomes, of varying social scale.
There will be ongoing discussions within the academic community and the wider community about how to define social capital.
A useful paper which summarises much of the academic debate about defining social capital is Ian Winter’s “Major themes and debates in the social capital literature: The Australian connection” which is Chapter 2 in Social capital and public policy in Australia (Australian Institute of Family Studies, 2000).
Bonding social capital
"Bonding social capital refers to the links between like-minded people, or the reinforcement of homogeneity. It builds strong ties, but can also result in higher walls excluding those who do not qualify, American college fraternities being a prominent example of such bonding." (Schuller, Baron, & Field, 2000)
Bridging social capital
capital … refers
Baron, & Field,