Answers to Frequently Asked Questions about Social Capital
[for more in depth information on Social Capital visit www.ksg.harvard.edu/saguaro/

What does “social capital” mean?
Why the name "Saguaro Seminar"?
How does social capital work?
What are some examples of social capital?
What has been happening to Social Capital in America in last 2-3 decades?
What caused the decline?
What is the role of the internet in all this?
Aren’t some forms of social capital increasing? [Things like youth soccer, evangelical religion, etc.]
How can we build social capital?
Is all social capital good?
Isn’t social capital too diverse to be captured in one term?
Are all forms of social capital good for all purposes?
What are the different types of social capital?
Why is social capital important?
Why Measure Social Capital?
How can social capital be decreasing when the non-profit sector is booming?
I’ve heard a lot of controversy over whether Putnam and the “Bowling Alone” thesis is right. Is our civic disengagement a point of agreement?
Is volunteering increasing?
How does social capital compare with asset-based development?
How social capital measurement compares with sustainable development?
Is social capital building an end in itself or a means to an end?
What is the role of government in all this? Is government our curse or our salvation?
Do the trends of social disengagement differ by race?
Does the social capital decline impact economic classes differently?

What does “social capital” mean?
Social networks have value – that is the central premise of social capital. Social capital refers to the collective value of all “social networks” [who people know] and the inclinations that arise from these networks to do things for each other [“norms of reciprocity”].

Why the name "Saguaro Seminar "?
The saguaro [pronounced sah-WAH-ro] is a cactus that grows in the Sonoran desert in the Southwestern United States. There are rich parallels between the saguaro and social capital (or civic engagement). Saguaros were for some time undervalued by modern American society and often razed. Saguaros are bellwether indicators of the health of the ecosystem. The saguaro also plays the role of welcoming host for an environmentally-rich community: vines grow on its trunk; birds make nests in the saguaro; Native Americans have lived off its fruit and celebrate its blossoms in festivals; and animals use saguaro for precious shade. Saguaros have an invisible root system that is multiples of the visible height of the cacti. And like most social capital, saguaros grow slowly (husbanding what nourishment the ecosystem provides) and are tough, long-term survivors.

Seminar, meaning a set of meetings for the exchange of ideas in an area, comes from the Latin seminarium which means a seed plot or a nursery.

How does social capital work?
The term social capital emphasizes not just warm and cuddly feelings, but a wide variety of quite specific benefits that flow from the trust, reciprocity, information, and cooperation associated with social networks. Social capital creates value for the people who are connected and – at least sometimes – for bystanders as well. Social capital works through multiple channels:
a) information flows (e.g. about jobs, AIDS, college, etc.) depend on social capital
b) norms of reciprocity (mutual aid) are dependent on social networks.
· Bonding networks sustain particularized (in-group) reciprocity.
· Bridging networks sustain generalized reciprocity.
c) Collective action depends upon social networks (e.g., the role that the black church played in the civic rights movement) although collective action can also foster new networks.
d) Broader identities and solidarity are encouraged by social networks that help translate an “I” focus into a “we”.

What are some examples of social capital?
When a group of neighbors informally keep an eye on one another's homes, that's social capital in action. When a tightly knit community of Hassidic Jews trade diamonds without having to test each gem for purity, that's social capital in action. Barn-raising on the frontier was social capital in action, and so too are e-mail exchanges among members of a cancer support group. Social capital can be found in friendship networks, neighborhoods, churches, schools, bridge clubs, civic associations, and even bars. The motto in Cheers*"where everybody knows your name"* captures one important aspect of social capital.

What has been happening to Social Capital in America in last 2-3 decades?
We have found a disconcerting, precipitous decline in social interactions over the last three decades across all forms of social capital--formal and informal, high-minded and leisure, public and private. [A much more thorough exploration of this subject appeared in Robert D. Putnam’s book Bowling Alone, Simon & Schuster (2000). ] We start at the civic epicenter: We are bowling alone. While a record number of Americans bowl today, bowling in organized leagues plunged 40 percent from 1980 to 1993. Lest you think this a trivial factoid, over 25% more Americans (91 million) bowled once or more in 1996 than voted in the 1998 congressional elections.

Our point is not that bowling is critical to America’s future, but that in bowling leagues, fraternal organizations, choral societies and thousands of other places where Americans regularly meet, fellow citizens talk periodically about issues of civic importance and learn to trust others and work together. And alas, these civic watering holes are drying up. Civic do-gooding organizations also have met hard times. The League of Women Voters has lost 42 percent of its members since 1969. In the domain of schools, PTAs nationwide plummeted from a membership high in the early 1960s of almost 50 members per 100 families with school-age children to less than 20 members per 100 in 1997. (This decline can only partly be explained by the movement of parents from the PTA into Parent Teacher Organizations.)

A composite graph of the market share of 30 mainstream civic organizations (i.e., the percentage of Jewish women in Hadassah, the percentage of blacks in the NAACP, the percentage of Catholic men in the Knights of Columbus, the percentage of youth in 4-H, etc.) shows that composite membership market share has dropped from its peak in the early 1960s to levels not seen since just after the Great Depression. And alas, it’s not just these particular organizations. In 1975-76 the average American attended some club meeting once a month. By last year, that figure had dropped 58 percent to only five meetings annually. Almost two-thirds of Americans attended at least one club meeting in 1975-76, but only 38 percent did in 1997-98.

Informal associating also has declined. In 1975, the average American invited friends over more than 14 times yearly. By 1998 that had dropped 60 percent to only eight times a year. Perhaps most alarmingly, the family meal--a ritual practiced for millennia--may within our lifetimes enter the nation’s endangered practices list. The fraction of married Americans who definitely say "our whole family usually eats dinner together” has declined a third, from about 50 percent to 34 percent in just the last two decades, and this decline ignores the rapidly dwindling fraction of intact married couples over this period.

One often hears that we are giving more than ever, even in real dollars, but this is not the relevant statistic. Although philanthropy has doubled since 1960 in real dollars, real spending on cut-flowers has tripled and real spending on all forms of entertainment has nearly quadrupled. We are simply far better off now than then. What is more relevant is how big a share of our income we give to philanthropy; that is, after all, what tithing is all about. And while the share of our national income we gave to philanthropy roughly doubled from 1929 through 1964 (rising almost continuously year to year), it has since dropped by over a third to approximately our 1940 level.

Generalized trust also has evaporated. While 55 percent of American adults in 1960 believed others could be trusted most or all of the time, only 30 percent did in 1998, and the future looks bleaker because the decline was sharpest among our nation’s youth. Roughly three-quarters of Americans trusted government to do the right thing most or all the time in 1960, a figure that sounds quaint today when less than 25 percent trust the government. This disappearance of trust has huge ramifications for our ability to cooperate and work with strangers: a citizen at a town meeting or a new neighbor, businessperson, classmate or teacher.

What caused it?
This is far too complicated a question to consider briefly. The interested reader is referred to Professor Robert Putnam’s forthcoming Bowling Alone. After considering a whole host of reasons, it is most likely that the cause is probably: 10% sprawl and the increased geographic complexity of our lives; 10% two-career families and the fact that men haven’t picked up the civic slack created when more women entered the paid work force; some 30% television (which seems to cause viewers to increasingly be less civic and which has absorbed more than 100% of the increase in leisure time from the 1960s); and roughly 30% generational trends (as those born after 1930 have increasingly been far less civic than those born before 1930). The final roughly 20% is probably a combination of many other factors.

What is the role of the internet in all this?
A much more thorough answer to this question will be found in Professor Putnam’s book Bowling Alone, so this answer will merely scratch the surface.

The internet definitely did not cause our civic disengagement. Our civic disengagement began in roughly 1965 and was well underway when Bill Gates was even in grade school. However, is the internet now a part of the problem or the answer to our civic engagement? Probably both. [We note that predictions of how new technology will come to be used have almost always been way off – the radio was envisioned only for ship-to-ship communication, and the telephone was seen as only a business-to-business communication tool – so any forecast should be taken with many grains of salt.]

It is hard to believe that if America is civicly re-engaged by the year 2020 (and we are hopeful that Americans can do this), that technology won’t have been a significant part of the solution. That said, there are major hurdles to overcome. First, the digital divide means that until access to computers and the internet is universal, it can’t truly be a tool for building diverse ties in American communities. Second, we communicate huge amounts of information non-verbally, and it may be a long long time until our virtual communication is as information-rich as our face to face communication. [Note: even high definition television videoconference conveys far less information than face to face communication and hence is less efficient at building trust.] Third, the technology encourages cyberbalkanization: ever more specialized groups talking about a very specific problem. In such groups individuals are flamed for off-point comments. One of the great virtues of more traditional group get-togethers (like Bowling Leagues) is that no conversation was considered off-point. This makes it much harder for our conversations to have peripheral community vision. It makes us communicate more with those like us who are geographically distant, and thus causes us to know our neighbors less. This is a real concern if we need to rally our neighbors to deal collectively with place-based problems: schools that aren’t working, zoning issues, crime, or even local environmental issues.

Finally, the issue is whether the internet becomes more like a nifty phone or a nifty television: i.e., whether it is used more for enhanced person-to-person communication or more for enhanced entertainment. There are many incentives for industry to steer the internet towards a nifty TV and if so, this could have far more negative impact on civic engagement than even the TV.

Most experts agree that if technology is to succeed, it will have to be used to reinforce face to face ties. We think that this issue of technology and civic engagement is a critical one and we hope that lots of citizens and experts spend a great deal of time thinking about how we can use the technology to do this.

While the technological solutions have not yet emerged, there are already examples of people trying to use the technology to facilitate social capital building. Examples of this can be found at sites like www.egroups.com (that tries to make it far easier to form groups), evite.com (that makes it easier to send invitations for social events), and www.neighborhoodlink.com (that helps neighborhoods communicate electronically). Some groups like www.volunteermatch.org have tried to use the technology to make it much easier to find out about volunteering opportunities. Still other examples that are in development are the creation of neighborhood directories using the latest technology, experiments to residents of poor neighborhoods to get free computers if they share them with neighbors, and software that makes it really easy to form latent groups (mothers of kids in a specific 3rd grade class, state park users, etc.) that one can activate when needed.

Aren’t some forms of social capital increasing? [Things like youth soccer, evangelical religion, etc.]
Yes, some things definitely are increasing and youth soccer, evangelical religion, and youth community service are among them. But it has always been true at any given period that some forms of social capital and social connectedness are increasing while others are waning. The question is what is the net impact on social capital when you add up what's increasing and what's decreasing. And all the examples proffered are small compared to other declines in those same subject areas. For example, evangelical religion is increasing dramatically, but mainline Protestant and Catholic church going is declining even more rapidly. Similarly, while youth soccer is growing, most other forms of youth athletic participation are on the decline. And counter to popular myth, youth soccer has not made up the decline in bowling: bowlers' ranks are roughly triple the number of soccer parents. Even if every soccer mom and dad religiously attended all their children's games, it couldn't make up for the drop in league bowling. In short, some forms of social capital are growing, but simply not enough to stem the decline. [A much more thorough treatment of all the possible counter-examples are explored in Professor Putnam's book Bowling Alone, which finds no evidence of increases in some things commonly asserted to be
countertrends: e.g., book groups, connections at the office, local civic associations, crime watch groups, and eating out other than at fast food restaurants.]

Increases in groups like youth soccer or evangelical religion or youth community service haven't yet reached the magnitude to stem our civic declines, but they may be harbingers of an important civic resurgence that lies below the surface. In addition, they may well yield insights into what kinds of civic or social capital opportunities are attractive. Robert Putnam and Lewis Feldstein's book Better Together: Restoring the American Community (September 2003), discusses 12 promising examples of social capital building across the United States and what can be learned from those examples, in the hopes of catalyzing an increase in our nation's social capital.

How can we build social capital?
We build social capital by creating new ties and strengthening old ones. These connections may increase individual well-being and opportunity by linking people more strongly to their local community and to larger societal resources. Or they may build community by strengthening bonds that link community members or by bridging divisions between them. The new ties may be formal, like a club, association, or civic institution, or informal, like a group of friends talking or colleagues collaborating. There is no limit to the number of specific pathways to social capital creation. How to build social capital in each community, family, block, or neighborhood is best left to community-based groups.

Is all social capital good?
No. Just as some forms of human capital (like knowledge of chemistry) can be used for destructive purposes (like building a bomb), so too some forms of social capital (like the Michigan militia) can have bad social consequences. Fortunately, malevolent uses of human and social capital are relatively rare, which is why we continue to teach chemistry in public schools and why we should continue to try to build social capital.

Isn’t social capital too diverse to be captured in one term?
Capital is an abstract concept that encapsulates huge diversity. Economists wondered whether you could talk about physical capital (which covers everything from a hammer to a computer to an automobile assembly plant). Similarly, human capital covers everything from piano lessons to a vocational course in cooking or automotive repair, to a graduate degree in Philosophy and covers education of widely differing quality. So too, social capital covers a wide diversity of relationships: a team at the workplace, conversations with one’s neighbors, relationships with the teachers of one’s children, an alumni network, people you volunteered with a couple of times. The point in all these cases (physical, human, and social capital) is that these underlying attributes can have real value to society and that someone embedded in social networks that foster reciprocity can be more effective than someone who is not in such networks, the same way as someone possessing physical or human capital can be more effective in a hour than that same person without this physical or human capital.

Are all forms of social capital good for all purposes?
Not all social capital is for everything or everyone. Just as two different forms of physical capital (a screwdriver vs. a hydroelectric dam) are useful for different purposes, so two different forms of social capital (a group of friends at the local bar vs. a group of colleagues at the local bar association) serve different social purposes.

What are the different types of social capital?
We won’t try to summarize all the different types of social capital, but as an indication of some of the ways in which social capital differs, there are social ties stemming from informal networks (ordinary socializing, work-place ties, relationships with neighbors, personal support networks) and those from formal networks, such as being a member of an organization. Group membership in such formal organizations consists of both private-minded organizations (primarily designed to produce fun or fellowship, like a choral society, a baseball league) and public-minded organizations (designed to tackle an issue of public concern, like a crime watch group, or a community service organization).

The social ties produced can be analyzed both according to the strength of those ties (with strong ties being ones that are regularly used, where the individuals consider each other to be very close friends, and which often provide personal support to each other) and weak ties (where the ties are used only occasionally and tend to be used more for the flow of information). Similarly, the ties can be analyzed as to whether they are bridging social capital (bringing individuals together with others who are unlike them, by race, class, ethnicity, education, religion, age, or gender, for example) or whether ties are primarily bonding (that bring individuals together with others like them). [Most groups are bridging in some ways and bonding in others: the Knights of Columbus is bonding in terms of religion (since all the participants are Catholic men) but bridges across dimensions of class and income.]

Why is social capital important?
A growing body of hard-nosed literature over the last several years shows that social capital enables many important individual and social goods. Communities with higher levels of social capital are likely to have higher educational achievement, better performing governmental institutions, faster economic growth, and less crime and violence. And the people living in these communities are likely to be happier, healthier, and to have a longer life expectancy. In places with greater social connectedness, it is easier to mobilize people to tackle problems of public concern (a hazardous waste facility, a crime problem, building a community park, to name only a few examples), and easier to arrange things that benefit the group as a whole (a child-care cooperative among welfare mothers; a micro-lending group that enables poor people to start businesses; or farmers banding together to share expensive tools and machinery).

Why Measure Social Capital?
Quite simply we believe we should measure social capital for 3 reasons:

1) for people who find social capital a difficult, abstract concept, measurement helps make the concept more tangible;
2) it increases our investment in social capital: in a performance-driven era, social capital will be relegated to second-tier status in the allocation of resources, unless organizations can show that their community-building efforts are showing results; and
3) measurement helps funders and community organizations build more social capital. Everything that involves any human interaction can be asserted to create social capital, but the real question is does it build any social capital, and if so, how much? Is a specific part of an organization’s effort worth continuing or should it be scrapped and revamped? Do mentoring programs, playgrounds, or sponsoring block parties lead more typically to greater social capital creation? Measurement will help funders and community organizations increase their mix of activities into more things that are a 9 or a 10 on a 10-point scale of social capital creation, and fewer zeroes, ones or twos.

How can social capital be decreasing when the non-profit sector is booming?
There is simply said no one-to-one relationship between the non-profit sector and social capital. While on the margin, non-profit organizations may be more interested in fostering social capital than for-profit organizations, one can’t conclude that because an organization is non-profit, there is thus a lot of social capital being created. Imagine a non-profit hospital that becomes privatized: it is hard to imagine that suddenly the social capital associated with the organization disappears. Similarly many non-profit membership organizations with regard to social capital among its members are mere check-writing organizations (like the AARP) that are surprisingly devoid of social capital, since its members don’t meet or know each other. Moreover, many forms of social capital (neighborhood block parties, pickup basketball, etc.) don’t rely on non-profit organizations at all. In short, while there are many terrific non-profit organizations that are actively building and strengthening community connectedness, it is a big mistake to conflate non-profit organizations with social capital.

I’ve heard a lot of controversy over whether Putnam and the “Bowling Alone” thesis is right. Is our civic disengagement a point of agreement?
Much of the controversy surrounding “Bowling Alone” the article concerned the fact that the article focused significantly on group memberships and also focused on memberships in specific organizations (the Elks, bowling leagues, the PTAs). Three key criticisms were: 1) that it didn’t include informal schmoozing; 2) didn’t include new more innovative organizations; and 3) didn’t look at the full range of political forms of participation. Professor Putnam knew at that time that these other forms of social capital were equally important, but couldn’t find reliable data source(s) that would tell us about these civic trends over the last 2-3 decades. Since then, he accessed data from the Roper Organization and learned about and got access to the DDB Needham Lifestyle database. Both of these massive data sets, asked of tens or hundreds of thousands of Americans over the last 25 years, directly answer these earlier criticisms and show that these trends of civic disengagement extend both to organizations in general, to informal schmoozing, and to 12 forms of political participation. No academic has called into question the reliability of these data. Since the publication of Bowling Alone (the book), there has been far greater acceptance of the fact that we are less civicly engaged than a generation ago.

Is volunteering increasing?
Yes volunteering has been increasing over the last quarter century. Nevertheless, it is important to look at this increase by age group. More than all the increase is captured by those over age 60 whose volunteering has exploded over the last 25 years (from slightly over 6 times a year on average to well over 10). The vast middle of the population (those 30-59 years of age) are actually slightly less likely to be volunteering now than back in 1975. Finally there is some evidence that the young Americans are slightly more likely to be volunteering than a quarter century ago, even if some of this volunteering is required to graduate from schools.

These stark patterns suggest that it is the senior population that is holding up our volunteering spirit (part of a long civic generation that has been especially civic all their lives, from when they were born in the 1920s and early 1930s all the way through a Great Depression, two World Wars, and up to the current day). Thus, we are facing less of a Springtime of volunteering and more of an Indian Summer of volunteering. Despite advances in modern science, it is only a matter of time until the Grim Reaper removes this population from the stage. And it will take very impressive gains among the remaining parts of the population to make up for their loss since the 30-59 year olds are only volunteering at 60% the rate of the seniors, and the under 30 crowd is only volunteering at 40% the rate of these seniors.

How does social capital compare with asset-based development?
Much of what Kretzman and McKnight term “community assets” are lodestones of social capital. There is obviously significant benefit to their approach, in observing that all communities have social capital assets on which they can build, and in helping communities identify their community assets. It is also the case that many successful grassroots organizing strategies, like the Industrial Areas Foundation, have built upon already existing stores of social capital. Having said this, we also think that it is important to examine whether the amount of social capital in communities is increasing or decreasing, and not to assume that simply because there are community assets, that the stock of social capital is adequate, plentiful, or growing.

How social capital measurement compares with sustainable development?
Sustainable development and sustainable communities typically measure indicators that show the overall health of the community: i.e., looking at measures of the economy, health, crime, in addition to human and social capital levels. We completely agree that a community’s stock of social capital is not the sole measure of a community’s health. Nevertheless, we believe that social capital is important in that it is a key driver for these other indicators (economy, health, crime, etc.) rather than merely a goal in and of itself.

Is social capital building an end in itself or a means to an end?
Often social capital building is not the central activity of a program: a bowling league is about bowling not socializing, choral singing is about music not forming social ties. The social capital built is critical, but often considered incidental to those running such programs. However, if something like a mentoring program is not building social capital, it can’t be succeeding since building these trusting ties is at the heart of what mentoring is all about. Social capital measurement could be used either to see whether a mentoring program is actually working, or to measure how much social capital was being created by a program focused on something other than social capital, such as a tutoring program. The measurement in the latter case could be used to determine how to optimize the program so that it achieves its goal of choral singing, tutoring, or soccer, at the same time as it builds as much social capital as possible.

What is the role of government in all this? Is government our curse or our salvation?
The field of social capital has attracted strange bedfellows: folks on the political right who believe that if we just got government off the backs of the average Joe, we could usher in a civic rebirth, and folks on the political left who believe that social capital building is a clarion call for a new activist role of government.

We think there is no simple one-to-one relationship between government and social capital. There are clear historical examples where government directly caused a decline in social capital: for example, the slum clearance programs in the late 1950s (from which we are still paying the price), or even the rise of government funding of kindergardens which caused an entire movement of supportive and involved mothers to disappear. Conversely there are examples that showcase how government has built more social capital or capitalized on what existed: for example, the development of the county extension service, the key role of postmasters general in curing polio through the March of Dimes, etc. In fact, Prof. Theda Skocpol has written that the postal service in general played a signal role in the nation's early social capital building.

Moreover, if you compare across states or countries of the world, places with a larger government per capita actually have higher levels of social capital. It is hard to determine which way the causation runs; it probably runs in both directions, but if nothing else, it is inconvenient for those who like to demonize the role of government. Probably what’s clear is that government could be aided by a more thoughtful screen on whether government programs are likely to augment or decrease the role of citizens.

Do the trends of social disengagement differ by race?
Yes and no. The declines in social connectedness are an equal opportunity employer. While levels of various forms of social capital differ by race (e.g., religious observance is higher among blacks, and some forms of civic engagement are higher among whites), the trends are down among all races and social classes. More blacks are in the middle class now than a generation ago, but the decline in civic involvement is actually greater among college-educated blacks than in any other group.

Does the social capital decline impact economic classes differently?
Yes. Social capital is more important for poor people than for middle and upper class Americans (who have more financial and human capital). One legacy of slavery is a social capital deficit, especially in bridging social capital. Thus the same objective collapse of social capital has greater impact on the inner city than the suburbs, since the inner city, as Prof. Xavier de Souza Briggs has noted, lacks bridging social capital to the suburbs to enable it to “import clout” that would connect the inner city with job opportunities, political influence, access to capital, etc.

[for more in depth information on Social Capital visit www.ksg.harvard.edu/saguaro/

Bettertogether.org is an initiative of the Saguaro Seminar on Civic Engagement in America
at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.
c/o The Saguaro Seminar, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University
79 JFK Street, Cambridge, MA 02138
Phone: 617-617 495 1148 FAX: 617-495-1589

home | book | report | what you can do | Saguaro Seminar | Contact Us | Email us | Site Map

website design www.LouiseKennedyDesign.com an affiliate of WhiteDogDesign.com
телевизоры samsung