does "social capital" mean?
The central premise of social capital is that social networks have value. 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"].
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:
flows (e.g. learning about jobs, learning about candidates running for
office, exchanging ideas at college,
etc.) depend on social capital norms of reciprocity (mutual
aid) are dependent on social networks. Bonding networks that connect
folks who are similar sustain particularized (in-group) reciprocity.
Bridging networks that connect individuals who are diverse
sustain generalized reciprocity. Collective action depends upon social
networks (e.g., the role that the black church played in the
civic rights movement) although collective action also can
foster new networks. Broader identities and solidarity are encouraged
by social networks that help translate an "I" mentality
into a "we" mentality.
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.
For more information on social capital, read Chapter
1 of Bowling Alone or see the following.
Potapchuk, William R., Jarle P. Crocker and William
H. Schecter, Jr. "Building Community with Social Capital:
Chits and Chums or Chats with Change." National Civic Review
86, No. 2 (Summer 1997): 129-140.