“Social capital” is a protean term, meaning different things to different people at different times. In general, it is seen as a measure of community strength, as well as a measure of prevailing norms and culture.
Robert Putnam, the scholar who put social capital on the map, defines it thus in his essay Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital:
“Features of social organization such as networks, norms, and social trust that facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit” (Putnam, 1995).
Here are a few other definitions:
“Networks together with shared norms, values and understandings that facilitate co-operation within or among groups” (OECD, 2001).
“Social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them” (Putnam again, but in 2001).[i]
“The information, trust, and norms of reciprocity inhering in one’s social networks” (Woolcock, 1998).
“Naturally occurring social relationships among persons which promote or assist the acquisition of skills and traits valued in the marketplace” (Loury, 1992).[ii]
There is an important distinction in many of these definitions between norms and networks, or between attitudes and action. These may be related, but they are not the same thing. It is important to be clear in what sense social capital is being conceptualized, defined, and measured before drawing any conclusions, especially for policy.
SOURCE: Richard V. Reeves. “Feeling good or Doing good? Emotional Social capital versus relational Social capital.” The Brookings Institution, April 8, 2019.
Produced by the librarians at the Brotherhood of St Laurence in Melbourne, Australia