What is social capital?

Social capital, principle in social science that includes the ability of individuals to gain benefits and through participation in social networks to find solutions to problems.

Social capital revolves around three dimensions: interconnected networks of relationships between individuals and groups (social connections or social participation), levels of trust characterizing those connections, and wealth or advantages both acquired and transmitted through social links and participation.

A high degree of confidence among network members fosters a sense of mutual responsibility and helps them to achieve common goals more effectively. Social engagement may take place in democratic, private, religious or even workplace contexts. In addition , scholars attach great importance to building social capital through informal social relations, such as families, friends and neighbours.

Social capital is also strengthened by network closure — when individuals know each other in multiple capacities, such as friends, business partners, parents of children of the same generation, and so on.

It has been shown that social capital is of great importance for the welfare of society. Studies have found that social capital levels are correlated with community employment levels, academic success, individual physical health , economic development and immigrant and ethnic enterprise.

Moreover, higher levels of social capital have been shown to lead to lower rates of crime in the society. The theory of social disorganization is useful in helping to understand the connection of social capital to crime.

In short, socioeconomic disadvantages such as economic inequality, high residential mobility, and demographic heterogeneity hinders residents’ ability to be constructive for their community’s benefit and to exert effective social controls. They are distinguished by a low degree of social engagement and mutual trust when the societies are socially divided.

Truncated social networks are not conducive to formulating and implementing consistent concepts and ideas about the community ‘s beliefs, issues and needs, and may potentially undermine control, guardianship, and other forms of informal social control.

Recent research has pointed out that certain negative characteristics of social capital can also be related. While certain types of social capital have positive effects for some social classes, other classes may be negatively affected by the same shapes. Although tightly knit networks make it possible for their members to achieve certain ends, this inner cohesion can limit entry and refuse benefits to non-members.

Strong bonding may also give rise to undue social pressure to conform, compromising personal freedoms. Members who constitute the majority have the ability to follow their own goals, while individuals who refuse to comply with the rules will be in the place of outsiders.

Many people believe an organization’s success — whether that’s society as a whole or a single group — depends on the degree of social capital available. Therefore social capital has always been synonymous with economic change. But it isn’t always real. While social capital has distinct advantages, it can be used for either constructive or destructive purposes.

Nefarious groups like gangs and drug cartels often use social capital to cement ties within the group and to attract new members. A group of corporate executives can likewise collude in manipulating and selling prices to push out the competition. The presence of such groups will diminish the social capital of a community or city as a whole. Residents and local businesses are struggling, and potential clients are leaving the city.

Check out my related post: How do we make cities sustainable?

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