Handbooks of Research Methods and Applications series
Edited by Yaojun Li
Chapter 1: Social capital in sociological research: conceptual rigour and empirical application
In the past two decades, the concept of social capital has captured the imagination and attention of social science researchers and policy-makers more than many other sociological constructs, with the number of publications in this area increasing exponentially (Halpern, 2005; Field, 2008). The concept is used not only in sociology and political sciences, but also in education, economics, business and management, epidemiology, community cohesion, immigrant integration, poverty and crime reduction, race and ethnicity relations, health and life satisfaction research and, indeed, in almost all social science disciplines. This is hardly surprising, as social capital is fundamentally concerned with resources embedded in social relations and as social science research in the various disciplines seeks to discover the dynamics between agency and structure, that is, how individuals and communities resort to, or are constrained by, resources in their relations as they try to solve personal and collective problems. As Portes (1998) observes, the concept of social capital is probably the best example of a sociological construct being ‘exported’ to other disciplines. While the continued interest in and the application of social capital as a tool in social science research is evidence of its vitality, there is also a risk that it is becoming over-general (Fine, 2002). Within sociology and political sciences, scholars in this field of research tend to work in one of the two traditions, instrumental or civic, as exemplified by Lin and Putnam (Lin, 2001, 2008; Putnam, 2000, 2002).