Handbooks of Research Methods and Applications series
Edited by Yaojun Li
Chapter 15: An intervention approach to building social capital: effects on grade retention
Social capital has held great interest for sociologists since its introduction by Bourdieu (1986) and Coleman (1988). The idea is that resources that inhere in social networks serve as a form of capital that can yield advantages to actors or groups able to access these resources. Education is an area in which social capital may be particularly consequential, as individuals use their social networks to navigate and manipulate challenging school situations to their advantage (Horvat et al., 2003). However, testing the impact of social capital is challenging, because social networks are, in part, the product of individual preferences. If individuals have access to social capital as a result of the networks in which they choose to participate, how can we discern whether social capital confers advantages, or whether advantaged individuals seek out one another to form social networks (Mouw, 2006)? In principle, random assignment offers the best way to resolve the selection problem in social research. If we could randomly assign individuals to social capital, we could distinguish the effects of social capital from the effects of selection patterns. Of course, social capital is not subject to random assignment. To overcome this problem, we propose an intervention approach to testing the effects of social capital: we randomly assign schools to an intervention that builds social capital, and then test whether assignment to the intervention improves valued outcomes for children.
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