Chapter 66: Social Capital
John Field The debate over social capital is rich with ethical dimensions. Although precise definitions vary considerably, the concept of social capital draws attention to both the ways in which social norms and values can reinforce people’s network assets and the ways in which obligation and trust underpin reciprocity. Empirically, social capital can be shown to have a demonstrable influence on people’s health, education, employment, security from crime and the life chances of their children. Moreover, unlike many concepts in the social sciences, the notion of social capital lends itself to practical application. The social capital debate is unusual in that it engages academics in discussions with policymakers, professionals and organizational leaders. Ethical issues appear to be at the centre of contemporary interest in social capital. Yet at the same time, the ethical dimensions of this interest are often deeply buried. Of course, this is true for many concepts in the social sciences; indeed, it could be argued that the social capital concept is attractive to some because it carries none of the heavy sentimental baggage of older and more conventional terms, such as ‘community’. For others, the concept’s appeal lies in the way it allows for community and relationships to re-enter economic debates. By placing a value on people’s network assets, the concept provides a new language for debating the collective. These ethical dimensions surface occasionally in current debate, but in a somewhat marginal manner which possibly reflects the wider neglect of values and ethics in the dominant forms...
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