Social Capital

Social Capital

Reaching Out, Reaching In

Edited by Viva Ona Bartkus and James H. Davis

This book showcases new innovative research in economics, politics, sociology, and management regarding the topic. Leading scholars from a variety of disciplines present ground-breaking new research exploring the still-undiscovered value of social capital. The book employs a self-consciously multi-disciplinary approach to address two objectives: reaching out and reaching in. Through theoretical and empirical scholarship, the authors explore the many contexts in which the phenomenon can have impact. In effect, social capital research reaches out to issues of economic well-being, civic participation, educational achievement, knowledge and norm formation, and competitive advantage. Further, the authors investigate the many connections between the core themes of social capital and the pillars on which it rests, including structural networks, cognition, relationships and trust. This book is fundamentally about bridging – bridging across disciplines, units of analysis, and themes.

Chapter 1: What is Social Capital?

Elinor Ostrom

Subjects: business and management, organisation studies, public management, politics and public policy, public administration and management, public policy


Elinor Ostrom In this chapter, I will argue that the concept of social capital is extremely important as well as useful for all of the social sciences. After reviewing the current situation, I will lay out a careful set of definitions of types and forms of human-made capital and clarify the individual and shared characteristics of these concepts. Next, I will illustrate the importance of social capital by comparing the performance of irrigation systems in Nepal with high levels of physical capital and low social capital with those that have low levels of physical capital but high social capital. Finally, I will conclude with reflections on some of the broad lessons learned about social capital. Social capital research has grown steadily since James S. Coleman’s systematic analysis in 1988 (see Bourdieu, 1986; Loury, 1977 for earlier uses of the concept). In the early 1990s, researchers started employing the concept as a major building block in their scholarship (Burt, 1992; Ostrom, 1992). In 1993, Robert Putnam et al.’s celebrated book, Making Democracy Work, catapulted social capital research into a widespread and lively phase of development (see Knack and Keefer, 1997; Dasgupta, 2003; Fukuyama, 2000; Lake and Huckfeldt, 1998; Ostrom and Ahn, 2003b). Despite this attention, however, it remains unclear whether social capital will be useful for the social sciences over the long term. Academic research can be afflicted by fads and fashions, just like other fields of endeavor. Answering this question requires a clear, precise definition as...

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