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 3: On the Costs of Conceptualizing Social Ties as Social Capital

Robert M. Fishman

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


Robert M. Fishman1 I offer in this chapter a friendly, yet emphatic, critique of a term – and concept – that serves to animate and draw attention to much work that I admire and from which a great deal can be learned. In the pages that follow I elaborate a series of rather substantial and interrelated costs of conceptualizing social ties as ‘social capital’ (hereinafter, SC), costs that – I contend – impinge upon our ability to understand empirical reality. This critique is intended to be friendly, for I thoroughly share the commitment of SC theorists to identify and account for positive outcomes that can be attributed to social ties and tie-supporting norms. Indeed, in the closing section of this chapter, I offer a theoretical claim intended to enhance our ability to locate just such positive effects of social connections, but I propose to do so in a way that underscores differences, rather than commonalities, in the causal impact of social relations and norms. I argue that despite the admirable quality of much work done within the SC framework, this school’s conceptualization and labeling of useful social ties, and related norms, SC detracts from the collective explanatory efforts of social scientists and introduces unnecessary confusion into scholarly discourse. I acknowledge that the term draws attention to important findings but argue that such attention comes at a price and that it detracts from social scientists’ pursuit of their most fundamental goals: explanation and conceptual understanding. The critique developed in this...

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