Edited by John B. Davis and Wilfred Dolfsma
Chapter 21: Social Capital: A Critique and Extension
Nicolas Sirven The concept of social capital has been widely used in the economic literature to assess issues on economic development (Isham et al., 2002; Grootaert and Van Bastelaer, 2002), health promotion (Hawe and Shiell, 2000; Almedom, 2005), or sustainable environmental governance (Pretty and Ward, 2001). Economists generally use ‘social capital’ to address a wide range of social phenomena that are believed to have an economic payoﬀ. The hybrid nature of this concept raises interest, especially in social economics where the term ‘social capital’ seems to be used to mean anything one wants it to mean. However, comments in the economic literature are rather ambivalent about the usefulness of ‘social capital’. At least three main diﬀerent opinions can be underlined. First, ‘social capital’ is thought to be an oxymoron, i.e. an awkward metaphor developed to gain conviction from a bad analogy (Solow, 1999; Arrow, 1999). The analysis of social phenomena in economics should thus be made without any reference to ‘capital’, a term that should be restricted to concepts as tangible as bricks and mortar (see, e.g., Dolfsma, 2001). Second, ‘social capital’ is seen as a Trojan horse that economists have built to colonize social science under the assumption of rationality (Fine and Green, 2000). Once again, the use of ‘social capital’ is contested because the undersocialized conception of homo economicus may introduce a distortion into the analysis of social behaviours (Granovetter, 1985). Third, a more optimistic view of ‘social capital’ makes it play the role of a ‘missing...
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