Reaching Out, Reaching In
Edited by Viva Ona Bartkus and James H. Davis
Chapter 3: On the Costs of Conceptualizing Social Ties as Social Capital
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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