Handbook on the Economics of Reciprocity and Social Enterprise
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Handbook on the Economics of Reciprocity and Social Enterprise

Edited by Luigino Bruni and Stefano Zamagni

The recent era of economic turbulence has generated a growing enthusiasm for an increase in new and original economic insights based around the concepts of reciprocity and social enterprise. This stimulating and thought-provoking Handbook not only encourages and supports this growth, but also emphasises and expands upon new topics and issues within the economics discourse.
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Chapter 31: Social and civil capital

Paolo Vanin


The broad idea that economies and societies may work better if they can rely on an abundant ‘capital’ of trust, civic norms, associational networks and well functioning institutions has been inspiring for a great number of social scientists. The concept of ‘social capital’ has provided a useful lexicon for some of these ideas. Yet no consensus has been reached on the definition of this concept. While this has led some scholars to question social capital as an analytical tool, its popularity in social sciences has kept rising, both because it provides a bridge between different social sciences, and because different empirical measures of social capital have proved to be powerful explanatory factors for a wide array of relevant phenomena. I first discuss some of the most popular definitions of social capital, then turn to the empirics of its measures, effects and accumulation, with the aim to tackle some crucial issues, but without any ambition of exhaustiveness. In particular, I will pay less attention to theoretical models of social capital, as well as to policy implications, because the theoretical literature mostly looks for finer distinctions than the broad category of social capital, and policy implications are hard to draw at a general level.

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