Research on social capital
French sociologist, Pierre Bourdieu, focused on the role of social capital in enabling the educational attainment of children, and more widely as the way in which people network to gain access to economic, social and political resources.
He defines social capital as:
"The aggregate of the actual or potential resources which are linked to . . . membership in a group - which provides each of its members with the backing of the collectively owned capital."2
Sociologist, James Coleman, examined the role that social capital played in enabling children's educational attainment in the USA. He noted that children and their families who were able to realise their full educational potential had been members of social networks and community associations typified by:
- Obligations and expectations - through being involved in doing favours for and receiving favours from other people
- Information sharing - by having the ability to share useful information that could be of use in the future
- Norms and effective sanctions - in the form of shared community values and standards of behaviour
- Authority relations - that allow individuals to exercise leadership and hence influence the actions of others.3
Political scientist, Robert Putnam, focused on the role of social capital at a regional and local community level. He was particularly interested in the role played by networks of civic engagement, for example, neighbourhood associations, choral societies, co-operatives, sports clubs and mass-based political parties.
In a study of Italy, Putnam argued that the higher density of voluntary associations among people in northern Italy explains the region's economic success relative to southern Italy, where such associations are less frequent.4
In the USA he identifies a decline in civic engagement as a result of undermining social trust and relationships within communities. This in turn reduces a community's capacity to tackle social and economic problems such as unemployment, poverty, educational non-participation, and crime. Putnam defines social capital as:
"...features of social life - networks, norms, and trust - that enable participants to act together more effectively to pursue shared objectives... Social capital, in short, refers to social connections and the attendant norms and trust."5
1. Office for Public Management (2005) 'Camden Social Capital Survey 2005', London, OPM.
2. P Bourdieu (1986) 'The forms of capital' in J Richardson (Ed.) Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education, New York, Greenwood, pp. 241-258.
3. J Coleman (1997) 'Redesigning American Education', Colorado, Westview Press.
4. RD Putnam in R Muir, H Khan (Eds) (2006) 'Sticking together: Social capital and local government. The results and implications of the Camden social capital surveys 2002 and 2005'. ippr and London Borough of Camden, p. 2.
5. RD Putnam in R Muir, H Khan (Eds) (2006) 'Sticking together: Social capital and local government. The results and implications of the Camden social capital surveys 2002 and 2005'. ippr and London Borough of Camden, pp. 5-6.