Social Capital and You

I bet you’ve heard the term “social capital” a zillion times. Over the last decade it became another corporate buzzword that is mindlessly used everywhere. “Build your social capital”, “reap social capital benefits”, “invest in social capital” and even “social capital and you” – how often did you see articles or pages with titles like that? For instance, Google finds 124 million results for the query “how to build social capital”.


However, a lot of people do not know what “social capital” is in reality. In popular culture social capital is usually defined in economic terms and implies getting some advantages or benefits via communication. According to Kadushin, the theory of social capital has two underlying assumptions:

  • Individuals invest in their social networks in anticipation of future advantage
  • Social networks contain resources that actors can draw upon

So, based on the network theory, social capital can be defined as a possibility to access the networked resources. Sander and Lowney identify several types of social capital based on types of ties in social network:

  • “Public-regarding ties that tackle a public issue (e.g., a Parent Teacher Association) vs. private regarding (e.g., a purely social club).
  • Formal (a dues-paying organization with committees and bylaws) vs. informal (a pickup basketball game).
  • Bridging (social ties that cut across differences such as class or ethnicity) vs. bonding social capital (that links people together with others like them).
  • Strong ties (someone with whom you might discuss a serious health problem) vs. weak ties (episodic, and more fleeting ties)”.

Different types of social capital are good for different things. For example, weak ties are better for job search, while strong ties are better for social support. However, social capital operates not only on individual, but also on community level. Increasing social capital on community level is very important for the well-being of the society, as it helps to unite people, build sense of trust and empower civic participation. Building a community social capital is a very difficult, yet accomplishable task. Sander and Lowney propose a matrix of potential building blocks to build more social capital sorted by size of group and level of trust in the community.

Putnam and Felstein created a list of 150 actions that can help to increase social capital in the community. They propose to attend town meetings, mentor someone of a different ethnic or religious group or ask a new person to join a group for a dinner, etc.

There are also individual initiatives that use gaming experience to improve cooperative behavior and get people to compete on increasing community social capital. For example, Dr. Jane McGonigal  and Dr. Ian Bogost have designed Cruel 2 B Kind, a game in which players advance by being nice to strangers in public places. The game has been played in more than 50 cities on four continents.

cruel to be kind

Another example of such initiative is Sparked: it provides registered users with quests from different nonprofit groups via a special smartphone app. Tierney provides an example of First Aid Corps, organization that creates a worldwide map of the locations of defibrillators available for cardiac emergencies: “instead of looking for magical healing potions in virtual worlds, players scour buildings for defibrillators that haven’t been cataloged yet”. Quite an interesting application of gamification, isn’t it?

Here are some other resources that can provide you with ideas on building social capital:


Posted on March 16, 2014, in COMM506, MACT and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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