S.M. Humayun Kabir* and Md. Zakir Hossain**
[* Assistant Professor, Department of Public Administration, University of Chittagong, Bangladesh. He is currently pursuing his Masters in Public Administration as a Canadian Commonwealth Scholar at School of Public Policy and Administration, Carleton University, Canada. ** Lecturer, Department of Philosophy, University of Jahangirnagar, Saver, Bangladesh.]
Social capital has become a popular concept in policy discourse. It is considered the “metaphorical” glue that facilitates groups and societies getting things done. Generally, social capital is seen as combination of networks, rules, procedures, norm, values, attitudes and culture which enhance development and societal outcomes. During the last two decades, social capital theory has been emerged as a policy tool for developmental outcome both in developed and developing countries. However, there is still a strong debate relating to conceptual ambiguity, measurement and diverse applications of social capital. The concept of social capital has been developed from various disciplines such as political science, sociology, organization theory and so on. Recently, “the concept of social capital is increasingly influential. It has taken off like a bushfire in the social sciences”. Unlike physical capital, social capital is not easy to see and measure and also it is difficult to construct through external interventions.
However, it is argued that social capital is an essential component for physical and human capital. A large number of studies indicate that social capital has a benevolent role in development outcomes; but it also contains some downsides that are sometimes menaced to developmental outcomes. These positive and negative sides of social capital have created debate in development discourse. The main objective of this paper is to identify the role of social capital in developmental outcomes. The paper is mostly based on secondary sources. The main limitation of the paper is that it has not explained the measurement of social capital which is also considered a crucial issue in social capital debate.
Social Capital : Conceptual Analysis
As a concept, social capital has drawn impressive intellectual interest in recent times for its ramifications to social well-being. Despite the fact that a large body of literature exists on the conceptualization of “social capital”, the conception of social capital is still elusive. Durlauf and Fafchamps (1998) aptly claim: “In terms of conceptual and theoretical studies of social capital, there is a considerable amount of ambiguity and confusion as to what social capital means”. Moreover, “views differ about what constitute social capital; how it operates; to whom and what the concept applies; how to delineate between its sources, manifestations and effects; whether social capital is always beneficial; and even whether the matters referred to under the social capital level can sensibly be thought of as ‘capital”.
From a conceptual viewpoint, social capital is considered an “umbrella term” for a diverse applications across many disciplines such as economics, sociology, public policy and political science. An array of definitional issues have been placed in social capital literature during the last two decades, however, some definitions of various theorists and practitioners have been popularized and criticized for considerable reasons.
Pierre Bourdieu (1992) has mentioned social capital in the presence of social class and other entrenched forms of inequality. He defined:
Social capital is the sum of resources, actual or virtual, that accrue to an individual or a group by virtue of possessing a durable network of more or less institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition.
It is argued that Bourdieu has treated the concept of social capital as an adjunct to or a dimension of cultural capital. His ideas on social capital were highly influenced by ‘Marxist sociology’. Many social scientists believe that Bourdieu’s theory of social capital is theoretically coherent and persuasive sociological approach to the concept. It is also believed that the theory of Bourdieu remains vulnerable due to its Marxist biasness. As Field (2003) claimed: “He certainly views social capital as the exclusive property of elites, desired to secure their relative position”.
On the other hand, Bourdieu has shown very little interest in the dark side of social capital, because his theory appears to be rooted in a ‘static model’ of social hierarchy and his main concern is on some groups in the upper class of society who are interested in manipulating their connections for their own interests. Nevertheless, the contribution of Bourdieu for the transition of social capital ‘from metaphor to becoming concept’ is noteworthy.
Coleman is also an important figure in the field of social capital. Coleman brought social capital into the mainstream of social science literature. He argues that social capital is productive like the other forms of capital, such as physical capital and human capital.
For Coleman (1994): Social capital is defined by its function. It is not a single entity but a variety of different entities, with two elements in common: they all consist of some aspect of social structures, and they facilitate certain actions of actors … within the structure.
The definition of Coleman (1994) clearly represents social capital as a resource because it is involved in the expectation of reciprocity and social relationships which are governed by a high degree of shared values and norms. The conception of social capital that Coleman elucidates is based on ‘rational choice theory’ which assumes, a “highly individualistic model of human behavior, with each person automatically doing what will serve their own interests, regardless of the fate of others”.
Like Bourdieu, Coleman’s focus is on social inequality in explaining social capital, but his central argument is to identify the contribution of social capital to the development of human capital. Coleman believes:
the set of resources that inhere in family relations and in community social organization and that are useful for the cognitive or social development of a child or young person. These resources differ for different persons and can constitute an important advantage for children and adolescents in the development of their human capital.
Unlike Bourdieu, Coleman is concerned with all actors of social capital such as individual, collective, privileged and disadvantaged. Coleman’s view is entirely optimistic and he believes that social capital is a public good as well as providing a set of norms and sanctions which allow people to corporate for mutual benefit and it also appears from Coleman’s view that social capital has ‘little or no dark side’. On the other hand, Bourdieu’s believes social capital has a dark side for the oppressed and the positive side for the privileged. The conception of Coleman has also been criticized in many respects. For instance, it should be argued that Colemam’s views on social capital in building human capital leads one to clarify that individual choice is a poor way of determining the distribution of skill. Despite some weakness of Coleman’s view, a number of bright sides of his conception on social capital can be found. Coleman successfully integrated social capital into the origins of social structures and he also noticed that social capital could be an important asset for the poor.
Robert Putnam is regarded as the ‘doyen’ of modern social capital theory. “Making Democracy Work” (1993) is his first intervention into the social capital debate. Putnam’s work has become extremely influential both in community development and policy discourse. For Putnam:
Social capital here refers to features of social organization such as trust, norms and networks that can improve the efficiency of society by facilitating co-coordinated actions.
Putnam (2000) also has presented two basic forms of social capital: bridging (or inclusive) and bonding (or exclusive). Bonding social capital refers to exclusive identities and also maintains homogeneity and on the other hand, bridging social capital refers to the relationship among the people who have diverse social divisions.
It is believed that bonding social capital maintains homogeneity and bridging social capital ‘tends to bring together people across diverse social divisions’. Putnam also argues that ‘vertical’ bonds would be more helpful than ‘horizontal’ ties. It is also noted that Putnam’s conception on social capital is highly influenced by ‘Durkheimian analysis of mutual bonds’ and ‘rational choice theory’.
Putnam’s conception has been criticized in several ways. Misztal (2000) claims that Putnam’s conception of social capital lacks ‘theoretical precision’ and it also fails to account for the production of and maintenance of social capital. Furthermore, Portes (1998) points out that the conceptual vagueness of Putnam is associated with ‘too celebratory a tone’.
Finally it can be said that social capital is seen as combination of networks, rules, procedures, norm, values, attitudes and culture which enhance development and societal outcomes. It is presumed that communities with a high level of social capital could gain high levels of social and economic outcomes or high levels of destruction (i.e. violence). However, the outcomes of development actually depend on the application of social capital as a policy tool. It is also true that social capital is not always beneficial, but still it is an important policy tool for development outcome.
Why Social Capital Matter for Development Outcomes
It is believed that social capital includes the institutions, the relationships, the attitudes and values of society that governs relations among people in a society and ultimately contribute to societal and development outcomes. The role of social capital in socio-economic developmental outcomes is still a debated issue. A large amount of literature shows that social capital has numerous positive externalities in social and economic development. Reviewing several studies on different countries, the OECD (2001) concludes: “social capital is likely to have a range of social and economics benefits”. Woolcock (1998) marks out many of positive arguments regarding the role of social capital in socio-economic developmental outcomes of developing countries.
Both Coleman and Bourdieu believe that social capital is a great source for educational outcome. In a classic paper, Coleman (1988) claimed that educational failure in the USA was lower in Catholic schools in comparison to conventional secular schools due to social capital. He found that drop out rate was three times less in Catholic high schools than in public schools. Coleman (1988) also claimed that the networks that linked parents, children and the Catholic schools were high.
Another study suggests:
Evidence is now beyond dispute. When schools work together with families to support learning, children tend to succeed not just in school throughout the life … When parents are involved in their children’s education at home, their children do better in school. When parents are involved at school, their children go further in school, and the schools they go to are better.
In the case of ethnic minorities, evidence shows that low level of family social capital is the reason for lower levels of educational outcomes. In another study, White and Kaufman (1997) find that family social capital could play a positive role in the educational outcomes of the children.
Social capital could be important with a view to improving the health conditions of the people in a community. It recognizes that social networks and norms could influence health related behavior. Social problems and awareness programs could teach people to be cautious about different types of diseases. If people were well connected to each other, they could share the health related information and thus, protect themselves from various epidemic and non-epidemic diseases. Perhaps people could even protect themselves from AIDS and other dangerous diseases.
Besides benefiting health and education, social capital may also reduce crime and violence in society. The World Bank states:
People who have informal relations with their neighbors can look out for each other and ‘police’ their neighborhoods. In addition, inter-family social capital provides support networks for family members overwhelmed by such stressors as poverty and unemployment. This support can help to reduce drug abuse and domestic violence – potential roots to patterns of violent behavior.
Furthermore, social capital might be an effective policy tool to alleviate rural poverty. A large number of people, who are under the poverty line, live in rural areas. They often have little capital to improve their conditions. Many donor agencies believe that the formation of social capital among them might reduce poverty. A World Bank’s (2005a) working paper shows that the presence of local associations and networks increased the ability of poor villagers in India to mete out resources effectively and enhanced their spirit. A participatory poverty assessment in Kenya found that more than 200,000 community groups in rural areas were unconnected to outside resources and therefore it was not possible to lift the poor out of poverty.
A large number of studies have been performed using social capital as a policy tool to increase social development in developing countries. For example, Rose (1998) performs a study in Russia, which indicates that social capital is an important policy tool for social development; however, the outcome of the social capital depends on the situation and context. Rose’s argument also supports Coleman’s proposition. Collier (1998) conducted research to map the relationship between poverty and social capital. He argues that since poor people have a lower opportunity cost of time, and a lower stock of physical and financial capital, social capital could be a good policy tool to improve their condition. In addition, social capital and social networks have a constructive influence in rural development. Evidence shows that social capital can easily play a vital role in common property management, risk management, agricultural productivity, marketing of agricultural products and so on.
Trust might also help rural people to improve their condition. Mutual trusts have a number of benefits that might work positively for the poor. The World Bank notes:
The Grameen (Rural) Bank of Bangladesh provides access to credit to poor people in 35,000 villages. Members have developed rules to maximize repayment of loans, but trust plays a critical role in the 98% success rate, particularly in the absence of collateral.
Women’s empowerment is one of the main agendas of donor agencies and the governments of developing countries. It is assumed that group based programs for women are helpful to their empowerment. Evidence shows that social capital is an effective policy tool in this area. Grameen Bank, a national level NGO in Bangladesh, is an excellent example in this regard. In Grameen Bank’s group based credit program, “poor village women lacking material collateral are given loans on the basis of their membership in a small peer group, which helps them start or expand a small business , and thereby improve their families’ welfare”.
Risks of Social Capital for Development Outcome
The negative side of social capital has also been significantly discussed in numerous studies. Social capital could obviously create costs and problems in some cases. Boissevain (1974) shows that strong social network might decrease the privacy and autonomy of individuals. The findings of Rumbaut (1977) emphasizes that extreme familial solidarity among recent immigrants is negatively related to educational outcomes. Rumbaut (1977) writes: “family ties bind, but sometimes these bonds constrain rather than facilitate particular outcomes”. In some cases, social capital could be a threat to community development. Ostrom (2000) observes:
Gangs and the Mafia use social capital as the foundation for their organizational structure. Cartels also develop social capital in their effort to keep control over an industry so as to reap more profits than would otherwise be the case. An authoritarian system of government based on military command and use of instruments of force destroy other sorts of social capital while building its own.
Adler and Kwon (2000) argue that extreme levels of social capital within a particular group can undermine broader social capital within a community that resulted in inequality.
Therefore, the above mentioned discussion indicates that social capital has a huge number of social benefits; however, we must not ignore the negative. Portes writes:
Whereas bounded solidarity and trust provide the sources of socioeconomic ascent and entrepreneurial development among some groups, among others they have exactly opposite effect.
Apart from these, there are several downsides of social capital which can be found in the education sector, the health sector and so on. In a study, Wilson (1987, 1996) and Fernandez-Kelly and Maria (1995) show that the educational outcome of children is low when their communities do not value education and neglect it because it does not lead to any formal employment or improve living standards. In some cases traditional beliefs and social norms might restrict taking advantage of modern medical technology, which could be a threat to the health of a community.
Moreover, some Islamist militant groups build social capital to perform terrorist attack. In recent times, this type of attacks has been occurred in United Kingdom, Bangladesh. On 17 August, 2005, a banned Islamist militant group simultaneously blasted at least 459 time bombs in 63 of 64 districts of Bangladesh. This incident proves that the group built strong social network to occur such type of attack. Is it not a threat to community?
It is worth noting to say that the role of social capital in developmental outcomes is ambiguous. Despite a number of positive effects of social capital in the context of development, one cannot ignore its downsides. Consequently, there is no single stand for social capital whether it is beneficial or destructive. Social networks and social ties would be a liable as well as an asset. However, it mainly depends on how social capital is used. It should be said that the advantage or disadvantage of social capital mainly depends on policy makers and how effectively they use or apply policy tools. As Halpern (2005) noted: “… policy makers need to consider social capital, along with many other factors, when drawing up and implementing policy”.
At present, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is crucial for social or business networking. Policy makers would consider ICT as policy tool to build social capital. In spite of some weaknesses of ICT, it is believed that ICT has made it possible for deffuse communities to come together to build up a common body of expertise or commentaries on any particular issues. Moreover, ICT can allow people main ties, though they are living different parts of the world, it also can extend the value of social networks.
Both for developed and developing countries, an explicit ‘social capital strategy’ should be needed to solve policy problems. Despite its downside, social capital is must as a policy strategy for our every day reality. As Halpern states, “Social Capital matters for our personal well-beings, our economies, and our society because we are deeply social beings. It’s in our flesh and blood”.
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 Field, Op. cit.
 Ibid., p. 21.
 Coleman, 1994, p. 300.
 Field, 2003, p. 28.
 Ibid., p. 29.
 D.R. Putnam, Making Democracy Work : Civic Traditions in Modern Italy, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993, p. 167.
 Field, 2003, Ibid.
 Ibid., p. 32.
 Putnam, 1993, Ibid., p. 175.
 B. A. Misztal, Informality: social theory and contemporary practice, Routledge, London, 2000, p. 119.
 Ibid., p. 120.
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 World Bank, Ibid.
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 J. Boissevain, Friends of Friends: Net-works, Manipulators, and Coalitions. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1974.
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 Ostrom 2000, Ibid., p. 212.
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 Portes 1998, Op. cit.
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 The Daily Star, A national daily newspaper of Bangladesh, August 18, 2005.
 D. Halpern, Social Capital, Polity Press, UK, 2005
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