Bonding, Bridging and Investment: Important Aspects of a National Social Capital Policy Strategy

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

SOCIAL CAPITAL CAN BE BUILT THROUGH INVESTMENT IN EMPLOYMENT AND EDUCATION, THOUGH DIFFERENT FORMS OF

CAPITAL--BONDING AND BRIDGING CAPITAL--GENERATE CONFLICTING CLAIMS ON SUCH INVESTMENT. THEORETICAL AND EMPIRICAL EVIDENCE SUGGESTS THAT ANY PUBLIC POLICY STRATEGY SEEKING TO BUILD SOCIAL CAPITAL MUST TAKE ACCOUNT OF THE NEED TO BALANCE BONDING AND BRIDGING CAPITAL; LINK THE LONG-TERM INTERESTS OF LOCAL RESIDENTS, NATIONAL CITIZENS AND INSTITUTIONS; AND MAINTAIN A STRONG FOCUS UPON EQUALITY AS AN IMPORTANT OUTCOME. STATE LEVEL STRATEGIES, SUCH AS THE VICTORIAN 'COMMUNITY BUILDING INITIATIVE',ARE MAKING GOOD HEADWAY, BUT A NATIONAL APPROACH IS NEEDED. AN INTEGRATED NATIONAL SOCIAL CAPITAL POLICY IS MOST LIKELY TO REQUIRE A DEGREE OF REGULATION OF LOCAL INVESTMENT TO INSURE THE BALANCE BETWEEN BONDING AND BRIDGING CAPITAL IS MAINTAINED AND THE FOCUS UPON EQUALITY IS NOT LOST.

Keywords: social capital; bonding; bridging; investment; equality; policy

INTRODUCTION

Social capital is a valuable concept built upon, but not simply reiterating, many traditional theories of social and political integration. Its value lies in asserting not only the importance of social ties in their own right but also that such ties are resources that can be built up or depleted just like other forms of capital. On a positive note, despite the fact that social capital has attracted numerous definitions, (1) most appear now to be consolidating around a focus upon networks and norms of trust and reciprocity. For instance, the official Orgainsation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) definition recognises this focus and serves as a working definition for this paper. It defines social capital as: 'networks together with shared norms, values and understandings that facilitate cooperation within or among groups' (2). Significantly, these networks serve to foster important social outcomes including employment, education, voluntary activity and confidence in government and institutions of governance.

However. despite increasing definitional clarity, measurements have continued to proliferate in numerous Australia surveys with items such as safety; proactivity and tolerance of diversity; citizenship and disposition; assistance and confidence in support; and many potential others being included. However, some headway towards consensus is being made. The most specific survey on social capital within Australia, the Australian Institute of Family Studies' 'Social Capital and Citizenship Project' focuses solidly upon networks and norms. The Institute avoids the 'rush to measurement' by premising their investigation upon a thorough review of the theoretical social capital literature. Their findings do much to map the social capital landscape of Australia and lay the groundwork for the development of a national social capital initiative (3).

Building social capital is a 'hot topic', and input as to how to go about doing so is eagerly sought by governments and agencies, despite the problems in social capital meaning and measurement. Local and state governments aimed at promoting community empowerment have actively engaged with the concept of social capital. The 'Community Building Initiative' and 'Community Support Fund' in Victoria, and the 'Community Renewal' program in Queensland are prime examples of this. They encourage the development of strong communities through the targeted investment of funds into collaborative local government efforts at improving education, employment, crime reduction, and so on, with commendable emphasis upon equality. However, sufficient emphasis upon long-term stakeholding by local community members within these strategies is questionable, given the powerful dislocating effects of increasingly competitive markets upon communities and individuals. In addition, there is no overarching strategy to coordinate and integrate state efforts nationally, despite investigations by federal bodies such as the Productivity Commission (4). …