Academic journal article The American Journal of Economics and Sociology

Measuring the Returns to Networking and the Accumulation of Social Capital: Any Evidence of Bonding, Bridging, or Linking?

Academic journal article The American Journal of Economics and Sociology

Measuring the Returns to Networking and the Accumulation of Social Capital: Any Evidence of Bonding, Bridging, or Linking?

Article excerpt



SINCE THE EARLY 1960S, a number of studies have focused on the possible economic impact of institutions (see, for instance, Blanchard and Wolfers 2000). As with the more recently introduced concept of social capital, much of the work on institutions attempts to determine their value in facilitating economic growth--mainly focusing on the extent to which they are able to reduce transaction costs and strengthen property rights. In contrast to the concept of social capital, the institutional approach has traditionally focused on the more formal aspects of social interaction. However, following the publication of work by researchers such as Bourdieu (1986), Coleman (1988), and Putnam (1993), the study of social capital has become an increasingly popular topic within the socioeconomic literature.

While there is still debate as to the exact nature and value of the concept (for a good review, see Piazza-Georgi 2002), as Dasgupta points out (Dasgupta and Serageldin 1999), many of the objections apply equally to the theory of human capital, a concept now widely accepted among economists. However, despite the growing literature across disciplines, it is still the case that no single theoretical framework has gained wide acceptance. As many researchers have suggested (see, for instance, ONS 2001; Durlauf 2002), there remains some amount of confusion as to what exactly constitutes social capital.

Portes (2000) suggests that much of this confusion stems from the "alternative applications of the concept [of social capital] as an attribute of individuals versus collectives." Specifically, he highlights how the focus of the original work by Bourdieu (1986) and Coleman (1988) on "individuals or small groups as the unit for analysis" shifted toward the idea of social capital as an "attribute of the community itself," a shift that he attributes to researchers such as Putnam, whose popularization of the concept of social capital tended to emphasize the value to communities or collectives (an approach taken up by, for instance, Knack and Keefer 1997; Temple and Johnson 1998; Fukuyama 2000).

Thus, the suggestion is that there are simply two distinct approaches to the study of social capital, with each being developed almost independently of the other, rarely (if ever) speaking to each other. Portes then goes on to set out how the approach to social capital that considers the individual as the unit of analysis has a much sounder theoretical underpinning. In contrast, he identifies a number of apparent "gaps" in the intellectual development of social capital as an attribute of communities, not least a consideration of what causes social capital and what one may expect to flow from it.

As an example, consider the argument that is often made for social capital as a key element in participative democracy, with some speculation that falling levels of social capital may be one possible reason for the decline in voting behavior (Performance and Innovation Unit 2002). In contrast, it is also clear that political structures and historical norms have an impact on the development of social capital (a conclusion that arises from Putnam 1993). While both statements may have some validity, the simultaneous nature of the relationship has been largely ignored in this strand of the literature.

We do not pursue this apparent contradiction further, as this article is firmly placed within the strand of literature developed by Bourdieu and Coleman, as expressed by Portes (2000), in analyzing the accumulation of social capital from the individual perspective. Essentially, we recognize the lack of any clear link in the development of the literature from an analysis of individual-level social capital to the consideration of the concept as an attribute of communities, though we do allow ourselves some comment on this issue in the conclusion to the article.

In line with Woolcock's (1998) suggestion, according to which social capital can be summed up in the popular phrase "it is not what you know, it is who you know," we follow much of the literature in the field of labor economics that attempts to evaluate the impact of social capital on an individual's employment prospects (Stanton-Salazar and Dornbusch 1995; Seibert et al. …

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