Social Capital and Mental Health
Social scientists and policy makers have seized upon the concept of social capital as a panacea for the post-modern disintegration of grand social theory. It has consequently been applied to fields as diverse as international development (World Bank, 2003), democracy and governance (Putnam, 1993) and population health profiles (Kawachi et al, 1997). However, the concept has multiple definitions and dimensions, creating a conceptual minefield that is almost too treacherous to explore.
This chapter will survey this territory to uncover the origins of the concept and the key dimensions of social life to which it refers. It will explore its relevance to mental health and contribute to the emerging debates in the empirical literature, which are still in their infancy. Some tentative conclusions will be reached about its potential use for mental health practitioners and service users.
Social capital refers to the social context of people's lives. The key dimensions it encompasses include trust (Coleman, 1988), social norms and reciprocity (Putnam, 2000), features of social structures and networks (Burt, 1992; Lin, 2001b) and the resources embedded within them (Bourdieu, 1997). Its contemporary origins can be traced to two sociologists, Pierre Bourdieu and James Coleman, and the American political scientist Robert Putnam. Although there is not space for a full conceptual review here (see Baron, Field and Schuller, 2000, for a good critical introduction), it is important to understand the contribution made by these key figures.