Monday, 23 January 2012

Are we still talking about Social Capital?

The issue I'll be addressing in the coming weeks relate to the question "are we still talking about social capital" and if so, why. I am motivated to ask these questions as I have noticed that another "range"of papers has been published on social capital in 2012, even though they seem collectively to be uncritical of the concept. The concept of social capital emerged as an influential research theme in a number of disciplines in the past twenty or so years, as measured by the exponential growth in social capital literature throughout the 1990s the 2000s, which continues even in 2012. While some of the assumptions of social capital theory have been challenged individually, its limitations as a unified concept have not been adequately tackled within the academic literature. In this blog I’m going to attempt to address this challenge, identifying key questions that the concept needs to tackle.
Social capital is more than the sum of the various kinds of relationships that we entertain, and a social capital lens, therefore, can reveal features of reality that otherwise remain invisible (Adler and Kwom 2002: 36)
The use of the concept of social capital as a tool of analysis for social scientists is relatively recent but already has a wide variety of meanings and uses across a range of disciplines (see Portes 1998; Woolcock 1998; Borgatti and Foster 2003). As might be expected with a concept treated so broadly as to be an explanation for a multiplicity of social changes and a panacea for pressing social problems, a number of weaknesses have been identified in different aspects of the concept and its use (Durlauf 1999; Schuller, Baron and Field 2000; Fine 2002) and yet notwithstanding these critiques, the concept has expanded into new areas of social science research, with the number of articles and citations continuing to grow (see Forsman 2005 Widén-Wulff 2007).