Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Eight Criticisms of Social Capital

Criticism 5: Related to the previous criticism of circularity is the problem of the direction of causality. Changes in social capital and changes in communities, even if they are related, it is difficult to show which direction causality originated.

While circumstantial evidence suggests that social capital, as measured in terms of active participation in associations that knit society together is associated with perceptions of decline in the community (see Putnam 2000) if the two are causally related, its direction that has not been fully resolved, as Steven Durlauf notes:
Do trust-building social networks lead to efficacious communities, or do successful communities generate these types of social ties? As far as I know, no study has been able to shed much light on this question (Durlauf 1999: 3)
More recently, a number of studies have attempted to provide a causal relationship using different methods (see, for example, Rose 2000; Mohan and Mohan 2002; Landry, Amara, and Lamari 2002); however, even these results are far from conclusive. The lack of precision concerning the causes and consequences of features associated with social capital is a direct consequence of operating a multiplicity of concepts under the same umbrella term. The importance of trust, social support and social exchange depend on different mechanisms and the nature of the interdependencies and feedback mechanisms that exist between these factors in different circumstances is not clarified by grouping them together as homogenous components. The complex nature of the interdependencies and feedback dynamics implies that linear descriptions of causality are unenlightening at best and in danger of presenting inappropriate policy instruments, and yet the literature, while acknowledging this challenge, neither address it, nor challenge the conventional direction of causality:
mapping [social capital ties] poses a considerable challenge: from a purely technical point of view, it is far easier to map a small number of ego networks than to generate an intelligible sociocentric, whole-network map of a large complex organization. Hopefully, future researchers will develop ways to simplify this mapping task. (Adler and Kwon 2002: 36)
From a purely technical point of view, then, the type of network map required to support the claims that extend beyond single organisations to clusters, communities and regions are well beyond the capabilities of researchers, even as they appeal to data said to provide such a map (see Putnam 1993: 6-7).

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