Social Capital

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Social capital refers to the institutions, relationships, and norms that shape the quality and quantity of a society's social interactions. The epidemiological studies and in depth qualitative studies have linked elements of social capital to positive health status. Concepts relevant to social capital have a long history dating back to the work of Durkheim Simmel, Marx, and Weber.

There are different approaches to understand the social capital

  • Robert Putnam's studied relationships between social relations and civic engagement, and political and economic outcomes. He concluded that social capital as a community level resource and defined it as “features of social organisation such as networks, norms and social trust that facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit”.
  • Bourdieu defined it as “the aggregate of the actual or potential resources which are linked to possession of a durable network of more or less institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition”.
  • Coleman,linked social capital to educational processes that are likely to have an impact.

One stream sees social capital as a social feature that is reflected in the structure of social relationships, the other stream focuses on the resources that individuals accumulate as a result of their membership of social networks. Both of them link to economic capital but does not reduce it to economic form.

Since social capital and health are linked, the structural forms like social structures such as networks and associations are differentiated from Cognitive forms like trust and norms of reciprocity to facilitate co-ordination and co- operation for mutual benefit.

There are conceptual debates like whether the social capital can be measured at an individual or community level, the quantitative measurements at an individual level have focused on per-capita membership in voluntary groups and levels of inter-personal trust. At the same point in time measurements should distinguish “sources” and “outcomes”, while considering the “structural” and “cognitive” elements separately. Qualitative approaches to measuring elements of social capital examine the contexts in which social capital operates, and the multidimensional nature of the concept.

Terms like social cohesion, Social Networks, Participation, Volunteering, Trust, Reciprocity, Social Exclusion/Inclusion And Equity, and Local Opportunity Structures contribute to a better understanding of Social Capital. One of the means by which health may be promoted is through the proper utilization of available solidarity structures at various level linking them together.

Source: Baum, F, E. Ziersch, A, M., Social Capital, Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 2003;57 (5):320-323.

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