Social Capital

Social capital put simply – is the investment in social relations with expected returns (Lin, 1999). Resources within a social network are embedded to enhance outcomes of actions for the common good. According to a seminal piece by Putnam (1995) in Bowling Alone: America’s Declines in Social Capital, “social capital” refers to features of social organization such as networks, norms, and social trust that facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit” (p.67). He makes the claim that social capital is eroding in which he highlights diminished civic engagement and social contentedness. It is important to note that Putnam published his thoughts in the mid 1990’s just as the internet was starting to claim its spot in our network embedded world. I think the age of the internet initially drew people away from connecting in-person (where we see the lull in social capital Putnam describes) to making a total transformation of how we connect to online and virtual meeting spaces in which we now today use to connect with others. It has totally shifted how networks and social capital is distributed amongst individuals.


The question is if technology and the digital age has us dealing with an increase in social capital or social isolation?

As described in “Building a Network Theory of Social Capital” by Nan Lin (1999) there are four elements to explain why social capital (embedded resources) can enhance outcomes of the overall network: information, influence, social credentials, and reinforcement of resources. Most scholars in the field of social sciences believe that social capital is a benefit to both the collective and individuals within the collective. This makes me think of my place of employment the Center for Sport Leadership at VCU. All four of these resources flow and are exchanged and social capital is increased on an individual and group level of all current master students and the alumni base across the country. This is facilitated through networking events, guest speaking of alumni, information interviews, and ultimately job searches among current and past students. The network is in person and virtual on all platforms in which resources are shared and gained.

Nan Lin. 2001. “Building a Network Theory of Social Capital.” Pp. 3-30 in Social Capital: Theory and Research, edited by Nan Lin, Karen Cook and Ronald S. Burt. Aldine de Gruyter.

Putnam, Robert D.  1995. “Bowling alone: America’s declining social capital.” Journal of Democracy 6: 65-78.

One thought on “Social Capital

  1. What research questions come out of this theory? Can you think of how social capital works in sports? Are there some sports where social capital flows more easily? Produces more benefits? For example, do some sports players do better after they stop playing the game? If so, could the difference be in the networks they develop while playing the game?

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