What is your Social Capital?

Source: TheCQL YouTube

Social Capital is such a familiar concept for all of us. It’s just that when we learned to create our own “social capital”, we didn’t really know that there is a term that explains it. Since we were kids, we learned to make friends, be nice to neighbors, let our classmate borrow a pen, and overall invest in relationships. In fact, even as a small kid, I didn’t expect quick returns on that investment. I just knew that this investment of helping someone will be useful someday in future. For me, that was a way of accumulating my individual level social capital. In simplest words, social capital is resources accumulated through social relations and social networks. Lin and Erickson (2008) state that “resources and relations facilitate information flow, influence flow, rendering of social credentials and affirmation of self-identity… which in turn can be used to generate returns in the marketplace”.

The concept of social capital puts immense value in one’s social networks. Kadushin (2013) explains that social networks have value as they allow access to valuable resources as well as social attributes such as trust, reciprocity, and community values. Several theorists including Marx, Weber, Durkheim, Simmel, Merton, and Parsons have studied and analyzed social capital over the years. However, some of these theorists have not experienced the social networks in today’s superconnected digital society. How would their analysis of social networks and social capital change if they were here today? Even though today’s society is similar to previous societies, has internet age brought any structural changes within the society and the social networks?  In the past, we have discussed the increased weak ties in our digital connections or networks, do they contribute to changing the social capital on an individual and a group level?

Source: Emerald Group Publishing

The Internet has changed our ability to reach out to people further away in the world. It has completely changed the way we communicate, create social relationships, maintain those relationships, and create smaller as well as larger networks as a result. In fact, the word “network” is widely used to describe the communications and interactions that occur on social media websites and other internet forums. The Internet provides an improved opportunity to find homophily in our networks. It enables us to reach more people who are like us, who can help us further our careers and also connect with those who are not really similar to us, whom we won’t probably meet in our own social circles. However, does this improved ability to make connections also increases our social capital? Moreover, can the internet help us increase both our individual level and group level social capital? That is a debatable question.

In their research article “The Benefits of Facebook ‘‘Friends:’’ Social Capital and College Students’ Use of Online Social Network Sites”, researchers Ellison, Steinfield, and Lampe explore the link between individual’s Facebook use to their social capital accumulation. They state that “there is a positive relationship between certain kinds of Facebook use and the maintenance and creation of social capital”. This study was conducted in 2007 when social media and Facebook was just a couple of years old. I wonder how this may have changed over the period of last 10 years. The researchers also clarify that social accumulation in their participants was not entirely a result of internet use. However, intensive use of Facebook did contribute to participant’s accumulation of the social capital.

 

Kadushin, Charles. Understanding Social Networks: Theories, Concepts, and Findings (p. 165). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

One thought on “What is your Social Capital?

  1. Your question on the impact of the digital world on the definition, use, accumulation and effectiveness of social capital represents an opening for a new line of theory and research!

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