Social capital refers to the network of relationships and acquaintances that a person has developed over their life. There are three types of social capital. These are known as bridging, bonding, and linking.
- Bonding involves deepening the relationships you already have.
- Bridging involves creating new relationships beyond your current social circle.
- Linking involves creating social relationships with leaders or government officials to leverage their power and influence.
Types of Social Capital
Bonding is the social capital generated during interactions between people who are within the same groups and social circles.
Bonding involves strengthening the social relationships you already have, but not expanding your social circles.
Gittell and Vidal (1998) described bonding as occurring within “homogenous social groups”, by which they mean interactions taking place within groups of people who have shared values and histories.
Examples of bonding to increase social capital include attending a family picnic, or the high school basketball team meeting up over a barbeque.
In such instances, you already know all of the people in the group and have some social relationships already established. The goal of these situations is to deepen bonds rather than expand them.
With deepened bonds, you can more effectively leverage social contacts and have them advocate on your behalf when you need them.
Related: Examples of Social Capital
Bridging is the social capital generated during interactions between different groups of people that helps to create new contacts.
You may often hear that bridging is interactions between “heterogeneous groups”. Heterogenous groups are groups of people with different social circles. When you connect to these people, you are gaining access to new people and new social circles, thus increasing your social capital.
An example of bridging is interactions between students from different countries during an exchange program.
Another example might be securing a meeting with someone to who you have been introduced by a friend. In this situation, the friend acts as a ‘bridge’ between you and the new person with who you will be able to network.
Linking is the social capital generated during interactions between an individual or a community on the one hand and the government or elected officials on the other.
While bonding and bridging were terms created by Gittell and Vidal (1998), Linking was provided as an addon term created by Daniel P. Aldrich.
Aldrich argues that connections with people in power and government are essential for grassroots community groups to get things done, as well as for governments to most effectively support the communities that they represent.
Members of a local community lobbying with the government for better civic amenities is an example of linking social capital.
See Also: The Three Types of Cultural Capital
Uses of Social Capital in Sociology
Sociologists have been engaging with the term for over 100 years.
1. L.J. Hanifan and the Two Essential Functions of Capital
One of the earliest theorists of social capital in sociology was L.J. Hanifan, who in 1916 defined it as:
- “Goodwill, fellowship, mutual sympathy and social intercourse among a group of individuals and families who make up a social unit” (Hanifan, 1916, p. 130).
For Hanifan, social capital performs two essential functions. On the one hand, it fulfils the needs of individuals who are inherently social beings. On the other, it also benefits the community as a whole, which leverages communication to learn and grow.
2. Bourdieu and the Three Forms of Capital
Another central theorist of capital is Pierre Bourdieu who examined three types of capital: social, economic, and cultural. Bourdieu defined social capital 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” (Bourdieu, 1983, p. 249)
For Bourdieu, social capital can be converted into one of two other forms. It can be turned into cultural or economic capital.
Cultural capital is a form of social status associated with a particular culture, such as institutional recognition (e.g. a university degree), accent, vernacular, traditional clothing, and manners.
Generally, a person with high cultural capital is more capable of developing social capital (e.g. they are more likely to be able to socially integrate with other people within their culture).
Similarly, a person with high social capital is more capable of developing economic capital because they can leverage their social contacts to get a well-paid job.
3. Putnam and the Decline of Social Capital in American Society
In the 21st century, the American political scientist Robert D. Putnam (b. 1941) has been a major theorist of social capital. Putnam defines social capital as:
- “Connections among individuals – social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them” (Putnam, 2000).
In his book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, Putnam proposed that individualization, technology, and modern family structures were all contributing to a decline in American social capital.
Americans are increasingly spending more time alone, and less time participating in the affairs of the community at large (Putnam, 2000).
4. Fukuyama and Transaction Costs
The American political scientist Francis Fukuyama suggested that the biggest advantage of social capital for societies is that it reduces transaction costs for social exchanges.
In situations where two groups trust each other and expect reciprocity for their actions, they need to have legal contracts or state-enforced protection is minimized (Fukuyama, 2001).
Social capital is an intangible entity, albeit one which is essential for peaceful coexistence and prosperity.
Most often, but not always, greater social capital is associated with positive social outcomes for societies and individuals. This is a logical consequence of man’s essential nature as a social animal. The more we interact with others in society, the better it is for everyone involved.
Aldrich, D.P. (2012) Building resilience: Social Capital in post-disaster recovery. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Bourdieu, Pierre. (1983). “Economic capital, social capital, cultural capital” in Social Inequalities (Kreckel, R. ed). Goettingen: Otto Schartz & Co.
Clark, T. (2006) Language as social capital Applied Semiotics 8 (18), 29-41.
Fukuyama, F. (2001) Social capital, civil society and development Third World Quarterly. 22(1), 7-20, DOI: 10.1080/713701144
Gittell, R. & Vidal, A. (1998). Community Organizing: Building Social Capital as a Development Strategy. London: SAGE.
Hanifan, L. J. (1916) The rural school community center. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. 67,130–138. Doi: https://doi.org/10.1177%2F000271621606700118
Portes, A.(1998). Social Capital: Its origins and applications in modern sociology. Annual Review of Sociology. 24, 1–24. doi:10.1146/annurev.soc.24.1.1. S2CID 145736021
Putnam, R. D. (2000). Bowling Alone: The Collapse and revival of American community. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Satyanath, S.; Voigtländer, N.,Hans-Joachim, V. (2017). Bowling for Fascism: Social capital and the rise of the Nazi party. Journal of Political Economy. 125 (2), 478–526. doi:10.1086/690949. Doi: https://doi.org/10.1086/690949
Smidt, C.E. (2003). Religion as social capital: Producing the common good. United States of America: Baylor University Press.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education.