Indicators of Social Capital

Outline 1: Indicators of Social Capital

1.  Density of networks within associations:

      i.e. White House Office, United Nations, Ford;

          a. High density = strong social capital. Low density = weak social capital.

          b. Reach of network = affiliation with many different types of associations

                [strong] and vice versa.

          c. Quality of resources, see reciprocity.

2.      Egalitarian patterns of politics

                [strong] compared to vertical structures [weak];

3.      Enforceable trust:

            [instrumental] rule of goal in norms v. variation of those norms

                [weak to strong, positive to negative]

4.      Reciprocity:  [instrumental] exchange of resources [Bourdieu]:

           i.e. RCAs, municipal transactions, etc.

               [weak to strong, positive (Putnam) to negative (Berman)]

5.      Belief in the rule of law without an arbitrary fear of the law

               [strong] compared to lawlessness [weak];

6.      Active involvement in the public sphere:

            i.e. citizen involvement with public officials,

                  contact representative, attend a protest,

                        [weak to strong, positive to negative];

7.      Culture:   a. Republicanism: equity and fairness

                                    [strong to weak, negative to positive]

                              b. Marxian: economic equality

                                   [strong to weak, negative to positive]

                              c. Liberalism: property rights and contract enforcement

                                    [strong to weak, negative to positive]

                              d. Authoritarianism: the leader’s rule of law

                                    [strong to weak, negative to positive]

                              e.  Religious: Biblical, Buddhist, Islamic

                                    [strong to weak, negative to positive]

8.      Bounded solidarity:   [strong to weak, negative to positive]

            a. exogenous factors

             b. endogenous factors

What Political Science Says about Social Capital [abbreviated]:

Social capital has been energized in recent years as a factor upon good governance. Putnam purports that social capital is the key to making democracy work. To Putnam, social capital may be measured through social clubs—like bowling. Yet, critics charge that social capital from non-governmental associations does not increase civic virtue. In fact, Max Weber said that, in Germany, just because a man has a good larynx, but only uses it at chorus, does not make him anything more than a passive citizen. Indeed, Weber is a foundational voice in comparative politics. Perhaps there is a more instrumental definition of social capital?

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 or recognition.” His prose on social capital is instrumental, and attributed to group activities. The conversation may be measured, since sociability is a resource. The resource begets profits; the profits beget capital [this is statistically important] [i]. Social capital is thus comprised of two elements: first, the access and transfer of resources between participants, and second, the amount and quality of those resources. Today, social capital has materialized within subsidized loans, investment tips, and protected markets, for instance. The habitus is cultural capital. Sometimes, the former is institutionalized [use North, 1990].

Coleman defined social capital by its function as “a variety of entities with two elements in common: They all consist of some aspect of social structures, and they facilitate certain action of actors-whether persons or corporate actors-within the structure” (Coleman, 1988). This definition thus illuminates the function of social capital within structures, because Coleman’s definition may be used  to create a research design upon exogenous and endogenous actors within the structure: like ethnicity, gender, justice, and democratic peace. It is known that democracies don’t fight with democracies [though they certainly start wars]; and, this should be attributed to reciprocity expectations and group enforcement of norms. Access to information with the right players matters.

Social capital is evident in networks. Tocqueville provides an example of social capital, whereas a member of a church would oftentimes uphold a membership card to an [religious] organization. The network enforced norms. While norms remained in tact, the group benefited from trust. Indeed, this card member could move to a different city and receive social capital. What he gave was identification. Perhaps he received a loan, or a job, or a need. Putnam deduced, “Tocqueville was right, Democratic governance is strengthened, not weakened, when it faces a vigorous civil society” (1993). However, Tocqueville also finds that soft despotism by the government may infiltrate society and stifle the American political culture. This would reduce the creativity of associations. And in light of Berman (1997), who finds that it was associations and social capital which permitted the Nazis to subvert democracy, it behooves us to discover the path to democratic governance, its junctures, bridges, and branches. As we retrace this historical path (i.e. historical institutionalism), there will be many observable critical junctures; and, in determining the next step—there should be plenty of social capital for us to examine via American political languages.

Democratic governance prima facie means rule by the people. Functionally, many of the founders concluded that the best manner to keep a republican government [i.e., the goal of the revolution] was via virtue and liberty. In light of this, Tocqueville found one particular factor which would maintain democratic government: interpersonal trust. But that trust did not pertain to the national government or to nationalism in Democracy in America(1969). Tocqueville deduced that the people in theUnited States preferred the autonomy of their local governments to national authority. He said:

The Constitution had not destroyed the individuality of the states and all bodies, of whatever sort, have a secret instinct leading them towards independence. That instinct is especially pronounced in such a country as America, where every village is a sort of republic accustomed to rule itself… As soon as a strong government did not seem necessary, people began to think it troublesome.

Today, interpersonal trust is a part of institutional analysis (Hall and Taylor). The players provide the rules of the game and resources are exchanged, but without trust, the system breaks down.. Employees, for example, are an organized [and paid] association of producers (i.e. White House Office, United Nations, Ford Motor Company). Social capital as resource, whether pithy or plentiful, is inherent within the organization by definition. Putnam’s empirical observations in Making Democracy Work (1993) are insightful with respect to new institutions and social capital, exactly because they provide evidence to the reader with respect to how the system works; and, where social capital was successfully created and consolidated, and were it was not. The institutions Putnam studied were applied ubiquitously to 15 regions inItaly during 1970, thus allowing an internally valid study prima facie.

Putnam’s analytic narrative illuminates aspects of social capital worth revisiting. Much of his evidence creates new articulated paths, and, of particular salience to this study, there are indicators along those paths that landmark the way to virtuous political development. Social capital can be a virtuous impact upon development within the public sphere through norms, reciprocity, and, most importantly, trust. Social capital via new institutionalism is exactly what Putnam is measuring, after all. Keeping Putnam in mind, as well as Coleman’s structural definition, indicators of social capital may include, but are not limited to: bounded solidarity, culture, the vote, active involvement in the public sphere, belief in the rule of law, reciprocity, enforceable trust, patterns of politics, and networks.

Social capital may be illuminated via bounded solidarity. Leading traits of bounded solidarity include new actions by members that impact and integrate into the norms of the association. For example, altruistic actions within a group, such as a sizeable donation (i.e. endowment to the University, a large donation to a church, or a man signing up for military service to fight for his country), are often altruistic and simultaneously due to a shared fate—the ties that bind. Bounded solidarity may arise because of exogenous factors, such as Bowen’s determination that the recent events inAlgeria, 9/11, and the second Intifada, bounded the nation of France to outlaw the Islamic headscarves [religious symbols in general] in schools. They may be endogenous factors, such as: rituals that are institutionalized; or psychocultural narratives. For example, Bowen said that the French enact law for the common good, to increase order and liberty, via a nondenominational state as its protector (Lichbach and Zuckerman, 2009). Actions as an exchange of resources by definition produce measurable social capital—even if those resources are creating a law to outlaw religious symbols in public places.

Culture entails the schematic images of the social order (Geertz). As social capital is an exchangeable resource within and between societies, we may use cultural indicators in part of our examination of social capital. For example, the Federalist Papers in America were manifestations of American political languages. Indeed, the political language of republicanism was the framework by which the social capital was created in early America. Actions as an exchange of resources by definition produce measurable social capital; such as the Federalist papers, which, in part, consolidated religious freedom in public places. Social capital thus comes in many forms and faces; and, the former indicators shall illuminate exactly what type of social capital is under study.

A core component, or function, of social capital is trust. Trust as an instrumental approach divines the goal(s) of the association, which becomes the norms, and importantly, the variation of those norms by members of the group. The goal(s) of the group create unexpected activities, which are often enhanced or repelled with “zeal,” to enforce trust within the norms, networks, patterns, and culture (Coleman 1988). Evidence of trust may be realized through rotating credit associations (RCAs), for instance. A random sample may be developed to from a niche market (i.e. Light’s immigrant firms in theUnited Statesfrom the frame of associations with likewise traits). RCAs consist of an observable group which contributes a set amount of a resource to a common pool. At each interval of contributing X resource, one member via rotation will receive the entire contributed resource. Trust is indispensable to the success of the program. Without such trust, disorder and variation of norms will increase. For example, if a group of twenty people contribute $1 a week in order to receive $20 every twenty weeks, then an increase of participants would extend the timeframe; and, a decrease of a contributor would decrease the payoff amount. Hence, the game creates enforceable trust.

Social capital, at times through trust, may create negative externalities. With respect to the RCAs, there is: exclusion of outsiders and a trapped insider, ability to create the resource may vary within and between participants, domination and arbitrary interference may rise, and norms may increase inefficiency over time via regression to the norm. For example, respectively, RCAs may have serious negative consequences for members who wish to withdrawal [necessary to find a suitable replacement to fulfill the norms within the network] and they exclude outsiders—making social capital a constant. All members contribute X amount on a schedule, but the struggle to obtain resource X will be different in all cases. Enforcement of trust may reprioritize the manner by which participants allocate their resources; meaning, Joe might pay his RCA account before his housing rent. Finally, members that are poor may desire to move to a poorer RCA, and likewise with the rich, but they may be unable to do so and thus loose stock.

Social capital is a created resource, and it behooves denizens to take note of its substance, which may be weak or strong, negative or positive. In addition, it may derive from the state, or at the other end, from a few people. Armony contended that inequality increases lawlessness, maintaining a state and society approach. However, social capital may also form to combat such inequality and lawlessness. In Argentina, for example, Armony found that citizenship rights groups mobilized throughout the 1990s to combat corruption and police brutality, and to seek minority rights and more equality. Armony (2004) performed a quantitative, cross-national analysis from 28 countries at the end of the 20th century to test how social capital, overall, associates with civil society. Armony openly challenges the neo-Tocquevillian assertion that social capital through networks and trust via face-to-face interactions in any voluntary association, such as bowling or bird-watching, positively impacts the macro-political life-world.

Armony’s results are imperative to understanding the “dark side” of social capital (2004). First, the cross-sectional test confirms Putnam’s hypothesis: social trust is the key to making democracy work (1993). The regression results do confirm this relationship overall. The democracies in the study do perform better when more social capital is available. But a close look regarding whether or not civic engagement causes social trust is not so definitive. Rather, Armony finds that the level of economic equality in society is better at predicting and producing positive social capital; rather than greater associational life. To simplify, positive social capital upon better governance is not created by more bowling leagues (Putnam); rather, by reducing economic inequality. Moreover, Armony contends that social capital contains a “dark side” (2004). This side of social capital enabled white supremacists in America to engage antidemocratic [negative] norms, bounded solidarity, reciprocity, and trust.

The substance of social capital may be positive and strong (i.e. northernItalyin Putnam’s 1993 study), but then new actions may change it into a subversive network. Berman uses available data on associations in Germany spanning about 100 years—measuring associational life until the Nazi party obliterated the system. She found that associational life increased over time and was “feverish” during the Weimar Republic (1997). Associations rapidly grew in the 1920s as economic, political, and social conflicts became more aggravated. Associations diversified along salient cleavages, for example, two liberal parties formed as the few bourgeois parties splintered into even more political parties. The later democratic times of theWeimarRepublic, which Weber contributed to, were overflowing with strong associational life. According to Putnam’s thesis, a stronger democracy should have been metastasizing day after day.

Berman’s empirical evidence, however, shows that social capital through strong associations enabled the Nazis to rapidly consolidate power and eliminate opposition, even as bird watching associations continued. She concluded: “What occurred in Germany was no less than an inversion of neo-Tocquevillean theory; not only did participation in civil society organizations fail to contribute to republican virtue, but it in fact subverted it” (1997). For example, in Nazis polled 2.6 percent of the electorate in 1928, but four years later became the largest political party in the Weimar Germany. Berman attributes the Nazi’s success to the depression, weak mainstream parties, Hitler’s charisma and political savvy, and, German civil society. Indeed, she found that the Hitler purposefully infiltrated civil society—associations—in order to gain power through grassroots methods. For example, Berman relayed:

Before September 1930, there existed at least 46 Nazi party members with 73 cross-affiliations. For the period before 30 January 1933 overall, there were at least 84 Nazi students and 116 nonstudent party adherents with 375 cross-affiliations to occupational associations, sports clubs, non party municipal electoral slates, civic associations, student fraternities and other local voluntary groups. By January 1933 there was at least one Nazi Party member in one out of every four voluntary groups in the city. The Nazi elite was even more well connected (1997).

Associational life in Germany was vibrant and robust, and, in 1930, disconnected with theWeimarRepublic—much like bowling clubs in America. In Weimar Germany, the Nazi ideology soon dominated the associations and then turned social capital—the very resource—into a strong link with the new government—Nazi Germany. Hence, democracy was subverted by social capital. The indicators (as descriptors) of social capital changed from liberal to authoritarian; whereas, dissent within associational life was tolerated until the Nazi ideology dominated everything. Egalitarian patterns within associations changed and soon developed into many vertical anomalies—the Nazis were creating hierarchy. The vote began to exclude minorities, worse than that, minorities oftentimes lost their citizenship and sometimes their life.

Due to the former descriptions of social capital, we may create indicators which will allow us to perform useful research. That research will indicate what social capital is within the study—whether a force to subvert democracy, or, to consolidate it. Please see Outline 1 at the beginning of this post.


[i] Putnam, in Making Democracy Work, shows limited evidence that social capital makes democracy work, which is the inverse of what Putnam said at the end of that very useful and beneficial study. Using Bourdieu to examine Putnam reveals that Putnum provides limited change of social capital in the North and South of Italy, thus, perhaphs, leading to a tautological analysis. In short, civic regions have civic governments and high approval ratings. Uncivic regions have uncivic governments and low approval ratings. Why would it be otherwise? In this manner, Putnam must show what indicators do cause civic virtue to increase. Then, he would have to show that the increase was responsible for the more efficient [dare I say happier] governments. This is what I am purporting. My indicators should help political scientists measure social capital like economists/political scientists study GDP upon democracy (think of Przeworski).

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