WHAT IS SOCIAL CAPITAL?
Social capital is a universal issue—affecting and impacting everyone—and is a key ingredient in a community where each belongs. Robert Putnam defined the concept of social capital as “referring to connections among individuals—social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them…(It) is closely related to…civic virtue…A society of many virtuous but isolated individuals is not necessarily rich in social capital.”
Stop and think about it. Your life is a complex web of people to whom you relate on various levels and on whom you rely for various things. Those people to whom you are closest are your “covenant relationships.” These are the people you love, with whom you spend the most amount of time, and with whom you have the most social reciprocity. Next, the people with whom you freely exchange and share common interests make up your “friendship” relationships. Last are the people you know and see in your daily or weekly activities. You exchange pleasantries with these folks and might even discuss or debate events around you, but you do not go much beyond these dimensions.
Just as the types of relationships that people have are different, so are the benefits and rewards associated with them. Sociologists describe three types of support that flow through one’s social network:
Instrumental support refers to the provision of tangible resources, such as a ride to the store, a place to stay, or help with child care. This type of support is typically provided by those with whom one is closer and more intimate. The value reaped here is mostly tangible.
Emotional support includes help coping with stress and other emotional needs, such as talking to a friend about a bad day or a problem you are facing, and is provided by individuals to whom one is close to and trusts. This type of support has been linked to improved health and happiness outcomes for all individuals, although most of this benefit is intangible.
Lastly, informational support includes access to information and resources, and can be provided by any member of one’s network, whether a close friend or someone barely known. All three types of support are important. The value of one’s social capital is the dynamic interplay of these resources.
- Putnam R, Tuning In, Turning Out: The Strange Disappearance of Social Capital in America. PS: Political Science and Politics 28(4): 664-683, 1995.
- S. Cohen, Social Relationships and Health, American Psychologist, (2005), 676-684.
- S. Cohen and S. Pressman, Stress-Buffering Hypothesis, Encyclopedia of Health and Behavior, edited by N. Anderson, Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, 2004.