Social capital

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A starting definition for social capital could be that which has been used in documentation of previous European Union programmes:

"Social capital consists of features of social organisations such as networks, norms and social trust that facilitate co-ordination and cooperation for mutual benefit."

This definition has its origin in a number of sources. The current debate on the concept of social capital derives mainly from the work of two Americans: the sociologist James Coleman, writing in the 1980s', and the political scientist Robert Putnam writing in the 1990's. The French Marxist sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, also writing in the 1990's is frequently cited in the literature as a third source of the present theorisation on social capital. The three respectively define social capital in the following ways:

“social capital is defined by its function. It is not a single entity, like other forms of capital, social capital is productive, making possible the achievement of certain ends that would not be attainable in its absence. … Social capital is embodied in the relations among persons.. (a) group whose members manifest trustworthiness and place extensive trust in one another will be able to accomplish more than a comparable group lacking that trustworthiness and trust”. Coleman (1990);

“social capital .... refers to features of social organisation, such as trust, norms and networks, that can improve the efficiency of society by facilitating co-ordinated actions”. Putnam (1993)

“the sum of resources, actual or virtual, that accrue to an individual or group by virtue of possessing a durable network of more or less institutionalised relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition”. Bourdieu (1992)

The Concise Working Definition for Social Capital

Social Capital consists of resources within communities which are created through the presence of high levels of:

  • Trust: having relations of trust with people and organisations so that you feel confident and comfortable working with them.
  • Reciprocity and mutuality: having the sort of relations with people and organisations which means that if you do something for them without expecting immediate payback; that you help each other out; that you are prepared to work together on schemes of common advantage.
  • Social networks: being in touch with a wide range of people and organisations so that you get to know them; to learn to trust them and work together; to give and get information.
  • Shared norms of behaviour: realising that you share ideas with others on how things should be done; that you can build a common vision; that you broadly agree on what is acceptable and what is not.
  • Sense of commitment and belonging: realising that sharing a commitment to an area or to a group can uncover a shared understanding of issues and leads to a common sense of purpose.

which may be used productively by individuals and groups to facilitate actions to benefit individuals, groups and community more generally.”

Source: Kay, A.; Pearce, J. (2003): Information Paper on Social Capital

Note in Japanese

The literal translation of the word "social capital" in Japanese would be "社会資本" (shakai shihon) but this word should be avoided as it means "infrastructure" such as highways and sewage. The transliteration "ソーシャル・キャピタル" (sôsharu kyapitaru) would be more adequate instead.


  • Ben Quiñones & Sunimal Fernando (2001-2004): Social Capital in Finance of Solidarity, Finance of Solidarity Workshop
  • Evans, M.(2005): The Role of Social Capital in the Social Economy. In: Birkhölzer, K.; Klein, A.; Priller, E.; Zimmer, A. (eds.): Dritter Sektor / Drittes System. Theorie, Funktionswandel und zivilgesellschaftliche Perspektiven. Wiesbaden
  • Coleman, James. S. 1994. “Social Capital in the Creation of Human Capital”. In American Journal of Sociology, 1994 Supplement, pp. 105-8
  • Fernando, Sunimal, 2002. “The Risks of Social Capital: A Response to the Mid Term Report on ‘Social Finance and Social Ties’ Based on Some Experiences from Sri Lankan Villages”.
  • Putnam, Robert D. 1993. Making Democracy Work: The Civic Traditions in Modern Italy. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

de:Soziales Kapital es:Capital social fr:Capital social ja:ソーシャル・キャピタル ko:사회적 자본 pt:Capital social