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Social Capital

There have been many attempts to define ‘social capital’. These have involved such concepts as 'social energy', 'community spirit', 'social bonds', 'civic virtue', 'community networks', 'social ozone', 'extended friendships', 'community life', 'social resources', 'informal and formal networks', 'good neighborliness' and 'social glue'.

Robert Putnam’s definition is helpful: social capital he says “refers to features of social organization such as networks, norms, and social trust that facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit."

The idea of social capital is clearly attractive. However, it is hard to encapsulate in a single sentence, and because its measurement continues to defy simple quantification, the debate rages on. One writer has even suggested that the concept of social capital "risks trying to explain too much with too little". The term is "being adopted indiscriminately, adapted uncritically, and applied imprecisely”.

That said, Putnam has argued that social capital has "forceful, even quantifiable effects on many different aspects of our lives" and it is more than "warm, cuddly feelings or frissons of community pride".

Moreover, research does correlate high social capital with a multiplicity of desirable outcomes including lower crime rates, better health, improved longevity, better educational achievement, greater levels of income equality, improved child welfare and lower rates of child abuse, less corrupt and more effective government, and enhanced economic achievement through increased trust and lower transaction costs.

Indeed, there does appear to be a consensus that those who are well-informed and well-connected are more likely to be ‘housed, healthy, hired and happy’ than those who are not.

Our village learning circles in Sierra Leone provide a focus for building social capital and challenging attitudes and practices that discriminate against women and girls.

Source: www.statistics.gov.uk/socialcapital/downloads/soccaplitreview.pdf