A muddle concept: making sense of social capital operationalizations
Instituto de Ciências Sociais Universidade de Lisboa - Instituto de Ciências Sociais Lisboa, Portugal
CIES - Centre for Research and Studies in Sociology (ISCTE) CIES - Centre for Research and Studies in Sociology (ISCTE) Lisboa, Portugal
Social Capital is an ever-changing concept. The literature is so extensive and with so many clues for research that it is hard to elect one. Political Science, Economics, Sociology, Management, among other disciplines benefited from its applicability. However, we wish to reflect about the paths that some authors developed trying to conceptualise this idea. But more than that, we want to achieve a level of abstraction that permits us to comprehend some key aspects. In order to attain this goal, we propose to abridge some key approaches of the concept and analyse some of the possible analytical schemes.
This controversial concept has, though, a common aspect emerging from current debates: most of the literature tries to build explanatory approaches focusing mainly on sociocultural factors to explain political processes and phenomena. Nonetheless, empirical studies combine a broad variety of operationalizations of the concept, either measuring, for example, network involvement, trust, citizenship norms, among other dimensions. In our perspective, this is a fundamental normative concept because it is an attractive element for public policy making - positive connotation attributed to its presence in society and its causal role in civic attitudes and engagement.
As we noted this is a successful and widely diffused concept regarded by many as an instrument for social research. Several authors elaborated different theories of social capital, with diverse purposes in mind. Bourdieu (1980) presented a resource and group-centred approach, this effort was made in the attempt of edifice a theory of social reproduction (underlying material and symbolic resources). Coleman (1987), on the other side, intended to provide a framework to his argument social relations characterize the social structure and social capital is, in his perspective, a way to reconcile individual action and social structure. Putnam (2000) sustains that social capital refers to connections among individuals social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them. Although, for us, a fundamental questioning is how social capital should/ could be measured? We will try to shed light over the multiple operationalizations of the concept and try to extract and analyse the trends and analytical models proposed.