Interaction enables people to build communities, to commit themselves to each other, and to knit the social fabric. The concept of social capital contends that building or rebuilding community and individualization of child development requires face-to-face encounters. However, there can also be a significant downside.
Social capital is defined by its function. The three thinkers that most commentators highlight in terms of developing a theoretical appreciation of social capital are Pierre Bourdieu, James Coleman and Robert Putnam. Bourdieu wrote from within a broadly Marxist framework. He began by distinguishing between three forms of capital: economic, cultural and social. In other words, he argued that those living in marginalized communities or who were members of the working class could also benefit from its possession. It is interesting to compare Coleman’s and Bourdieu’s contributions to thinking about social capital. Coleman’s view is more nuanced in that he discerns the value of connections for all actors, individual and collective, privileged and disadvantaged.
Robert Putnam’s ability to draw upon a wide range of theory, to synthesize and write for a wider audience, and to catch the public mood in the United States would have been enough to encourage a wider embrace of the notion of social capital. People often might be better off if they cooperate, with each doing her share. Second, social capital greases the wheels that allow communities to advance smoothly. When people lack connection to others, they are unable to test the veracity of their own views, whether in the give or take of casual conversation or in more formal deliberation. Social capital also operates through psychological and biological processes to improve individual’s lives. Community connectedness is not just about warm fuzzy tales of civic triumph. In measurable and well-documented ways, social capital makes an enormous difference to our lives.