Published: 28. 6. 2007
New publications

Social Capital: Concepts, Theories, and Methods of Measurement - Jiří Šafr, Markéta Sedláčková



This study introduces the concept of social capital, which only began to appear explicitly in the social sciences at the end of the 1980s, though it was studied implicitly as sources embedded in social networks beginning in the early 1970s. The boom in empirical studies of social capital has meant that various diverse concepts of social capital now exist. This study presents a detailed overview of related terms, theoretical concepts, and typologies and takes a detailed and critical look at the social capital theories of P. Bourdieu, J. Coleman, N. Lin, R. Putnam and G. Becker. The authors distinguish two basic levels of social capital: individual and collective, and in the case of the individual type a further distinction is made between mobilising and interactive social capital.They show that the two branches of study associated with the two levels of social capital have gradually come to form two distinct paradigms, and they present two theories representing these paradigms: Lin's theory of instrumental action using social resources (2001) and the “Putnam-plus” macro-social model (Halpern 2005). Attention is also devoted to the specific features of social capital in post-communist countries and especially to how the study of social capital has developed in Czech sociology. The study then looks at various approaches to measuring different types of social capital. The authors focus particularly on social trust as the constitutive element of collective social capital and resources in social networks as a core of individual mobilising social capital. Research themes connected with this topic and some projects addressing it are also presented in the volume. In addition to presenting some internationally standardised measurement tools of international organizations (World Bank) the study highlights some research approaches that use qualitative data collection and analysis to study social capital. In conclusion the authors present some information on how to conduct research on social capital and how to stage the research. The appendix to the study contains the authors' operationalisation (question wording) of the three levels of social capital applied in the survey “Social and Cultural Cohesion 2006”.



social capital, social capital concepts, social capital theories, typology and measurement of social capital, collective/community social capital, individual social capital, mobilising and interactive social capital



The first part of this study presents a detailed overview of the theoretical concepts, typologies, and theories of social capital. The second part focuses on measuring social capital and presents examples of research tools and projects. Social capital, despite being a relatively new concept, has been studied in sociology since it originated, but in the 1970s it became the focus of research in socio-economic analyses of social networks. The authors present the concepts of four theorists of social capital: Bourdieu (the instrument of class reproduction), Coleman (norms of cooperation in upbringing and in the community), Putnam (the association of people as positive externalities for all of society), Lin (resources in the social structure that can be mobilised).They also look at approaches in economics, with a more detailed account of the concept of G. Becker (the social environment and norms of consumption). They critically contrast Bourdieu's approach with those of Coleman and Putnam.They point out some thus far neglected facts, for example, that Bourdieu's theory is a theory of class reproduction and not a rational choice theory, as is often indicated. They also point out that when social capital is discussed as a private good it is better to draw on the sociological tradition of the study of resources in the context of social networks (Granovetter, Lin, Burt, Flap, de Graaf, etc.), a tradition today represented by Nan Lin. The authors also discuss the questions of whether it is possible to refer to social capital as capital, and whether it is a public or private good.


Two paradigms of social capital are recommended, one as an individual resource (primarily economic sociology and sociology of education) and the other as a collective resource (political science and economics). These paradigms are represented by two theories. The first is Lin's theory of instrumental action using social resources (2001) and the second is the “Putnam-plus” macro-social model (Halpern 2005), which is presented in the context of Putnam's theory of democracy.


The authors propose their own conceptual scheme, designed for the purpose of measurement, which takes into account the levels of the effects of social capital.They distinguish between individual mobilizing social capital (as resources that bring returns to the individual), collective social capital (positive externalities of association as a public good), and individual interactive social capital (the degree of sociability of the individual benefiting both of the two preceding types). This perspective thus does not just adhere to the logic of a public-private good but reflects two levels of significance of social networks for individuals (sociability, important for internalising norms vs. contexts as a resource that can be mobilised for the individual's benefit).


In the study, a detailed analysis is also made of various typologies of social capital, clarifying the

effects of and approaches to the study of social capital, particularly the bridging type (bringing together different groups), the bonding type (creating cohesive groups, but contributing thus to the exclusion of others) and the linking type (vertical relationships between formal authority and people in need of some assistance). The latter type has an positive influence on economic development primarily in transition countries. Other types mentioned include structural/cognitive, private-personalised/collective-public, and so on.


The authors show that there are some specific features to the functioning of social capital in the post-communist transition countries, and these must be taken into account in theoretical and empirical approaches to research. This mainly refers to the increasing significance of social networks and the role of informal associations as opposed to the formal participation that is emphasised in the conventional model of democracy. A separate chapter in the volume is devoted to the study of social capital in Czech sociology, which applied the individual concept, prior to the emergence of the collective type (linked to Coleman and Putnam), primarily in analyses of intra-generational mobility after 1989, and especially as a factor of entry into the elites (Možný, Matějů). As a result, in social capital discourse in Czech research it is only in recent years that attention has been devoted to the study of the collective type (social trust, civic participation).


The second part of the study deals with approaches and instruments for measuring social capital.

After an introductory theoretical discussion, examples of instruments used to measure individual social capital are presented and the authors take a detailed look at three types of generators: name, position and resource measuring resources in the social network of respondents, an approach thus far overlooked in Czech research. For the collective type, methods of measuring social trust are presented (the Rozenberg scale, the Yamagishi index). Information is presented on R. Putnam's method of measurement (the social capital index, the Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey), on the related instruments used by the World Bank (SC-IQ and SOCAT) and on alternative approaches using qualitative methodology. The authors then look briefly at some projects that have studied the formation and the effects of social capital and its influence in selected spheres (impact on health and local economic development), accompanied by data sources and information available on the Internet (see the appendix for details). The authors distinguish four stages of development in social capital research over the past two decades – the pre-empirical stage, the emergence of the collective concept in secondary analysis, the attempt to conceptualise along with the development of primary research, and conceptual standardisation for international comparisons and the revival of interest in the individual perspective. They also point out other research perspectives for the future.


In conclusion the authors emphasise the need to take into account the varied effects of social capital and of how it functions in different environments and at different levels of society. In the case of social capital, context matters and it matters more here than in any other form of capital. The appendix to the study contains the authors' operationalisation (question wording) of the three levels of social capital applied in a representative survey of the Czech population: “Social and Cultural Cohesion 2006”.


Despite the considerable amount of chaos that has surrounded the topic of social capital in the past decade, there is one point of agreement among all researchers. Social capital always involves some form of human reciprocity, that is, a social network and the norms of reciprocity (and social control) rooted within it, which together constitute resources. Nevertheless, in the Czech case it is still necessary to remember that there is a profound difference between implications and the context in which social capital is studied theoretically and empirically. Whether then these are resources that can be applied in individual behaviour (e.g. contributing to economic exchanges, job hunting, looking after children), or whether the effects of these resources, that is, the positive externalities of human interactions, apply to the wider community (trust in the market, crime prevention, and other phenomena). What must also be considered is whether collective behaviour of social networks produces positive or negative externalities for other groups and society as a whole.



Share this page

Attached links

Attached images