Dissecting Social Capital
‘Social capital’ has emerged as a preoccupation for policy makers in recent years. Social capital refers to dense networks of informal social bonds. According to its proponents, including writers such as Robert Putnam, Anthony Giddens and Francis Fukuyama, the benefits of social capital are greater economic efficiency, the reinvigoration of democratic process and a more vibrant and informed polity, lower rates of crime, better overall health, and increased literacy and numeracy. International organisations such as the OECD, the World Health Organisation, the World Bank and others, have established major research projects into measuring and understanding social capital. Governments from the national through to the local levels are seeking to use such bonds to social and economic governance. Part of the appeal of social capital is that it seems to offer a means of reasserting the importance of non-economic social bonds against the neo-liberal dominance of the market. In particular, social capital seems to offer a counterweight to the neo-liberal worldview; a means of foregrounding social priorities in the face of the dominance of the market, while avoiding idealistic and sentimentalised appeals to community. This paper seeks to contest the notion of ‘social capital’. It questions the explanatory power of social capital, particularly when used to bypass other categories of social explanation, such as class and gender for example. Furthermore, it suggests that social capital expresses a filleted vision of social life, which instead of bringing the social back in, re-imagines and re-reconstitutes informal social bonds in a way that is homologous to the social form of the commodity.
Christopher Scanlon (Australia)
The Globalism Institute
Christopher Scanlon is a researcher with Globalism Institute at RMIT University. He is currently project manager for the $1.4 million ARC funded Well-Being of Communities project co-sponsored with VicHealth. His thesis research focused on politics of community in the current era of globalisation. This work has focused particularly on debates around social capital, social inclusion and social entrepreneurship in the United Kingdom and Australia.
(30 min. Conference Paper, English)