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Discussing the advantages and disadvantages of social capital

This essay will give a definition of what social capital is and its thesis? It will compare and contrast different perspectives and arguments from authors in defining social capital. The author will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of social capital by evaluating arguments from different authors.

According to Field (2008) Social capital is a sociological concept that refers to networking between individuals in the society or community. The networking is done through the aspects such as sociability, trust, mutuality, community and civic engagement. Field (2008), states that people who connect through these networks tend to share common values to an extent that these networks constitute a resource that may be seen as forming some kind of capital. Coleman (1988) defines social capital broadly as the resources accumulated through relationships among people.

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Halpern (2005) argues that there is confusion on what ‘social capital’ is and how it should be measured. Therefore it has become a buzzword among political and academic elites. Halpern (2005) continues to suggest that through the glance at how the term ‘social capital is used, it expresses that it has something to do with community, civil society and social fabric. For that reason, he concludes that social capital is about how people are connected with each other. Overall there is a suggestion that social capital is about interacting with different people in the community through friendship, family, mixing with other professionals at work or through different activities.


The existence of social capital has many benefits for the individuals and communities within it. Claridge (2004) suggests that despite problems with defining social capital and despite its metaphorical character, social capital has facilitated a series of very important empirical investigations and theoretical debates which have stimulated reconsiderations of the significance of human relations, networks and organizational forms for the quality of life and of developmental performance.

Brousell (2009) suggests that social capital is important because it is thought to increase the productivity of individuals in society. He states that the more social capital people have in their lives, the better, healthier and happier they become. Also, social capital people are expected to live longer as social capital is linked to the three highest qualities of life indicators known as humankind.

Coleman (1988) argues that the advantage of social capital is that its presence makes possible kind of actions that are beneficial and which can be highly advantageous to those individuals, groups, or organizations that possess it in sufficient quantity. For example in a community people share different values and support each other in different ways through socializing. Field (2008) Argues that social capital explores a dimension that assesses people’s ability to stay connected with members of previously inhabited communities which are called maintained social capital.

Grootaert (2004) suggests that social capital benefits from participating in diversity because there is a great potential exchange of knowledge and information. Grootaert (2004) continues to explore that members of different backgrounds may indeed have more diverse knowledge and may be able to pool risks effectively because they are more likely to have different life experiences and skills.

Helliwell & Putnam (2004) conclude that social capital, in general, is seen as a positive effect of interaction among participants in a social network

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Claridge (2004) suggests that the same characteristics of social capital that enable advantageous and prolific benefits also have the potential to cause adverse externalities. The disadvantages of social capital may include: fostering behaviours that can worsen rather than improve economic performance. For example

Brousell (2009) suggests that the same characteristics of social capital that enable beneficial, productive benefits also have the potential to cause negative externalities. The Potential downsides of social capital include social exclusion. Bartkus and Davis (2009) suggest that social exclusion is connected to an individual’s status and living standards. They state that these can affect an individual’s access to various opportunities in the community. In their research, they concluded that people with disabilities and of minority races are the ones more socially excluded in the social capital world.

Robinson and Richie (2010) argue that the most significant disadvantage of social capital is associated with negative social capital. The consequences of negative social capital include lack of sharing, engaging in mutually beneficial exchanges, fraud and discrimination. In their theory they suggested that distrust among nationalities produces low levels of economic activities and income, thereby increasing income and wealth inequalities. Field (2008) agrees that negative social capital may lead to abuse businesses and political acts that can harm others, for example, war and terrorists participates in acts that can main and kill.

Erickson (2002, p. 547) supports the identification that every feature of social structure can be social capital in the sense that it produces desired outcomes but also states that it can be a liability in the sense that it produces unwanted results. For example, the kinds of groupings and associations which can generate social capital always also carry the potential to exclude others. Halpern (2005) agrees with Erickson (2002) by explaining that Social capital can become a constraint to individuals’ actions and choices, For example, there is a high risk of negative social capital in urban poverty situations.

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Claridge, T. 2004, ‘Social Capital and Natural Resource Management’, Unpublished Thesis, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia.

Halpern, D. (2005) Social Capital. Cambridge: Polite Press.

Field, J. (2008) Key Ideas: Social Capital. 2nd ed. Oxon: Routledge.

Coleman, J. S. (1988a) Social capital in the creation of human capital. American Journal of Sociology. 94: p95-p120.

Coleman, J. S. (1988b). The creation and destruction of social capital: Implications for the law. The Journal of Law, Ethics and Public Policy 3: p375-p404.

Helliwell, J. F., & Putnam, R. D. (2004). The social context of well-being. Journal of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, 359 1449, p1435-p1446.

Brousell, R, D. (2009) The importance of Social Capital. Online Thomas Publishing Company.

Grootert, C. (2004) Measuring social capital: an integrated questionnaire, Washington: World Bank Research Observer.

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