Social Capital Conceptualisation Approaches

Woolcock and Narayan (2000)[1] have identified four distinct approaches the research has taken: communitarian, networks, institutional, and synergy (refer to table 3). The authors state that ‘the evidence suggests that of the four, the synergy view, with its emphasis on incorporating different levels and dimensions of social capital and its recognition of the positive and negative outcomes that social capital can generate, has the greatest empirical support and lends itself best to comprehensive and coherent policy prescriptions’ (Woolcock and Narayan 2000, p. 225[1] ). From the following discussion it can be seen that each approach has things to offer for an appropriate conceptualization of social capital.

Four views of social capital

Four views of social capital (Source: Woolcock and Narayan 2000)

Other authors describe other breakdowns of approaches. For example Requena (2003) described three approaches, social networks, associational participation and generalized trust. Another common analysis is based on the differences of the three early contemporary authors; Bourdieu, Coleman and Putnam (Schuller et al. 2000[2] ). The four approaches identified by Woolcock and Narayan (2000) provided a very sound analysis of the literature so will be discussed in some detail in following sections.


  1. Woolcock, Michael, and Deepa Narayan. 2000. “Social capital:  Implications for development theory, research, and policy.” The World Bank Research Observer 15: 225-249. ^
  2. Schuller, Tom, Stephen Baron, and John Field. 2000. “Social capital: a review and critique.” Pp. 1-39 in Social Capital: Critical Perspectives, edited by Tom Schuller. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ^

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