There has been considerable and increasing interest in social capital theory in recent years, evidenced by its application to various disciplines and numerous subject areas. This interest stems from the appeal of the concept as it integrates sociology and economics, and combines a number of ideas including civic tradition, civicness, civic involvement and social cohesion. Existing studies have suggested that social capital has considerable benefits for a range of economic and sociological outcomes. These purported benefits, and the concept behind social capital, are not new but rooted in the work of early economic and sociologic thinkers. The contemporary authors, who are responsible for bringing the social capital debate to its current popularity, include Pierre Bourdieu, James Coleman and Robert Putnam. Many authors have since contributed to the rudimentary conceptualization of the complex theory.
There is no set and commonly agreed upon definition of social capital and the particular definition adopted by a study will depend on the discipline and level of investigation. There is still debate over the appropriateness of the term ‘capital’ and this has led to a general weakening of the conceptualization. These definitional and ideological problems have resulted in considerable diversity in theory, particularly in discussion of dimensions, levels, types, determinants, benefits, and downsides. The result is a number of conceptualization approaches, each attempting to simplify the complex social world while maintaining validity. The result to date has largely been poor operationalization of the concept that lacks rigor and strong theoretical links to a thorough conceptualization of social capital. Of particular interest to this study is the interaction of social capital and natural resource management. Few authors have previously made this connection with the most closely related work being on environmental management and development.