Levels at Which Social Capital is Located

Further to dimensional problems, social capital has been located at the level of the individual, the informal social group, the formal organization, the community, the ethnic group and even the nation (Bankston and Zhou 2002[1] ; Coleman 1988[2] ; Portes 1998[3] ; Putnam 1995[4] ; Sampson et al. 1999[5] ). There are divergent views in the literature; some authors posit social capital at the individual level, some the community level and others have a more dynamic view. Kilby (2002)[6] stated that social capital exists within levels or scales as one feels belonging to family, community, profession, country, etc, simultaneously. Adler and Kwon (2002)[7] supported this stating that social capital’s sources lie in the social structure within which the actor is located. Thus, social capital can be thought of as having an individual and an aggregate component (Buys and Bow 2002[8] ; Newton 1997[9] ; Slangen et al. 2003[10] ). That is, social capital belongs to the group and can be used by the group or individuals within the group (Kilpatrick et al. 1998[11] ; Sander 2002[12] ).

Brewer (2003)[13] stated that although social capital was originally conceived as a community-wide concept, it should be observable at the individual level. Baum and Ziersch (2003)[14] disagreed with this, identifying that Bourdieu identified it at the individual level and that Putnam since at the community level. Coleman argued that social capital is not an attribute of individuals but a context-dependent aspect of social structure (Hogan and Owen 2000[15] ; Robinson 2000[16] ). Glaeser, Laibson et al (2002)[17] identified that post-Coleman literature has almost universally viewed social capital as a community-level attribute. Social capital and civil society are essentially social and collective property of social systems, not a characteristic of individuals (Newton 2001)[18] . The key empirical difference between human and social capital is that social capital inheres in relations between individuals and groups, not in individuals per se (Edwards and Foley 1998)[19] . The general consensus in the literature is that social capital is identifiable from the individual level to the level of the nation however it is clear that social capital is evident at any level where there is identification and belonging. The classification into micro (individual), meso (group) and macro (societal) is useful in analysis of social capital (refer to figure 7).

Illustration of the interaction of levels at which social capital exists.

Figure 7. Illustration of the interaction of levels at which social capital exists.

The goods produced by social capital can also occur at different levels of the social structure (Paxton 1999)[20] . It can be a private good or a public good depending on the level (Aldridge et al. 2002)[21] . Onyx and Bullen (2001)[22] supported this identifying that social capital appears to be both a private and a public good. There is not consensus in the literature however. Coleman (1988)[22] argued that social capital is a public good, however Fukuyama posited that it is in fact a private good (Fukuyama 2001[23] ; Fukuyama 2002[24] ). Fukuyama (2002)[24] suggested that social capital is not a public good but a private good that produces extensive positive and negative externalities. This is supported by Dasgupta (1999, p. 325) who stated that ‘social capital is a private good that is nonetheless pervaded by externalities, both positive and negative’.


  1. Bankston, Carl L, and Min Zhou. 2002. ‘Social Capital as a Process: The Meanings and Problems of a Theoretical Metaphor.’ Sociological Inquiry 72: 285-317. ^
  2. Coleman, James S. 1988. ‘Social Capital in the Creation of Human Capital.’ The American Journal of Sociology 94: S95. ^
  3. Portes, Alejandro. 1998. “Social capital: its origins and applications in modern sociology.” Annual Review of Sociology 24: 1-25. ^
  4. Putnam, Robert D. 1995. “Bowling alone: America’s declining social capital.” Journal of Democracy 6: 65-78. ^
  5. Sampson, Robert J, Jeffrey D Morenoff, and Felton Earls. 1999. “Beyond Social Capital: Spatial dynamics of collective efficiancy for children.” American Journal of Sociological Review 64: 633-60. ^
  6. Kilby, Patrick. 2002. ‘Social capital and civil society.’ Pp. 1-15. Canberra: National Centre for Development Studies at ANU. ^
  7. Adler, Paul S, and Seok-Woo Kwon. 2002. ‘Social Capital: Prospects For a New Concept.’ Academy of Management. The Academy of Management Review 27: 17-40. ^
  8. Buys, Laurie, and Val Bow. 2002. ‘The impact of privacy on social capital.’ in Social Change in the 21st Century Conference. Brisbane: QUT. ^
  9. Newton, Kenneth. 1997. “Social Capital and Democracy.” American Behavioral Scientist 40: 575-586. ^
  10. Slangen, Louis H. G., G. Cornelis van Kooten, and Pavel Suchanek. 2003. “Institutions, social capital and agricultural change in central and eastern Europe.” Journal of Rural Studies In Press, Corrected Proof. ^
  11. Kilpatrick, Sue, Rowena Bell, and Ian Falk. 1998. ‘Groups of Groups: the role of group learning in building social capital.’ Pp. 13. Launceston: Centre for Research and Leaning in Regional Australia. ^
  12. Sander, Thomas H. 2002. “Social capital and new urbanism: leading a civic horse to water.” National Civic Review 91: 213-221. ^
  13. Brewer, Gene A. 2003. ‘Building Social Capital: Civic Attitudes and Behavior of Public Servants.’ Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory 13: 5-26. ^
  14. Baum, FE, and AM Ziersch. 2003. ‘Social Capital.’ Journal of Epidemiology Community Health 57: 320-3. ^
  15. Hogan, David, and David Owen. 2000. ‘Social capital, active citizenship and political equality in Australia.’ Pp. 74 – 104 in Social capital and public policy in Australia, edited by Ian Winter. Melbourne: National Library of Australia. ^
  16. Robinson, David. 2000. “Social Capital in Action.” Social Policy Journal of New Zealand: 185. ^
  17. Glaeser, Edward L, David Laibson, and Bruce Sacerdote. 2002. ‘An economic approach to social capital.’ The Economic Journal 112: 437-458. ^
  18. Newton, Kenneth. 2001. “Trust, social capital, civil society, and democracy.” International Political Science Review 22: 201-214. ^
  19. Edwards, Bob, and Michael Foley. 1998. ‘Civil society and social capital beyond Putnam.’ American Behavioural Scientist 42: 124-139. ^
  20. Paxton, Pamela. 1999. “Is social capital declining in the United States?  A multiple indicator assessment.” The American Journal of Sociology 105: 88. ^
  21. Aldridge, Stephen, David Halpern, and Sarah Fitzpatrick. 2002. Social Capital: A Discussion Paper. London, England: Performance and Innovation Unit. ^
  22. Onyx, Jenny, and Paul Bullen. 2001. “The different faces of social capital in NSW Australia.” Pp. 45 – 58 in Social Capital and Participation in Everyday Life, edited by Eric M. Uslaner. London: Routledge. ^
  23. Fukuyama, Francis. 2001. ‘Social capital, civil society and development.’ Third World Quarterly 22: 7-20. ^
  24. Fukuyama, Francis. 2002. ‘Social capital and development: The coming agenda.’ SAIS Review 22: 23-37. ^

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