What is Cognitive Social Capital?
Cognitive social capital is a dimension of social capital that relates to resources providing shared representations, interpretations, and systems of meaning among parties. It is the cognitive schemes and systems of meaning as exhibited in common vocabulary and narratives. Cognitive social capital is the shared language and codes that provide the foundation for communication.
Cognitive social capital is one of three dimensions of social capital, the others being structural and relational social capital. The distinction between structural, cognitive, and relational social capital was made by Janine Nahapiet and Sumantra Ghoshal and forms the most widely used and accepted framework for understanding social capital. These dimensions are conceptual distinctions that are useful for analytic convenience but in practice social capital involves complex interrelations between the three dimensions.
|Social structure||Shared understandings||Nature and quality of relationships|
Nahapiet and Ghoshal (1998) had originally related cognitive social capital to shared language and shared narratives, but other authors have described it also through shared goals or vision, and shared culture.
While the structural dimension can be observed in tangible relationships, roles, rules, and procedures the cognitive dimension is intangible as it relates to interpretations of a shared reality. It relates to Bourdieu’s theory of habitus – a set of dispositions, reflexes and forms of behaviour people acquire through acting in society. Or it relates to Habermas’ theory of lifeworld – the “background” environment of competencies, practices, and attitudes representable in terms of one’s cognitive horizon.
Cognitive social capital is often manifested in the use of specific language and codes. For example, certain words within an organisation may have different, or no, meaning outside the organisation.
Some authors conceptualise two (structural and cognitive) rather than three dimensions (structural, cognitive, and relational), for example van Bastelaer 2001; Chou, Yuan 2006; Grootaert et al. 2003; Krishna and Shrader 1999; Uphoff 1999). These authors do not distinguish between cognitive and relational social capital and may use the term cognitive or relational. This has led to additional confusion in the literature about what is included in cognitive and what is relational social capital.
For example, Normal Uphoff (1999) stated that norms of trust and reciprocity are forms of cognitive social capital. However, he conceptualised social capital as only two dimensions: structural and cognitive. So, this may result in unwitting readers includes these factors as cognitive social capital even though under a three-way distinction these factors would be relational social capital.
This confusion is exacerbated by the similarity and overlap of cognitive and relational dimensions. Both forms arise from the mental rather than the material realm, so both are ultimately cognitive. The distinction between the two dimensions is that the characteristics of the relational dimension are embedded in, or relate specifically to, social relationships. This is somewhat different from cognitive social capital that describes the wider social context rather than being a characteristic of specific relationships.
Shared understanding within a group, organisation, or community is cognitive, whereas trust and norms of reciprocity is relational as it describes the quality of, or is embedded within, social relationships.
Cognitive social capital is shared values or paradigms that allow a common understanding of appropriate ways of acting. Thus, cognitive social capital provides a set of norms of acceptable behaviour.
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Tristan Claridge has a passion for technology, innovation and teaching. He is an academic and entrepreneur, and he uses his cross-discipline knowledge and experience to solve problems and identify opportunities. He has bachelors and masters degrees from the University of Queensland in Australia. He has qualifications in environmental science, social theory, teaching and research, and business management.
Tristan is dedicated to the application of social capital theory to organisations. His diverse experience in teaching, research, and business has given him a unique perspective on organisational social capital and the potential improvements that can be achieved in any organisation.