The difference between bonding and bridging social capital relates to the nature of the relationships or associations in the social group or community. Bonding social capital is within a group or community whereas bridging social capital is between social groups, social class, race, religion or other important sociodemographic or socioeconomic characteristics. The bonding/bridging distinction can be made in relation to a range of relationship and network characteristics. The table below summarises the main features of each.
|Bonding social capital||Bridging social capital|
|Inward looking||Outward looking|
|“Getting by”||“Getting ahead”|
|Strong ties||Weak ties|
|People who are alike||People who are different|
|Thick trust||Thin trust|
|Network closure||Structural holes|
|Public-good model||Private-good model|
Robert Putman in his book Bowling Alone discussed bonding social capital is good for “getting by” and bridging is crucial for “getting ahead” . Putnam credit these terms to Ross Gittell and Avis Vidal .
Scholars at the World Bank are credited with adding the concept of linking social capital to describe relationships among people or institutions at different levels of societal power hierarchy . Some authors include linking to make the three-way distinction between bonding, bridging, and linking social capital.
The distinction between bonding and bridging social capital builds on the seminal work of Mark Granovetter on embeddedness. This line to social capital theory is called the network approach and is most commonly used by researchers approaching social capital from economics. Key authors in this theoretical tradition can be traced from James Coleman to Ronald Burt, Nan Lin, and Alejandro Portes.
The concepts of bonding and bridging social capital are associated with the network theories of structural holes and network closure. In this context the difference between bridging and bonding social capital is structural holes as bridging and network closure as bonding. The social network theories provide a rich tradition of research that social capital theorists find highly applicable.
The taxonomic refinement of bonding and bridging has been described as types of social capital, as forms of social capital, as dimensions of social capital, and as functions of social capital. These terms are often used interchangeably, even by the same author in a single publication.
Some authors have conceptualised the difference between bonding and bridging social capital as different types of trust. Bridging social capital could be conceptualised as generalized trust (earned trust) and bonding social capital as ascribed trust.
In practice the distinction between bonding, bridging and linking social capital is not easy given the multiple and overlapping relationships individuals have with others
In the past some authors have taken one type, bonding or bridging, as the approach for their research. This is uncommon in recent years when researchers have preferred more comprehensive approaches.
Problems with bonding/bridging distinctions
These typologies amalgamate a variety of contradictory aspects of both networks and norms into single categories, creating methodological blind spots that decrease the use-value of the concept. Bonding and bridging are not completely mutually exclusive. Groups from a similar background are not similar in every respect, and may provide bridging links across, for instance, generations or sexes or educational achievement. Conversely, in groups from different ethnic backgrounds people may find others of the same age and sex with a common educational background and interests.
- In practice bridging social capital can be horizontal or vertical. See section on linking social capital for further discussion. ^
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