02 Jan 2018

What is the difference between bonding and bridging social capital?

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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 capitalBridging social capital
Inward lookingOutward looking
“Getting by”“Getting ahead”
Strong tiesWeak ties
People who are alikePeople who are different
Thick trustThin trust
Network closureStructural holes
Public-good modelPrivate-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” [2]. Putnam credit these terms to Ross Gittell and Avis Vidal [3].

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 [4][5]. 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[6][7][8] on embeddedness. This line to social capital theory is call 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[9][10] to Ronald Burt[11][12][13], Nan Lin[14][15][16], and Alejandro Portes[17][18][19][20][21].

The concepts of bonding and bridging social capital are associated with the network theories of structural holes and network closure[22]. 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[23], as forms of social capital[24][25][26], as dimensions of social capital[26], and as functions of social capital[27]. These terms are often used interchangeably, even by the same author in a single publication.

Difference between bonding and bridging social capitalSome 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[28].

In practice the distinction between bonding, bridging and linking social capital is not easy given the multiple and overlapping relationships individuals have with others[29]

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[29]. 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[30].

Read more about the different approaches to conceptualising and measuring bonding/bridging social capital.

  1. In practice bridging social capital can be horizontal or vertical. See section on linking social capital for further discussion. ^
  2. Putnam, Robert D. 2000. Bowling Alone : The Collapse and Revival of American Community. New York: Simon & Schuster. ^
  3. Gittell, Ross J. and Avis. Vidal. 1998. Community Organizing : Building Social Capital as a Development Strategy. Sage Publications. ^
  4. Woolcock, Michael. 2001. “Microenterprise and Social Capital: A Framework for Theory, Research, and Policy.” The Journal of Socio-Economics 30:193–98. ^
  5. Szreter, S. and Michael Woolcock. 2004. “Health by Association? Social Capital, Social Theory, and the Political Economy of Public Health.” International Journal of Epidemiology 33(4):650–67. ^
  6. Granovetter, Mark S. 1973. “The Strength of Weak Ties.” American Journal of Sociology 78(6):1360–80. ^
  7. Granovetter, Mark. 1985. “Economic Action and Social Structure: The Problem of Embeddedness.” American Journal of Sociology 91(3):481–510. ^
  8. Granovetter, Mark. 2000. A Theoretical Agenda for Economic Sociology. ^
  9. Coleman, James S. 1988. “Social Capital in the Creation of Human Capital.” The American Journal of Sociology 94:S95. ^
  10. Coleman, James S. 1990. Foundations of Social Theory. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. ^
  11. Burt, Ronald S. 1982. Toward a Structural Theory of Action : Network Models of Social Structure, Perception, and Action. New York: Academic Press. ^
  12. Burt, Ronald. 1997. “The Contingent Value of Social Capital.” Administrative Science Quarterly 42(2):339–65. ^
  13. Burt, Ronald. 2000. “The Network Structure of Social Capital.” Research in Organisational Behaviour 22:345–423. ^
  14. Marsden, Peter V and Nan Lin. 1982. Social Structure and Network Analysis. Beverly Hills: Sage Publications. ^
  15. Lin, Nan. 2001. “Building a Network Theory of Social Capital.” Pp. 3–30 in Social capital : theory and research, edited by N. Lin, K. S. Cook, and R. Burt. New York: Aldine de Gruyter. ^
  16. Lin, Nan, Karen S. Cook, and Ronald S. Burt. 2001. Social Capital : Theory and Research. New York: Aldine de Gruyter. ^
  17. Portes, Alejandro and Julia Sensenbrenner. 1993. “Embeddedness and Immigration: Notes on the Social Determinants of Economic Action.” American Journal of Sociology 98:1320–50. ^
  18. Portes, Alejandro and Patricia Landolt. 1996. “The Downside of Social Capital.” The American Prospect 26:18–23. ^
  19. Portes, Alejandro. 1998. “Social Capital: Its Origins and Applications in Modern Sociology.” Annual Review of Sociology 24(1):1–25. ^
  20. Portes, Alejandro. 2000. “The Two Meanings of Social Capital.” Sociological Forum 15(1):1–12. ^
  21. Portes, Alejandro and Patricia Landolt. 2000. “Social Capital: Promise and Pitfalls of Its Role in Development.” Journal of Latin American Studies 32(2):529. ^
  22. Adler, Paul S. and Seok-Woo Kwon. 2002. “Social Capital: Prospects for a New Concept.” Academy of Management. The Academy of Management Review 27(1):17–40. ^
  23. Ramos-Pinto, Pedro. 2012. “Social Capital as a Capacity for Collective Action.” Pp. 53–69 in Assessing Social Capital: Concept, Policy and Practice. Cambridge Scholars Press. ^
  24. Gooderham, Paul, Dana B. Minbaeva, and Torben Pedersen. 2011. “Governance Mechanisms for the Promotion of Social Capital for Knowledge Transfer in Multinational Corporations.” Journal of Management Studies 48(1):123–50. ^
  25. Widén-Wulff, Gunilla et al. 2008. “Information Behaviour Meets Social Capital: A Conceptual Model.” Journal of Information Science 34(3):346–55. ^
  26. Woolcock, Michael and Deepa Narayan. 2000. “Social Capital: Implications for Development Theory, Research, and Policy.” The World Bank Research Observer 15(2):225–49. ^
  27. Seferiadis, Anastasia A., Sarah Cummings, Marjolein B. M. Zweekhorst, and Joske F. G. Bunders. 2015. “Producing Social Capital as a Development Strategy: Implications at the Micro-Level.” Progress in Development Studies 15(2). ^
  28. van Staveren, Irene and Peter Knorringa. 2007. “Unpacking Social Capital in Economic Development: How Social Relations Matter.” Review of Social Economy 65(1):107–35. ^
  29. Healy, Tom. 2002. Social Capital: The Challenge of International Measurement -Paper The Measurement of Social Capital at International Level. Paris. ^
  30. Edwards, R. W. 2004. Measuring Social Capital: An Australian Framework and Indicators. Canberra. ^

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.

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