Explanation of types of social capital

There are several dichotomies for classifying types of social capital. There are two main classifications for social capital:

Network perspective

From a network perspective social capital can be classified as either bonding or bridging with a third type suggested as linking.

  • Bonding social capital – ties between individuals with a relatively high degree of network closure. Bonding social capital is often described as horizontal ties between individuals within the same social group (as opposed to vertical ties between social groups). Bonding social capital is often associated with local communities where many people know many other people in the group (network closure).Bonding social capital is often associated with strong norms, mores and trust which can have both positive and negative manifestations and implications for social exclusion. Many members have access to similar network assets so while providing solidarity, bonding social capital may not provide useful network assets in some situations.
  • Bridging social capital – ties between individuals which cross social divides or between social groups. From a network perspective bridging social capital places the actors at structural holes where each is able to tap into the social network resources of each others social group. This is also described as vertical ties often operating through formal hierarchical structures.Bridging social capital may not involve many shared norms but is likely to be associated with reciprocity and ‘thin trust’. It may provide access to network resources outside of an individuals normal circles and as such can provide significant individual (and group) benefits.
  • Linking social capital – ‘norms of respect and networks of trusting relationships between people who are interacting across explicit, formal, or institutionalised power or authority gradients in society’. In many ways linking social capital is not much different to bridging social capital.

Social structure perspective

Although it is possible to distinguish between different types of social capital on the basis of source, cognitive and structural forms of social capital are commonly connected and mutually reinforcing.

  • Structural social capital – refers to elements of social structure that create opportunities for the social realisation of productive ends. Structural social capital includes established roles and social networks supplemented by rules, procedures and precedents. It gives structure and stability to social transactions. It is more than norms, structural social capital is built from the historical foundations of culture and institutions within society.
  • Cognitive social capital – includes shared norms, values, attitudes, and beliefs, predisposes people towards mutually beneficial collective action.
  • Relational social capital – is based on the characteristics of social relationships between individuals and is commonly described as including trust and trustworthiness.

These classifications of social capital into types provides a rich and descriptive way to talk about social capital. The network types and the structural types provide two different ways to describe elements of social capital and can be used interchangeably.

Types of social capital

Click here for further discussion of social capital types from a more academic perspective (written by me in 2004).

Tristan Claridge completed a Masters thesis on social capital theory in 2004 at the University of Queensland. Although Tristan originally wanted to apply social capital theory to natural resource management outcomes in Australia, he found that the current understanding of social capital was not sufficiently conceptualised to allow this application. Read more

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11 comments on “Explanation of types of social capital
  1. upasna says:

    I am currently using SCT to study farmer communities in India with regards to how they use ICT. I see that there are distinct patterns of usage of ICT within the community and with other community(one being relatively less than the other) . I want to use a social capital classification but using three like structural relational and cognitive makes my framework seem a bit unfocused. So I combined cognitive and relational and call it content based. So i have two classifications structural(ties and network) and content (norms and trust etc). does this sound feasible? please advice

    • Tristan Claridge says:

      Yes it does. I think it is best to use both classifications to describe different elements of social capital.

  2. Dr Kevin L Cook says:

    I am trying to explain why bonding social capital is extremely well developed amongst community groups in the Machakos area of Kenya and why bridging and linking social capital is almost non-existent. Most women belong to at least one community group, known locally as ‘mwethya’, and these provide enormous amounts of social capital for members. Links between groups in the same area and with regional and national organisations do not exist. I am seeking to establish the role that trust plays in this and will be interviewing women’s groups and attempting to measure the amount of trust exhibited.

    Does anyone know of any similar studies carried out with community groups in the Global South and doe anyone have any advice for me before I set out on this research.

    • Tristan Claridge says:

      What is your intended methodological approach?

      • Kevin Cook says:

        Whilst this is only a very small piece of research, I have the advantage of being able to meet with Mwethya groups within a specific area/village and discuss the issues with them at length. My partner is a local resident who knows the members and who will set up the meetings for me. She will also act as translator. I hope to meet with six groups of 6-10 members each. The conversations will be recorded and coded after. A grounded theory approach will be used. I would like also to try out some of the trust games that have been used in the past to measure the degree of trust. These will be used to determine within group levels of trust.

        Thanks for your help and keep the excellent blg going. I am semi-retired now lecturing part-time and wish we had had such a support system when I was doing my PhD 40 years ago!


  3. As says:

    Hi Tristan, I have long been thinking about these two different types of classifications of social capital, and both classifications make sense and have strong theoretical foundations. But how do you integrate these two notions? e.g. is bonding or bridging a representation of relational social capital? And when we try to measure or quantify social capital, which set of classification should we follow? Does it depend on specific research questions we are looking at? Does it depend on other contingency factors such as environment?

    • Tristan Claridge says:

      Hi As.
      These notions can be combined by taking account the different approaches to categorisation. E.g. bonding social capital also has relational characteristics.

      Given the lack of agreed methods for measurements, researchers tend to identify the important elements or factors that suit their research context and develop their own instrument. This is very effective in most cases as long as the researcher has sufficient understanding to develop an instrument informed by theory, and the ability to be critical of the potential for the instrument to make assumptions about the connection between the proxies being investigated and the elements of social capital.

  4. Mokaya Moseti says:

    how do you differenciate social capital and economic capital with regards to cultural capital?

  5. Yani: I am applying the b/b/l-framework (as formulated by Szreter and Woolcock) in my master thesis exploring creation of social capital among visitors at a legal graffiti wall.

  6. Yani says:

    Do you know any art/cultural investigation that applied that concept? I want to use it for my thesis.

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