07 Oct 2014

Is social capital important?

Social capital is important because it represents the productive benefits of sociability. The importance of social capital cannot be understated since it relates to every benefit of living in a society rather than as a hermit. Social capital has been described as both a glue and lubricant – a glue that holds societies together without which collaboration and cooperation would not be possible; and a lubricant that facilitates getting things done.

Without social capital humans could not work together. This is because social capital is the shared values, norms, trust, and belonging that make social exchange possible. Our society, economy, institutions, and political system could not exist without social capital.

The definition of social capital defines its importance. The importance of social capital has been investigated in relation to regional development, educational attainment, public health, economic and business performance, career success, innovation, and organisational performance. These are just some of the benefits of social capital.

It’s not just the benefits of social capital that demonstrate the importance of the concept. Any features of social structure we call social capital can also be a liability in the sense that it can produce unwanted results. As such, social capital can have downsides, and because social capital is multidimensional, it can be both positive and negative at the same time. This further highlights the importance of social capital.

Social capital can impede or restrict the actions of individuals and can result in social exclusion and isolation. It can slow rates of adaptation and innovation, and inhibit rather than promote entrepreneurship in some circumstances. Therefore, social capital provides a framework for understanding a range of positive and negative effects.

Social capital is not necessarily beneficial for all or even for society as a whole. Social capital may only benefit some individuals or groups, and this can be at the cost of the community in general.

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