Assumptions about known and unknown individuals Part of 2022 report "Exploring the limits of social capital"

Common assumptions associated with social capital theories are that we are positively social towards known individuals – our friends – and indifferent towards people we do not know – strangers. But if we examine this assumption, we find we are not friendly with everyone we know. Because we know them, we know their history, personality, character, etc. We may have positive relationships with many of the people we know, but some of them may have betrayed our trust or exploited us in some way in the past. We are not positively social towards everybody who we know. We are actually differently social based on our experience of them. The relational properties we have built up over time mean we are differently social towards them based on our understanding of them and the nature of the relationship.

If we explore this assumption that we are indifferent towards unknown individuals, we find that is inaccurate because humans are generally positively social. We are social creatures, so we tend to be cooperative and trusting, depending on the broader societal culture. Most people are inclined to help strangers in need and be kind and courteous.

However, this is still not accurate because even if we do not know someone, we still recognise certain characteristics in them. We recognise their gender, age, ethnicity, religion, or various other things, and we associate different characteristics with them based on these observations. We hold various predispositions towards these recognised attributes. So, it would be more accurate to say that we are differently social toward unknown individuals as well (refer to Figure 3).

Figure 3. Common assumptions about known and unknown individuals

From the discussion above, we can see that the demarcation between a known and an unknown individual is not as clear as we often assume it is. Having said that, I think we can still make some general conclusions about our friends and known individuals since we are more likely to be positively social towards people we are friends with or people we know. And we might try to distance or remove people we do not particularly like from our network. This means we still can make some generalisations, but it is obviously not a clean demarcation.

Citing this article

This report was prepared for the Institute for Social Capital. You should reference this work as:

Claridge, T., 2022. Exploring the limits of social capital: Can social capital be continually improved or is there a maximum?. Report, Institute for Social Capital, Dunedin, New Zealand.

Download for reference software: BibTeX | EndNote | RefMan | Download the full PDF  [PDF 2.6MB]

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