I believe social capital is typically suboptimal, its potential constrained and ultimately limited by various factors and processes. The key themes I identified in this research include the limits of human cognitive abilities, the ability of humans to properly observe rules and live up to moral values, the physical limitations of space-time, the constraints of social structure and organisation, and the effectiveness of human languages to accurately and fully communicate meaning and significance. Many of these limits are likely context-dependent since they can be mitigated to some extent. For example, cognitive abilities can be supplemented and extended by tools, systems, and technologies; cognitive abilities can be learnt, developed, or improved; the effects of outgroup bias can be reduced by changing social structures and our perceptions of them; and the costs of space-time in the development and maintenance of relationships can be reduced by the built environment and information communication technology. These are just a few examples of how exploring the limits of social capital may improve our understanding of social capital and how to build or improve it.
This understanding is not just applicable at the extremes since it can be used to improve social capital in any context. For example, an improved understanding of how cognitive abilities can be supplemented and improved can be used to improve social capital in virtually every context, regardless of the amount of social capital that exists in that context. These are generalised examples of the rich understandings that may come from exploring the limits of social capital. These understandings have applications across every aspect of human activity since social capital has importance and benefits to virtually every aspect of human endeavour. Highlighting the importance of social factors allows for the reprioritisation of values and the opportunity to shift the curve in Figure 6 to the right. This approach contributes to the theoretical understanding of social capital by linking interdisciplinary understanding of concepts related to social capital.
The following sections will discuss some of the most relevant factors limiting the social capital maximum. These factors are neither an exhaustive list nor an exhaustive examination of them. There are likely numerous other factors; however, I feel these key factors deserve further examination. This analysis is intended to introduce the approach and demonstrate the potential understanding this process could generate to help us to better understand social capital and how to improve it.
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.