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Building Social Capital

A fundamental question is whether social capital can be increased in the short term. This question is further complicated by the debate over whether social capital can be measured, as without measurement, change cannot be determined. According to Putnam (1993)[1], social capital is largely determined by historical factors; it can thus not be enhanced in the short term. This view has been challenged in the literature. Petersen (2002)[2] posited that social capital creation is possible be definition. This is supported by Schmid (2000)[3] and Uslaner (2001)[4] who saw social capital development as a by-product of other activities. Falk and Harrison (1998)[5] suggested that it is possible to build social capital in the short term and that this is also known as capacity building. Social capital can be produced by the government, nongovernmental organizations, local societal actors and external actors in the civil society, both in combination and in isolation (Cernea 1993[6]; Huntoon 2001[7]; Mondal 2000[8]). Insufficient attention has been paid to the variety of locations where social capital can be generated, inhibited, and appropriated, and the role played by other actors, such as public institutions in this process (Heller 1996[9]; Maloney et al. 2000[10]; Preece 2002[11]). To better explain the production of social capital, analytical frameworks need to account for widely varying outcomes in terms of time, space and social groups (Fox 1996[12]; Lorensen 2002[13]; Minkoff 1997[14]). Soubeyran and Weber (2002)[15] posited that social capital can be created through repeated exchange and face-to-face contacts, which is facilitated by geographic proximity. Maloney, Smith et al (2000)[10] suggested that there is a lack of research into generation, maintenance, and destruction of social capital.

Onyx and Bullen (2000)[16] believed that the development of social capital requires the active and willing engagement of citizens within a participative community. Social capital building exercises initiated by the state have been identified as weak due to distant ties, therefore social capital building must occur through outsourcing by government (Onyx and Bullen 2001[17]; Taylor 2000[18]; Warner 1999[19]). This supports Lowndes and Wilson’s (2001)[20] theory that the best way for government to increase social capital is to be involved in indirect social capital building. Warner (2001) posited that local government is better placed to create local social capital through community based interventions. Cox and Caldwell (2000)[21] identified that the key social dynamics for building social capital occur in the non-intimate and non-exclusive groups. Falk and Harrison (1998)[5] had a different view, suggesting that social capital building can be equated with capacity building in terms of community development. The use of social capital in any of its forms does not deplete the supply of social capital (Lyons 2000[22]; Turner 1999[23]). Some authors suggest that use of social capital in fact enhances the supply of social capital. From this debate it is clear that some authors conceptualize social capital as either a flow or stock resource (Walker and Kogut 1997[24]; Wilson 1997[25]; Woolcock 2002a[26]). There is limited understanding of the processes and how they operate to build or improve social capital structure.

Citing this article

This article is part of a thesis submitted to the University of Queensland, Australia. You should reference this work as:

Claridge, T., 2004. Social Capital and Natural Resource Management: An important role for social capital? Unpublished Thesis, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia.

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  16. Onyx, Jenny, and Paul Bullen. 2000. “Sources of social capital.” Pp. 105 – 135 in Social capital and public policy in Australia, edited by Ian Winter. Melbourne: National Library of Australia. ^
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4 Responses

  1. I am preparing to start a new job remotely. I live halfway across the country from the jobsite. This job will require a lot of communication and establishing trust from people I will either talk to on the phone or over Zoom. How do I build, or engage others to build social capital?

    1. You could try communicating with your colleagues directly about the importance of getting to know them (and building social capital). If you can get them to understand and agree about the importance of this, and the benefits of it, you will probably find they are more prepared to spend the time to build social capital. When people think about why it is beneficial for themselves, for others, and for the organisation, most people will want to be social. This may allow you to allocate some time getting to know people.

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