Dimensions of Social Capital Theory

As previously identified, social capital theory suffers from much criticism for being poorly defined and conceptualized. This problem largely stems form the fact that social capital is multi-dimensional with each dimension contributing to the meaning of social capital although each alone is not able to capture fully the concept in its entirety (Hean et al. 2003)[1]. The main dimensions are commonly seen as:

  • Trust (Coleman 1988[2]; Collier 1998[3]; Cox 1997[4]; Kawachi et al. 1999a[5]; Kilpatrick 2000[6]; Leana and Van Buren III 1999[7]; Lemmel 2001[8]; Putnam 1993[9]; Putnam et al. 1993[10]; Snijders 1999[11]; Welsh and Pringle 2001[12])
  • Rules and norms governing social action (Coleman 1988[2]; Collier 1998[3]; Fukuyama 2001[13]; Portes and Sensenbrenner 1993[14])
  • Types of social interaction (Collier 1998[3]; Snijders 1999[11])
  • Network resources (ABS 2002[15]; Kilpatrick 2000[16]; Snijders 1999[11])
  • Other network characteristics (Burt 1997[17]; Hawe and Shielle 2000[18]; Kilpatrick 2000[19]; Putnam 1995[20]) adapted from (Hean et al. 2003, p. 1062)[1].

Other authors have identified different groups of dimensions, for example Liu and Besser (2003)[21] identified four dimensions of social capital: informal social ties, formal social ties, trust, and norms of collective action. Narayan and Cassidy (2001)[22] identify a range of dimensions illustrated in figure 5.

The dimensions of social capital defined by Narayan and Cassidy
Figure 5. The dimensions of social capital defined by Narayan and Cassidy (2001). Source: Narayan and Cassidy (2001).

Piazza-Georgi (2002)[23] posited that Woolcock (1998)[24] was the first to attempt a dissection of the concept of social capital within a unified conceptual framework. She goes on to state that Woolcock does this by defining four dimensions of social capital, in two pairs of opposing concepts: embeddedness and autonomy, and the macro and the micro level (refer to figure 6).

Four views of social capital
Figure 6. Four dimensions of social capital defined by Michael Woolcock (1998). Source: Woolcock (1998).

Analysis by Onyx and Bullen (2001)[25] suggested that there are eight distinct dimensions of social capital; many are related to each other. Uslaner and Dekker (2001)[26] sum this discussion up by identifying that it is clear that the components of social capital need to be treated as multi-dimensional rather than one-dimensional.

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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  1. Hean, Sarah, Sarah Cowley, and Angus Forbes. 2003. ‘The M-C-M’ cycle and social capital.’ Social Science Medicine 56: 1061-72. ^
  2. Coleman, James S. 1988. ‘Social Capital in the Creation of Human Capital.’ The American Journal of Sociology 94: S95. ^
  3. Collier, Paul. 1998. ‘Social Capital and Poverty.’ World Bank. ^
  4. Cox, Eva. 1997. ‘Building social capital.’ Health Promotion Matters 4: 1-4. ^
  5. Kawachi, I, Bruce P. Kennedy, and Roger L Wilkinson. 1999a. ‘Crime: social disorganistion and relative deprivation.’ Social Science & Medicine 48: 719-731. ^
  6. Kilpatrick, Sue. 2000. ‘How social capital facilitates learning outcomes for small family businesses.’ University of Tasmania.
  7. Leana, C.R., and H.J. Van Buren III. 1999. ‘Organisational social capital and employment practices.’ Academy of Management Review 24: 538-555. ^
  8. Lemmel, Larry. 2001. ‘The dynamics of social capital:’ Creating trust-based relationships and trustworthy environments.’ National Civic Review 90: 97-103. ^
  9. Putnam, Robert D. 1993. “The prosperous community: Social capital and public life.” The American Prospect 4. ^
  10. Putnam, Robert D, Robert Leonardi, and Raffaella Y Nanetti. 1993. Making democracy work : civic traditions in modern Italy. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press. ^
  11. Snijders, T.A.B. 1999. “Prologue to the measurement of social capital.” The Tocqueville Review 20: 27-44. ^
  12. Welsh, T, and M Pringle. 2001. “Social capital. Trusts need to recreate trust.” BMJ [Clinical Research Ed.] 323: 177-8.
  13. Fukuyama, Francis. 2001. ‘Social capital, civil society and development.’ Third World Quarterly 22: 7-20. ^
  14. Portes, Alejandro, and Julia Sensenbrenner. 1993. “Embeddedness and immigration: Notes on the social determinants of economic action.” American Journal of Sociology 98: 1320 – 1350. ^
  15. ABS. 2002. ‘Social Capital Measurement – Australia.’ Pp. 10. Canberra: Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). ^
  16. …Kilpatrick, Sue. 2000. ‘How social capital facilitates learning outcomes for small family businesses.’ University of Tasmania. ^
  17. Burt, Ronald. 1997. ‘The Contingent Value of Social Capital.’ Administrative Science Quarterly 42: 339-65. ^
  18. Hawe, P., and A. Shielle. 2000. ‘Social capital and health promotion: a review.’ Social Science Medicine 51: 871-885. ^
  19. Kilpatrick, Sue. 2000. ‘How social capital facilitates learning outcomes for small family businesses.’ University of Tasmania. ^
  20. Putnam, Robert D. 1995. “Bowling alone: America’s declining social capital.” Journal of Democracy 6: 65-78. ^
  21. Liu, Amy Qiaoming, and Terry Besser. 2003. ‘Social capital and participation in community improvement activities by elderly residents in small towns and rural communities.” Rural Sociology 68: 343. ^
  22. Narayan, Deepa, and Michael F. Cassidy. 2001. “A dimensional approach to measuring social capital: development and validation of a social capital inventory.” Current Sociology 49: 59-102. ^
  23. Piazza-Georgi, Barbara. 2002. “The role of human and social capital in growth: Extending our understanding.” Cambridge Journal of Economics 26: 461-479. ^
  24. Woolcock, Michael. 1998. “Social capital and economic development: Towards a theoretical synthesis and policy framework.” Theory and Society 27: 151-208. ^
  25. Onyx, Jenny, and Paul Bullen. 2001. “The different faces of social capital in NSW Australia.” Pp. 45 – 58 in Social Capital and Participation in Everyday Life, edited by Eric M. Uslaner. London: Routledge. ^
  26. Dekker, Paul, and Eric M. Uslaner. 2001. ‘Introduction.’ Pp. 1 – 8 in Social Capital and Participation in Everyday Life, edited by Eric M. Uslaner. London: Routledge. ^

2 thoughts on “Dimensions of Social Capital Theory”

  1. Hi there,

    Really like how you have culminated the breadth of thinking around social capital into one area. I have many of the references you refer to and am pleased to see I wasn’t too far off from capturing the different perspectives. My only issue with the site is that figures and tables aren’t actually showing or their titles. Hopefully you can rectify this as I would love to visually see what you have referenced as well. Thanks,


  2. Thank you Tristan for the help you’ve provide to so many of us who’ve tried to use the concept of social capital in an intellectually-responsible way. At this point in my career, many people utilize my work; so the errors and conceptual fuzziness that inhere in my published work can’t be reversely corrected. I can only hope that any future published work does a better job of using SC in a way that alerts the reader that the concept of SC demands more intellectual and theoretical integrity.

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