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Levels at Which Social Capital is Located

Further to dimensional problems, social capital has been located at the level of the individual, the informal social group, the formal organization, the community, the ethnic group and even the nation (Bankston and Zhou 2002[1]; Coleman 1988[2]; Portes 1998[3]; Putnam 1995[4]; Sampson et al. 1999[5]). There are divergent views in the literature; some authors posit social capital at the individual level, some the community level and others have a more dynamic view. Kilby (2002)[6] stated that social capital exists within levels or scales as one feels belonging to family, community, profession, country, etc, simultaneously. Adler and Kwon (2002)[7] supported this stating that social capital’s sources lie in the social structure within which the actor is located. Thus, social capital can be thought of as having an individual and an aggregate component (Buys and Bow 2002[8]; Newton 1997[9]; Slangen et al. 2003[10]). That is, social capital belongs to the group and can be used by the group or individuals within the group (Kilpatrick et al. 1998[11]; Sander 2002[12]).

Brewer (2003)[13] stated that although social capital was originally conceived as a community-wide concept, it should be observable at the individual level. Baum and Ziersch (2003)[14] disagreed with this, identifying that Bourdieu identified it at the individual level and that Putnam since at the community level. Coleman argued that social capital is not an attribute of individuals but a context-dependent aspect of social structure (Hogan and Owen 2000[15]; Robinson 2000[16]). Glaeser, Laibson et al (2002)[17] identified that post-Coleman literature has almost universally viewed social capital as a community-level attribute. Social capital and civil society are essentially social and collective property of social systems, not a characteristic of individuals (Newton 2001)[18]. The key empirical difference between human and social capital is that social capital inheres in relations between individuals and groups, not in individuals per se (Edwards and Foley 1998)[19]. The general consensus in the literature is that social capital is identifiable from the individual level to the level of the nation however it is clear that social capital is evident at any level where there is identification and belonging. The classification into micro (individual), meso (group) and macro (societal) is useful in analysis of social capital (refer to figure 7).

Illustration of the interaction of levels at which social capital exists.
Figure 7. Illustration of the interaction of levels at which social capital exists.

The goods produced by social capital can also occur at different levels of the social structure (Paxton 1999)[20]. It can be a private good or a public good depending on the level (Aldridge et al. 2002)[21]. Onyx and Bullen (2001)[22] supported this identifying that social capital appears to be both a private and a public good. There is not consensus in the literature however. Coleman (1988)[2] argued that social capital is a public good, however Fukuyama posited that it is in fact a private good (Fukuyama 2001[23]; Fukuyama 2002[24]). Fukuyama (2002)[24] suggested that social capital is not a public good but a private good that produces extensive positive and negative externalities. This is supported by Dasgupta (1999, p. 325) who stated that ‘social capital is a private good that is nonetheless pervaded by externalities, both positive and negative’.

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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