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What is Social Capital?

Supplementary resources on social capital to complement our guide to social capital.

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Social Capital in Practice

A general guide for the practical application of social capital

Shared language

Shared language encompasses the lexicon, terminology, and specialised jargon employed within a particular social group or setting. It can include scientific, academic, or technical terms and acronyms as well as the subtleties of language, such as colloquialisms and words that carry specific meanings in that social context. Shared language is critical for effective social interaction, which is necessary for people to work together for collective action. A lack of shared language between actors can be a significant barrier to collaboration to achieve common goals. While social structures create the opportunity, shared language provides the ability to create and use social capital. Since shared language is required for effective interaction, it is essential to both create and use social capital.

Effective communication is essential for individuals within a social group to seamlessly work together towards common objectives. Shared language serves as the linguistic glue that binds individuals, facilitating a deeper understanding and smoother collaboration. Conversely, a lack of shared language among actors can emerge as a substantial barrier, hindering the potential for collaborative endeavours aimed at achieving shared goals. The shared language allows individuals to articulate ideas, convey information, and establish a common understanding, thus strengthening the bonds that underlie effective social cooperation.

Social groupings develop and use language differently and are the staples of day-to-day interactions. The common lexicon to ‘speak the same language’ connotes a comfort and similarity with others that is inclusive and associated with shared identity and belonging. Even the same words can have different meanings when used by people in different social settings and can create significant barriers to effective communication.

A lack of shared language can highlight power differentials and emphasise differences and divisions that can impair the reaching of common goals and sense of common purpose that is vital for collective action. It tends to weaken the sense of shared identity and therefore undermines solidarity and sense of belonging that is important to the development and maintenance of trust. It can be a barrier to participation and interaction since people can feel uncertainty and a lack of confidence or embarrassment that they may not understand what is being said and that what they say may not be understood as they mean it. In a practical sense, a lack of shared language can make communication ineffective and make it difficult to reach mutual understandings.

Shared language is developed by repeat contact and regular dialog between actors. This requires mechanisms and institutions to sustain such conversations and direct the nature and purpose of them. Shared language, like other shared understandings, is best developed when actors take a genuine interest in understanding the situation and perspective of others. Strong leadership can facilitate effective communication and shape a strong sense of shared purpose.

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