Attempts to measure social capital are flawed by problems with separating form, source and consequences – a common problem with the conceptualisation of social capital. Unfortunately few researchers understand this complexity and readily confuse the three, resulting in measurement indicies that don’t rigorously reflect the state of social capital in the study context.
Social capital is difficult, if not impossible to measure directly and that for empirical purposes the use of proxy indicators is necessary. Social capital has constructs that are inherently abstract and require subjective interpretation in their translation into operational measures, that are invariably indirect surrogates of their associated constructs. Existing measures of social capital are subject to criticism because researchers often define terms differently and because it is difficult to develop concrete, tangible evidence of social capital that lends itself to quantitative analysis.
Producing anything like a believable census of a society’s stock of social capital is a nearly impossible task, since it involves multiplying numbers that are either subjectively estimated or simply non-existent. Where social capital has been measured to date, it has often been done so using ‘questionable measures’, often designed for other purposes, and without sufficient regard to the theoretical underpinnings of the concept to ensure validity or reliability.