Social capital is a popular research topic for undergraduate and postgraduate research students. Social capital lends itself very well to application to a very wide range of social phenomenon.
I have been contacted by hundreds of research students from all around the world in the last few years for advice on their projects. This has prompted me to compile this section of the website to provide a guide to anyone interested in conducting a research project on social capital.
Qualitative or Quantitative?
It is important to determine your theoretical framework very early to allow you to design a suitably rigorous research project. Unfortunately there has been a lot of research conducted and published that has a very poor connection between theory and practice. There are hundreds of peer reviewed journal articles published over the last decade or so that blindly apply social capital to some context. I urge you to not make the same mistake. I hope you will carefully consider the theoretical basis for your research and choose an appropriate methodology.
Many people fall into the trap of designing quantitative social capital research because that is what they are used to or what their supervisor/s are used to. More care is required though to make sure that quantitative methodology is going to provide the data required to answer the research question/s.
Take the following research question:
How does social capital increase the likelihood of success for small start-up enterprises?
This question would be very difficult to answer with quantitative data analysis because a survey would not give much information about ‘how’. The questionnaire could ask questions about this issue, but would likely prescribe the outcome making the research self fulfilling. For example:
To what extent do you think trust with your existing business contacts will help the success of your enterprise?
Most respondents will see the logic of this and answer it accordingly, regardless of whether there is actually benefits for their enterprise to be had from the trust found in their social networks. Even so it is not providing with you with data about ‘how’.
Alternatively if you were conducting qualitative research it may be very easy to get information about ‘how’ by simply interviewing the business owners.
Generally speaking social capital is much more suited to qualitative research as it allows the complexity of the research context to emerge and be understood by the researcher. You will however have to put in more thought and consideration than simply choosing a qualitative methodology. You must consider the theoretical perspective that governs the research context and the way in which you will analyse it.