What is Bridging Social Capital?

Bridging social capital is a type of social capital that describes connections that link people across a cleavage that typically divides society (such as race, or class, or religion). It is associations that ‘bridge’ between communities, groups, or organisations.

Bridging social capital is different from bonding social capital, which is within social groups and is characterised by dense networks with people feeling a sense on shared identity and belonging. The bonding/bridging distinction has roots in network analysis is based on methodological individualism and rational choice theory. These distinctions have been criticised for amalgamating a variety of contradictory aspects of both networks and norms into single categories[1]. A different approach involves the distinction between structural and cognitive dimensions of social capital.

The bonding/bridging distinction can be made in relation to a range of relationship and network characteristics. The table below summarises the main features of each.

Bonding social capital Bridging social capital
Within Between
Intra Inter
Exclusive Inclusive
Closed Open
Inward looking Outward looking
“Getting by” “Getting ahead”
Horizontal Vertical[2]
Strong ties Weak ties
People who are alike People who are different
Thick trust Thin trust
Network closure Structural holes
Public-good model Private-good model

Bridging describe social relationships of exchange, often of associations between people with shared interests or goals but contrasting social identity [3].

Although friends are normally considered bonding social capital, friendships may also act as bridging relations, in that they may be between people of different cultural backgrounds, socioeconomic backgrounds, or ages, who may in turn provide access to information and other groups or individuals not previously known to the other [4].

A third type – linking social capital?

Some authors have suggested a third type of social capital is needed to capture the power dynamics of vertical associations. Michael Woolcock called this linking social capital and conceptualised it as a subset of bridging social capital. If linking social capital is included, then bridging social capital is an intermediate step between bonding and linking social capital. Under a bonding/bridging/linking taxonomy bridging would be defined somewhat differently compared to a bonding/bridging binary taxonomy.

Michael Woolcock suggested that bridging social capital can be horizontal or vertical so a single category misses the important aspect of the exercise of power that is important in vertical associations [5]. Thus linking social capital refers to relations between individuals and groups in different social strata in a hierarchy in which power, social status and wealth are accessed by different groups [6].

A third linking type captures power dynamics

With the inclusion of the linking type bridging social capital relates to bonds of connectedness that are formed across diverse horizontal groups [7][8].

This article adopts a bonding/bridging taxonomy so combines linking social capital with bridging social capital. Click here for further discussion of linking social capital.

Benefits of bridging social capital

The benefits of bridging social capital are far-reaching and can include increased ability to gather information, ability to gain access to power or better placement within the network, or ability to better recognize new opportunities [9]. Because bridging social capital traverses social boundaries it tends to increase tolerance and acceptances of different people, values, and beliefs through contact with diverse others [10].

Bridging social capital allows different groups to share and exchange information, ideas and innovation and builds consensus among the groups representing diverse interests. Overlapping networks may make accessible the resources and opportunities which exist in one network to a member of another [11].

The bridging form of social capital functions as a social lubricant and has potential to work as social leverage, to help one ‘get ahead’ [8]; it is comprised of weak ties, and it is mostly inclusive and consists of thin trust in light and ever-changing networks [12]. The word ‘weak’ should not be interpreted negatively, since the weakness in the ties is the strength of bridging social capital. Social relationships are voluntary, continuously leaving open the option of breaking up or changing one relation for another, without strong social sanctions [13].

It has been suggested that urban communities tend to have strong bridging but weaker bonding capital, whereas rural communities more typically have strong bonding but weaker bridging capital [14].

Negative effects of bridging social capital

Unlike bonding social capital that can result in exclusion and a range of negative outcomes, bridging social capital has few, if any, negative effects.

Depending on your perspective social capital can have negative outcomes, but this is typically not a characteristic of social capital and how it manifests. It can facilitate industrial strikes that may allow workers to receive improved conditions, but this generally represents a cost for their employers and therefore potentially reduced profits. It may improve innovation but may also enable collusion, price fixing, or corruption.

Creating bridging social capital

Bridging social capital is essentially the result of networking outside normal social groupings. There is opportunity to build bridging social capital any time someone interacts with strangers. This can happen when attending events, or joining associations such as interest or sporting groups, industry associations, action groups, or any other type of social grouping. Bridging social capital is fostered most by memberships in associations that are representative of the larger society.

Read more about the different approaches to conceptualising and measuring bonding/bridging social capital.


  1. Ramos-Pinto, Pedro. 2012. “Social Capital as a Capacity for Collective Action.” Pp. 53–69 in Assessing Social Capital: Concept, Policy and Practice. Cambridge Scholars Press. ^
  2. In practice bridging social capital can be horizontal or vertical. See section on linking social capital for further discussion. ^
  3. Pelling, Mark and Chris High. 2005. “Understanding Adaptation: What Can Social Capital Offer Assessments of Adaptive Capacity?” Global Environmental Change 15(4):308–19. ^
  4. Edwards, R. W. 2004. Measuring Social Capital: An Australian Framework and Indicators. Canberra. ^
  5. Evans, Mel and Stephen Syrett. 2007. “Generating Social Capital? : The Social Economy and Local Economic Development.” European Urban and Regional Studies 14(1):55–74. ^
  6. Woolcock, Michael. 2001. “Microenterprise and Social Capital: A Framework for Theory, Research, and Policy.” The Journal of Socio-Economics 30:193–98. ^
  7. Granovetter, Mark. 1985. “Economic Action and Social Structure: The Problem of Embeddedness.” American Journal of Sociology 91(3):481–510. ^
  8. Putnam, Robert D. 2000. Bowling Alone : The Collapse and Revival of American Community. New York: Simon & Schuster. ^
  9. Adler, Paul S. and Seok-Woo Kwon. 2002. “Social Capital: Prospects for a New Concept.” Academy of Management. The Academy of Management Review 27(1):17–40. ^
  10. Paxton, Pamela. 2002. “Social Capital and Democracy: An Interdependent Relationship.” American Sociological Review 67(2):254–77. ^
  11. Stone, Wendy and Jody Hughes. 2002. Social Capital: Empirical Meaning and Measurement Validity. Australian Institute of Family Studies. ^
  12. Widén-Wulff, Gunilla et al. 2008. “Information Behaviour Meets Social Capital: A Conceptual Model.” Journal of Information Science 34(3):346–55. ^
  13. van Staveren, Irene and Peter Knorringa. 2007. “Unpacking Social Capital in Economic Development: How Social Relations Matter.” Review of Social Economy 65(1):107–35. ^
  14. Woolcock, Geoffrey. 2002. “Social Capital and Community Development: Fad, Friend or Foe?” in Queensland Local Government Community Services Association Annual Conference. Rockhampton. ^
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