Linking social capital is a type of social capital that describes norms of respect and networks of trusting relationships between people who are interacting across explicit, formal or institutionalized power or authority gradients in society [1]. These relationships are described as ‘vertical’ and the key feature is differences in social position or power. An example could be relationships between a community-based organisation and government or other funders.

Linking social capital is the third type of social capital that extends the common bonding/bridging distinction that is popular in the network theory approach to social capital. 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[2]. A different approach involves the distinction between structural and cognitive dimensions of social capital.

Linking social capital may be viewed as an extension of bridging social capital involving networks and ties with individuals, groups or corporate actors represented in public agencies, schools, business interests, legal institutions and religious/political groups [3].

Between individuals and groups in different social strata in a hierarchy of power, social status and wealth

Scholars at the World Bank are credited with adding the concept of linking social capital to describe relationships among people or institutions at different levels of societal power hierarchy. Linking social capital differs from bridging social capital because the power differences between partners are a conscious part of the relationship. While bridging social capital develops horizontal trust among unlike groups, linking social capital involves classic patron/client or mentor/mentee relationships [4].

Linking social capital refers to relations between individuals and groups in different social strata in a hierarchy where power, social status and wealth are accessed by different groups [5]. As such it is the extent to which individuals build relationships with institutions and individuals who have relative power over them (e.g. to provide access to services, jobs or resources) [6][1]. Linking relationships also involve reciprocity. For example, funders expect effective, quality services for their grants and mentors hope that the people they work with will reflect well on them by doing well in their lives or providing the same assistance to others [4].

Benefits of linking social capital

Linking social capital can provide access to powerLinking social capital involves social relations with those in authority that can be used to access resources or power [7]. Linking social capital has many indirect community benefits that are often omitted in the literature such as connecting government officials with the people who provide knowledge and skills to perform their jobs [8].

Linking social capital is demonstrably central to well-being, especially in poor countries and communities, where too often bankers charge usurious interest rates, the police are corrupt, and teachers fail to show up for work [9]. It opens up economic opportunities to those belonging to less powerful or excluded groups [8].

It is important to have an appropriate balance of all types of social capital, not just linking with an absence of the other types. Research has found that without linking types of social capital, bonding social capital alone may not be sufficient for community development to occur [10]. Onyx et al 2007 identified that communities with higher levels of all forms of social capital are more able to mobilize in the face of adversity and less likely to have negative outcomes [11].

Negative effects of linking social capital

If there is an absence of other forms of control and accountability, linking social capital can quickly become nepotistic or a mechanism for insider-trading and political favouritism [9]. Other authors have also found connections between high levels of linking social capital and nepotism, corruption, and suppression [1].

This highlights the importance of the balance of different types of social capital and the highly context specific nature of social capital.

Linking social capital take a long time to developCreating linking social capital

Linking social capital develops over time, involving both shared cultural values regarding service provision and long-term, trusting relationships. Creating new trusting ties across power relationships requires time and, often, brokers [12].

Non-government organisations (NGOs) working with communities to implement donor or government projects become brokers of linking social capital. Often funders recognise the importance of the established linking social capital and continue to fund NGOs that have good relationships with the wider community.

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


  1. Szreter, S. and Michael Woolcock. 2004. “Health by Association? Social Capital, Social Theory, and the Political Economy of Public Health.” International Journal of Epidemiology 33(4):650–67. ^
  2. 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. ^
  3. Healy, Tom. 2002. Social Capital: The Challenge of International Measurement -Paper The Measurement of Social Capital at International Level. Paris. Retrieved November 4, 2017 ^
  4. Schneider, Jo Anne. 2006. Social Capital and Welfare Reform: Organizations, Congregations, and Communities. Columbia University Press. ^
  5. Healy, Tom. and Sylvain Cote. 2001. The Well-Being of Nations : The Role of Human and Social Capital. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. ^
  6. Woolcock, Michael. 2001. “Microenterprise and Social Capital: A Framework for Theory, Research, and Policy.” The Journal of Socio-Economics 30:193–98. ^
  7. Stone, Wendy and Jody Hughes. 2002. Social Capital: Empirical Meaning and Measurement Validity. Australian Institute of Family Studies. ^
  8. Jordan, Julie. 2015. “A Study in How Linking Social Capital Functions in Community Development.” University of Southern Mississippi. ^
  9. Grootaert, Christiaan, Deepa Narayan, Veronica Nyhan Jones, and Michael Woolcock. 2003. Measuring Social Capital: An Integrated Questionnaire. ^
  10. Flora, Jan L. 1998. “Social Capital and Communities of Place.” Rural Sociology 63(4):481–506. ^
  11. Onyx, Jenny, Melissa Edwards, and Paul Bullen. 2007. “The Intersection of Social Capital and Power: An Application to Rural Communities.” Rural Society 17(3):215–30. ^
  12. Schneider, Jo Anne. 2009. “Organizational Social Capital and Nonprofits.” Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 38(4):643–62. ^

About The Author

2 thoughts on “What is Linking Social Capital?”

  1. Tristan, I am attempting to conceptualize bonding, bridging, and linking social capital through the use of the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) codes. Other than the work housed at Penn State University, I’m not familiar with any institution using NAICS codes to create a social capital dataset. Would you be willing to discuss the viability of using NAICS codes with me?

    Thank you for your time.

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