In this article, You will read Social Capital & Population as Social Capital – for UPSC (Population and Settlement Geography – Geography Optional).

Social Capital

  • Conventionally, physical capital (tools, for instance) and human capital (education) have been considered important for increasing productivity of individuals and groups.
  • So too, it is believed, social networks and contacts improve productivity.
  • In 1916, L. J. Hanifan, a state supervisor of rural schools in USA, spoke of the importance of the cooperation and involvement of the community in making schools successful. Pierre Bourdieu distinguished between economic capital, cultural capital and social capital in The Forms of Capital (1970s). According to him, social capital is “the aggregate of the actual or potential resources which are linked to possession of a durable network of more or less institutionalised relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition”.
  • However, the Original use of the term ‘social capital’ is attributed to James Coleman (1990), a sociologist who defined the term functionally as “a variety of entities with two elements in common: they all consist of some aspect of social structure, and they facilitate certain actions of actors… within the structure”. For Coleman, social capital is a neutral resource and is to be found in any sort of social relation that provides a resource for action.
  • This action may be at the individual or the collective level, and may or may not be of any direct economic importance. The term was popularised by Robert Putnam, a political scientist in 1993. Robert Putnam says, social capital “refers to the collective value of all ‘social networks’ and the inclinations that arise from these networks to do things for each other”. According to Putnam, social capital is a key component to building and maintaining democracy.
  • Putnam speaks of two main components of the concept: bonding social capital and bridging social capital.
  • Social capital is defined by the OECD as “networks together with shared norms, values and understandings that facilitate co-operation within or among groups.
  • Social capital is an umbrella concept, encompassing many a relationships that exist within the society, but a simple classification could be done into 3 categories:
    • Bonds: links to people based on a sense of common identify (“people like us”) – such as family, close friends and people who share our culture or ethnicity.
    • Bridges: links that stretch beyond a shared sense of identity, for example to distant friends, colleagues and associates.
    • Linkages: links to people or groups, further up or lower down the social ladder.
Social Capital UPSC

Determinants of social capital

  • Both the formal and informal association of people are important component of social capital. In both of these, the important determinant includes network, trust, reciprocity and other social norms. Shared social norms such as reciprocity together with trust enable those in community to more easily to communicate, cooperate and to make sense of common experiences.
  • Trust has an important role in reducing social and business “transaction” costs. Tolerance of different beliefs and cultures also stems from shared norms that imply tolerance, acceptance and respect.
  • Reciprocity encourages the individual to balance their own self interest with the good of community. Beside these education is an important enabler which allows people to be aware, thereby think and act rationally.
Determinants of social capital

Negative social capital

  • Social capital can be negative and unconstructive as well. Almost by definition, tightly knit communities, such as some immigrant groups, have strong social bonds, with individuals relying heavily for support on relatives or people who share their ethnicity. Simultaneously, their lack of social bridges can turn them into eternal outsider from wider society, sometime hindering their economic progress. Of course social exclusion work both the ways: tight knit groups may exclude themselves, but they may be excluded by wider community.
  • Like almost any form of capital, social capital can also put to ends that harm other people. The links and trust that allows drug cartel and criminal gangs to operate are from of social capital albeit one that the rest of us could not do about.

Other form of social capital

  • Natural capital is considered to consist of natural resources, ecosystem services and the aesthetics of nature. Natural resources are the material and energy inputs into production.
  • Ecosystem services are the natural process that we depend on in some way such as process of conversion of carbon dioxide into oxygen by trees.
  • The aesthetics of nature are those aspects of nature valued for their beauty such as rainforest, seashore, birds and forest.
  • Produced economic capital includes all products that are harvested or manufactured, the built environment, physical infrastructure that has been constructed and financial resources such as money. Cultural and intellectual properties are also a form of produced economic capital.
  • Human capital is the knowledge skill and health embodied in an individual.
  • Social capital refers to the patterns and qualities of relationships in a community.

How social capital is different?

  • Firstly social capital is a relationship rather than property of an individual whereas some other form of social capital (human, produced capital and natural) can either belong to or be appropriated by individuals of business.
  • Secondly, the social capital is produced by societal investments of time and effort, but in less direct fashion than in human or produced economic capital, rather social capital is result of historical, cultural and social factors which gives rise to norms, values and social relations that bring people together in network or association which results in collective action.
  • Thirdly, social capital increases if used through reinforcing the networks, norms and values, and decreases if not used. It takes a lot of positive efforts to be built up incrementally, but can be quickly diminished.
Social Capital

Population as Social Capital

  • Population as a whole may not always be called social capital. At the macro national level, the determinant variables we need to take into account include – size of the country, diversity of its populace, demographic attributes, and cohesion of the regional groups into a single unit.
  • With the increase in size and diversity of the population, the exercise of nurturing a constructive social capital becomes more difficult. The centrifugal forces and parochial interests of various communities are big hurdles in achieving this.
  • Gaps in demographic attributes like literacy rate, occupational structure, dependency ratio, gender bias, etc. inhibit the various small social capitals from moving in the same direction and towards same goals.
  • Although even the most primitive sections of the population are social capital within themselves, with their own indigenous culture, traditional knowledge system, culture and practices, which has worked well for them for time immemorial, what is needed is ensuring them coexistence with the modern wave of development, without compromising on their value system.
  • Through a macro-integration of micro-level social capital, the entire population can be converted into a social capital that strives for a unidirectional towards sustainable development and well-being of each of its components.

Advantages of population as social capital

  • Social capital and health: Research has shown that higher social capital and social cohesion leads to improvement in health conditions. Recent research shows that the lower the trust among citizens, the higher the average mortality rate. Trust combined with formal and informal social network helps people to access health education and information, design better health care diversity, act collectively to build and improve infrastructure and advance prevention efforts and address cultural norms which may be detrimental to health.
  • Social capital helps prevent crime and violence: The relationship between poverty and violence is mediated positively or negatively through social institutions ranging from the family to informal local associations such as through shared values and norms, the level of community violence can be reduced or kept low. People who have informal relations with their neighbors can look out for each other and ‘police’ their neighborhoods. In addition their family members overwhelmed by such stressors as poverty and unemployment.
  • Social capital and education: The education attainments of a population are linked to levels of economic development. Finances alone do not help in increasing educational levels of a population: family, community and state involvement helps to increase the relevance and quality of education.
  • Social capital and environment: Social capital is significant because it affects rural people’s capacity to organize for development. Social capital helps groups to bond together to raise their common concerns with the state and the private sector.
  • Social capital and water use and Sanitation: Social capital contributes to the sharing of information about sanitation as well as the building of community infrastructure. Synergy between the state and civil society can improve infrastructure design and maintenance by securing financial resources and ensuring that projects respond to community needs.
  • Social capital and economic development: Increasing evidence is appearing at the macro level which identifies trust, civic norms, and other factors of social capital as a key condition for economic development.
  • Social capital has implication for the effect of trade and migration, economic reform, regional integration, new technologies which affect how people interact, security and more.
  • Social capital and trust can make economic transaction more efficient by giving parties access to more information, enabling them to coordinate activities for mutual benefit, and reducing opportunistic behavior through repeated transactions. Social capital plays a significant part in shaping the outcomes of economic action at both micro and macro levels.

Threat to Social Capital

  • In the established democracies, ironically, growing number of citizens are questioning the effectiveness of public institutions at the very moment well liberal democracy has swept the globe. In USA, at least, there is reason to suspect that this democratic disarray may be linked at a broad and continuing erosion of civic engagement that began a quarter century ago is a comparable erosion of social capital underway in other advanced democracies.
  • The tradition base is however, shifting and changing. Future of social capital is bound to be influenced by new elements. Changes in family structures are a possible element as conventional avenues to civic involvement are not well designed for single and childless people.
  • Suburban sprawl has fractured the spatial integrity of people. They travel much further to work, shop and enjoy leisure opportunities as a result there is less time available and also less inclination to become involve in groups.
  • Electronic entertainment, especially TV has profoundly privatized leisure time. The time we spend watching TV is direct drain upon involvement in groups and social capital building activities.


  • It has been argued that the concept of “social capital” is vague, hard to measure, poorly defined and perhaps not evens a form of capital at all. Despite the debate, social capital is a concept that’s attracting interest among policymakers.
  • One reason for this is the increasing concern over marginalisation in our societies. The need of the hour, especially for developing countries like India is the right kind of social capital that grows and contributes towards a balanced all round development of the nation as well as its citizens.

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Great work

Shivam Gaur

thank u so much … helpful content and to the point info


Crisp and to the point explained