Social capital

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The sociological term social capital is used to describe different sociological and socio-economic concepts, above all Pierre Bourdieu's (1983) “capital social” (French) and Robert D. Putnam's “social capital” (1993). Other well-known representatives of a concept of social capital are Jane Jacobs (1961), Glenn C. Loury (1977), James S. Coleman (1987), Thomas Faist (1995), Nan Lin (2001) and Patrick Hunout (2003-2004). What all concepts have in common is the view of the normative cohesion of groups and of the mutual relationship between group cohesion and individual interaction .

Theoretical concepts

Bourdieu (1983)

Pierre Bourdieu understands capital to be accumulated social energy in an objective or internalized form. He differentiates between three types of capital : economic capital , cultural capital and social capital . In addition, there is the symbolic capital , which gives recognition and prestige through differences in taste and lifestyle . Individuals and classes fight for their position in society within their habitus and capital endowments . The differentiation of the social structure into classes is determined by the disposal of the four types of capital.

The concept of capital is important to Bourdieu because it essentially includes the aspect of accumulation. Social capital can also be accumulated over time. Capital can also be “institutionalized” - in the form of money and property rights, academic degrees and titles, it can be made permanent. The differences in capital determine the structure of social reality with its opportunities and obstacles. "The social world is accumulated history".

According to Bourdieu, all forms of capital are sub-forms of social exchange. He therefore rejects the purely market-economy-economic interpretation of economic capital as a restriction. Bourdieu always sees the power of social capital united with cultural and economic factors; it can only exist on the basis of other forms of capital. This is also why it is always distributed unevenly. Types of capital can be converted into one another within certain limits.

For Bourdieu, social capital means the power that arises from belonging to a group, for example the elite of a country, and from the support of the members of this group for their own purposes. Social capital, like the other two, is used to consolidate or increase one's own status within social classes and groups. Bourdieu's social capital encompasses the "totality of current and potential resources associated with participating in the network of social relationships of mutual knowledge and recognition". According to Bourdieu, social capital arises from the "network of relationships that help ensure that careers, power and wealth are based not only on individual performance, but also on ethnic group affiliations and other beneficial connections in the sense of 'vitamin B'."

Bourdieu's concept does not thematize social capital, like Putnam, as a whole of society, but as a form of the power of the individual to gain influence in certain social contexts.

Putnam (1990 and after)

Putnam's concept examines the cohesion of societies and the reasons for the dissolution of this cohesion in the USA. For him, social capital means trust, reciprocity and community life (voluntary association), whereby joint ventures, for example in associations, strengthen reciprocity and build and increase trust. The consolidation of social norms through intensive interaction in joint activities is viewed largely independently of economic and cultural causes and is not related to the problem of opportunities for influence and equality.

Social capital arises from the willingness of citizens ( actors ) to cooperate with one another. It needs a basis of trust ( social trust ) on which cooperation and mutual support can develop. This is a consequence of the norm of reciprocity , i.e. the expectation of getting something back from the other for a service. Trust arises from the fact that this norm of reciprocity is observed. In a climate of trust, there can also be a willingness to trust others, especially strangers, without immediately having to assume reciprocity. Nor is trust simply a product of the possibility of sanctions and the fear of punishment. An example often cited for the presence or absence of a climate of trust as a measure of social capital is the following: Does a mother let her child play alone in a park, or does she not dare to do so and accompany it or let it accompany it?

Importance for society

For society , social capital reduces social costs to the extent that help and support are provided within the framework of relationship networks. Conversely, the ("externalized", passed on to the general public) costs for support and assistance for the sick, the elderly, the handicapped and otherwise impaired people increase to the extent that in modern societies, in the course of individualization and increasing mobility, networks of relationships such as neighborhoods , groups of friends , association structures etc. no longer work.

In a society with little social capital, legal and police force to protect property and state regulation are more important because there is insufficient trust and willingness to cooperate in solving problems and conflicts. There is a tendency for collective action problems such as B. for problems of environmental protection no amicable solutions can be found. Integration problems caused by immigrant population groups are also difficult to cope with, as they cannot be solved purely through regulation. Successful integration would mean giving immigrant groups access to social capital (e.g. through schooling) that has to be developed enough to initially bear this additional service.

Importance for the individual

Social capital offers individuals access to the resources of social and societal life such as support, assistance, recognition, knowledge and connections through to finding jobs and training positions. It also produces and reproduces itself through exchange relationships such as mutual gifts, favors, visits, and the like.

Consequences for economic life

The amount of available social capital in a society continues to be involved in the growth or decline of an economy ; Business relationships, economic transactions and investments are less secure in a lack of confidence (high "imputed risk costs") and are less risk-taking and are made quickly. You need a lot more effort in pre-exploring problems, legal safeguards, lengthy contract negotiations, negotiating warranty claims in the event of non-compliance, etc. Low social capital thus increases transaction costs and potentially reduces productivity . Social capital has economic effects in a positive sense on allocation (location policy), growth and employment .

More concepts

Nan Lin: social networks

In addition, there is an approach in the North American sociological literature that places social networks at the center of the concept. There is a growing consensus that social capital is conceptually based on social networks . While Robert Putnam emphasizes the collective value of social networks, Nan Lin's concept of social capital is based more on the individual actor level: He defines social capital as the resources that can be mobilized through social relationships. In order to be able to acquire these resources, one must “invest” in social relationships. This is more reminiscent of Bourdieu's concept.

The term is based on the social dynamics of knowing and recognizing, as can be observed in golf clubs (but also in all other networks of acquaintance ): Knowing people can lead to an information advantage (for example, knowledge of a new job that has not yet been officially advertised), which can then be “converted” into a leap of faith (if the applicant refers to mutual acquaintances as a source of information to the HR manager).

The network-based conception of social capital can also be used sensibly at the level of collectives (such as organizations or economic clusters).

Bridging and Bonding

A recent debate, which Putnam also took up, concerns the distinction between "bridging" and "bonding" social capital. If, in the former, trust is transferred from the primary group to society, “bonding” social capital creates identity and trust within the group, but not to outsiders.

Bridging social capital are rather loose contacts to expand the social network as well as to expand identity and perspective. Bonding social capital, on the other hand, describes close social contacts, such as family and friends, which have a deepening effect on identity.


Lyda Judson Hanifan first used the term social capital in 1916 and 1920. It was used in 1939 by Norbert Elias and later by representatives of the Frankfurt School , in particular Theodor W. Adorno . Around 1950 the term was picked up by John Seeley . Then, from the 1960s onwards, other authors followed.

Attempts to capture

The World Social Capital Monitor , which is created by the United Nations in partnership with civil society actors, is an attempt to record social capital. Values ​​such as trust, social cohesion and the willingness to finance public goods are determined using surveys. The surveys started in 2016 and so far 30,000 participants from 141 countries have taken part.

See also


  • Pierre Bourdieu: Economic Capital - Cultural Capital - Social Capital . In: Reinhard Kreckel (Ed.): Social inequalities . Göttingen 1983, pp. 183-198. PDF file
  • Sebastian Braun: Social capital, social cohesion and social inequality , Federal Agency for Civic Education, July 15, 2002
  • Heinz Bude, Karsten Fischer, Sebastian Huhnholz: Trust. The importance of forms of trust for the social capital of our society . Thoughts on the future 19, Herbert Quandt Foundation, Bad Homburg 2010, ISBN 978-3-937831-15-2
  • Ronald S. Burt: Brokerage & Closure. An Introduction to Social Capital . Oxford University Press, 2005
  • JS Coleman: Social capital in creation of human capital . In: American Journal of Sociology , Vol. 94 (Supplement), 1988, pp. 95-120
  • Alexander Dill: Together we are rich - How communities without money create value . Oekom Verlag, 2012, ISBN 978-3-86581-288-9
    • Reevaluate the world. Why poor countries stay poor and how we can change that . As before, 2017, ISBN 978-3-86581-841-6
  • Evers: civil society and social capital. The political void in Robert Putnam's concept . In: M. Haus (Ed.): Civil society, social capital and local politics. Theoretical analyzes and empirical findings , Opladen 2002, pp. 59–75
  • E. Gehmacher, S. Kroismayr, J. Neumüller: social capital. New approaches to social forces . Mandelbaum Publishing House, 2006.
  • Alexander Grimme: On the wealth of social relationships. On the relationship between community and social capital . Tectum Verlag, Marburg 2009.
  • John Harriss, Paolo de Renzio: Missing Link or Analytically Missing? The Concept of Social Capital . In: Journal of International Development . Vol. 9, H. 7, 1997, pp. 919-937
  • Patrick Hunout: The Erosion of the Social Link in the Economically Advanced Countries . In: The International Scope Review , Issues 9-10, 2003-2004,, Brussels
  • Boris Keller: Social Capital and the Illusion of Social Equality. A comparison of Bourdieu, Coleman, and Putnam approaches to explaining social inequality. Scientia Bonnensis, 2007
  • Dirk Koob: Social capital brought up for discussion: A meaning-theoretical perspective on a social-scientific conceptual and theoretical problem . Universitätsverlag Göttingen, Göttingen 2007, ISBN 978-3-938616-79-6 .
  • Steffen Kroggel: Social Capital and the Welfare State. Effects and interactions between social capital and the welfare state based on Rational Choice . Diplomica Verlag, 2009
  • Christian Kroll: Social Capital and the Happiness of Nations. The Importance of Trust and Networks for Life Satisfaction in a Cross-National Perspective . Peter Lang, Frankfurt am Main 2008
  • LE Kroll, T Lampert: Social Capital and Health in Germany . In: Health Care ; 69 (2007), pp. 120-127.
  • M. Levi: Social and unsocial capital: a review essay of Robert Putnam's Making Democracy Work . In: Politics and Society , 24 (1), 1996, pp. 45-55.
  • Nan Lin: Social Capital. A Theory of Social Structure and Action . Cambridge University Press, New York 2001
  • Robert D. Putnam: Making Democracy Work. Civic Traditions in Modern Italy . Princeton University Press, 1993.
    • Bowling alone. America's declining social capital . In: Journal of Democracy , Vol. 6, H. 1, 1995, pp. 65-78
    • With Kristin A. Goss: Introduction . In: Robert D. Putnam (Ed.): Society and common sense. International comparison of social capital . Bertelsmann Foundation Publishing House, Gütersloh 2001, pp. 15–43
  • Kai Riemer: Social capital and cooperation, on the role of social capital in the management of inter-company cooperation relationships . Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen 2005, ISBN 978-3-16-148599-2 (Dissertation Münster (Westphalia), 2004, XIX, 420 sets, graphic representation, under the title: Partner-relationship-Management (PRM) ).
  • Jürgen M. Schechler: Social Capital and Network Economics (= Hohenheimer Volkswirtschaftliche Schriften , Volume 41), Lang, Frankfurt am Main 2002, ISBN 3-631-39235-4 (Dissertation University of Hohenheim 2001, XVIII, 384 pages).
  • Olaf Schnur: Local social capital for the “social” city, political geographies of social district development using the example of Berlin-Moabit. Leske and Budrich, Opladen 2003, ISBN 3-8100-3846-6 (Dissertation Humboldt University, Berlin 2002, XXIV, 416 pages, illustrations, graphic representations, under the title: Local social capital and urban forms of regulation ).
  • Ruth Schwarzenböck: Integration, Identity and Sport in the Migration Context , Possible Effects of Educational Sports on the Example of the Street Football League “buntkicktgut” , Budrich UniPress, Opladen / Berlin 2017, ISBN 978-3-86388-742-1 (Dissertation Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München , 2016, 248 pages).
  • Sidney Tarrow: Making Social Science Work across Space and Time. A Critical Reflection on Robert Putnam's Making Democracy Work . In: American Political Science Review , Vol. 90, H. 2, 1996, pp. 389-397
  • Volker G. Täube: To measure the social capital of actors with influence in empirical networks (= European university publications , series 22 sociology , volume 368). Peter Lang, Frankfurt am Main 2002, ISBN 3-906768-58-9 (dissertation University of Essen 2001, 256 pages).
  • Naln Yetim: Social Capital in Female Entrepreneurship . In: International Sociology , Vol. 23, H. 6, pp. 864-885 2008.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. a b c Pierre Bourdieu: Economic capital, cultural capital, social capital , In: Reinhard Kreckel (ed.): "Social inequalities" (Soziale Welt special volume 2), Göttingen 1983, pp. 183-198 Original article, translated by Reinhard Kreckel .
  2. Sebastian Braun: Social capital, social cohesion and social inequality , bpb, July 15, 2002
  3. ^ F. Huber: Social Capital of Economic Clusters: Towards a Network-based Conception of Social Resources . In: Journal of Economic and Social Geography (TESG), 100 (2), 2009, pp. 160–170
  4. Hofer M :: On the effect of the use of online media on social capital. Retrieved January 29, 2019 .
  5. ^ World Social Capital Monitor - United Nations Partnerships for SDGs platform. Retrieved October 12, 2019 .
  6. , Andruck - Das Magazin für Politische Literatur , June 26, 2017, Marc Engelhardt: Why rich countries only pay off rich (June 27, 2017)