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History of Social Capital

Social Capital as a concept attracts extensive research and diverse perspectives, more so in recent times. There is however no unified definition or perspective to the concept of Social Capital. Aside to content created and developed by The Social Capital Institute, this section has a collection of different literature, research and perspectives on the topic from various sources.


Famous philosophers and sociologists such as Marx Rousseau, Tocqueville, and Adam Smith developed the premise of Social Capital through theories such as the social exchange theory and the psychological contract theory.


L.J Hanifan first uses the term “Social Capital” to refer to goodwill, fellowship, mutual sympathy, and social intercourse among a group of individuals and families’, in an academic journal. Hanifan used Social Capital to highlight how important social structure was to businessmen.


Jane Jacobs is the second official person to use the term “Social Capital” in academic writing. She uses it to argue about urban vitality, where she mentions that “networks are cities’ irreplaceable Social Capital.


Pierre Bourdeau is one of the 3 most important contemporary figures in Social Capital. Sociologists cite his book Distinction, as the origination of the concept of modern day “Social Capital”. Many academics characterize Bourdeau’s definition of Social Capital as “ egocentric as it is considered in the broader framework of symbolic capital and of critical theories of class societies”


James Coleman, another pioneer of modern day Social Capital took a large shift from Bourdeau’s definition of Social Capital. While Bourdeau studied Social Capital on an individual level, Coleman focused more on how it is used between different families and communities.


Robert Putnam was regarded as the 3rd most important pioneer of Social Capital, as he was responsible for popularizing this concept through his study of civic engagement. Putnam was able to show general declines of Social Capitals by studying individuals participations in organizations such as social clubs. Putnam also built an elaborate measure of Social Capital through measuring “trust in people and institutions, norms of reciprocity, networks, and membership in voluntary associations “

1995-Present Day

Many academics such as Fukuyama, Portes, Woolcock and more build off of the research of Bourdeau, Coleman, and Putnam.
The term, “Social Capital” sees a rapid increase in usage in academic journals since the 1990’s. As seen to the figure on the right, the term Social Capital was barely ever mentioned in the early 1990’s, whereas in the 200’s it has received hundreds of mention in academic writing. The graph also shows how the popularization of Social Capital led to conversations about “social networks”, in the last decade. (socialcapitalresearch.com)