Social capital

“Capital” always means something of value that produces a “flow” of goods for the one(s) who own it. For instance, a factory is physical capital. It can produce manufactured products if it is supplied with trained people (human capital) and raw materials.

Social capital is unique in that it is not owned by an individual or organization, such as a company or government. Instead, it is intrinsically shared by multiple people. It is a feature of their relationships that produces a flow of goods for them. For instance, neighbors who know each other and care for each other may make their neighborhood safer, and safety is a good that continuously benefits them.

Social capital can be understood as a common pool resource or a means to produce and protect common pool resources.

When measuring the social capital of a group, it is common to measure how much people trust each other (social trust) and how often or much they interact in positive ways. Social capital is often found to correlate with desirable outcomes, such as health or economic growth.

Low-income and marginalized communities do not necessarily have less social capital than wealthy communities. However, when advantaged people possess social capital, they sometimes use it to exclude others and to protect their advantages.

Social capital can be built and expanded intentionally. That is one goal of community organizing.

Additional resources

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