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544 pages, Paperback
First published January 1, 2000
"Bowling Alone was fortuitously timed to resonate far beyond academia. Before I had anything of substance to say on the matter, many Americans had already noticed that they were less civically engaged than their parents had been. So when a Harvard professor came along with a tome full of charts and graphs that said, in effect, “It’s not just you, it’s all of us,” it hit a nerve. Bowling Alone had unwittingly spoken to the Zeitgeist of an anxious nation slowly waking up to its own fraying social fabric."
"In recent years social scientists have framed concerns about the changing character of American society in terms of the concept of “social capital.” By analogy with notions of physical capital and human capital—tools and training that enhance individual productivity—the core idea of social capital theory is that social networks have value. Just as a screwdriver (physical capital) or a college education (human capital) can increase productivity (both individual and collective), so too social contacts affect the productivity of individuals and groups.
Whereas physical capital refers to physical objects and human capital refers to properties of individuals, social capital refers to connections among individuals—social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them. In that sense social capital is closely related to what some have called “civic virtue.” The difference is that “social capital” calls attention to the fact that civic virtue is most powerful when embedded in a dense network of reciprocal social relations. A society of many virtuous but isolated individuals is not necessarily rich in social capital.
The term social capital itself turns out to have been independently invented at least six times over the twentieth century, each time to call attention to the ways in which our lives are made more productive by social ties. The first known use of the concept was not by some cloistered theoretician, but by a practical reformer of the Progressive Era—L. J. Hanifan, state supervisor of rural schools in West Virginia. Writing in 1916 to urge the importance of community involvement for successful schools, Hanifan invoked the idea of “social capital” to explain why. For Hanifan, social capital referred to those tangible substances [that] count for most in the daily lives of people: namely good will, fellowship, sympathy, and social intercourse among the individuals and families who make up a social unit…. The individual is helpless socially, if left to himself….
If he comes into contact with his neighbor, and they with other neighbors, there will be an accumulation of social capital, which may immediately satisfy his social needs and which may bear a social potentiality sufficient to the substantial improvement of living conditions in the whole community. The community as a whole will benefit by the coöperation of all its parts, while the individual will find in his associations the advantages of the help, the sympathy, and the fellowship of his neighbors..."