Social Capital by Putnam

Social Capital

Robert Putnam, Bowling Alone.

Coined in 1916 by sociologist Lyda Judson Hanifan, the term “Social Capital” refers to the idea that social networks and communities provide their constituents with material as well as intangible resources.

And it refers to “features of social organization such as networks, norms, and social trust that facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit.” (Putnam, 1995)

Social Capital and Social Networks

The first attempt to understand what Social Capital means in the context of social networks is “by analogy with notions of physical capital and human capital,” this understood as the tools and preparation that improve the individual productivity. (Putnam, 1995)

“Social capital refers to networks of social connection – doing with. Doing good for other people, however laudable, is not part of the definition of social capital.” (Putnam, 2001)

However, in practice, social networks provide the channels to which we recruit one another for good deeds, and social networks foster norms of reciprocity that encourage attention to others’ welfare.

Social Capital and Technology

Hiltz and Murray Turof stated that “we will become the Network Nation, exchanging vast amounts of both information and socioemotional communications with colleagues, friends and ‘strangers,’ who share similar interests […] we will become a ‘global village’.” (Putnam, 2001)

Putnam adds another interesting premise, that mobile devices and internet can complement, not replace, face-to-face communities, which by the way, are already formed in most of the cases.

Social Capital and Technology

Challenges

Putnam, Bowling Alone.

  • Make investments in SC more productive
  • Use technology to thicken community ties
  • Enhance social presence, social feedback and social cues
  • Create community-friendly technology from outside the marketplace
    to emphasize civic engagement

 

This review has the purpose to give an insight of a definition of social capital, and find a way in which it can be used as a framework for creating collaborative interfaces or social networking services that look for a common goal in a related group of users.

In the article Bowling Alone: America’s declining social capital, Robert Putnam tries to explain the theory of social capital and proves the declining of civic engagement and participation by portraying trends that have contributed and/or are result of this social phenomena.

The first attempt to understand what social capital means in the context of social networks is “by analogy with notions of physical capital and human capital,” this understood as the tools and preparation that improve the individual productivity.  And it refers to “features of social organization such as networks, norms, and social trust that facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit” (1995, 67).

One recurring argument in this theory is that social trust is encouraged on networks of civic engagement, and this facilitates problems to be resolved. “Networks of civic engagement embody past success at collaboration, which can serve as a cultural template for future collaboration” (Putnam, 1995, 67). It is difficult to measure the level of trust in a network, if decreased or increased is a problematic hard to assess, however, the implementation of a system that encourages social collaboration can create a sense of collectivism based on the idea of civic engagement and this can help designers to promote this values in a visual and interaction concept.

“Dense networks of interaction probably broaden the participants’ sense of self, developing the “I” into the “we,” or […] enhancing the participants’ ‘taste’ for collective benefits.” (1995, 67)

The author uses the growing body of networks to infer how social connections and civic engagement influence our public life, as well as our private prospects. “Countertrends” like mass memberships associations, non-profit organizations and supporting groups have, in the case of America and according to Putnam, influenced the rapid decrease of social trust. Not necessarily, belonging to one of these networks, increased the trust or civic engagement, on the contrary, its members’ participation seems very limited and disengaged.

One of the opportunities that stands out from this article is the study of electronic networks and their impact in social capital, and what are the costs and benefits of promoting social capital, in the perspective of “[…]mutual reciprocity, the resolution of dilemmas of collective action, and the broadening of social identities […]” (1995, 76).

The main problem of using social capital as framework for online interaction is how to communicate it? User interfaces provide emoticons and other icons that evoke emotions, in order to transmit non-verbal cues and make systems more effective, especially when using mobile devices to share information. Therefor, based on the theory it is possible to enhance the user’s experience by creating visual representations and tools to support social interaction, even when the use of mobile devices denotes that the user is more and more occupied in his own “problems” and not really interacting actively for the common problems that require socialization and think collaboratively.

Article

Putnam, Robert D. “Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital.” Journal of Democracy [H.W. Wilson – SSA] 6 (1995): 65. Web.

Robert D. Putnam is Dillon Professor of International Affairs and director of the Center for International Affairs at Harvard University. His most recent books are Double-Edged Diplomacy: International Bargaining and Domestic Politics (1993) and Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy (1993), which is reviewed elsewhere in this issue. He is now completing a study of the revitalization of American democracy.

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