Understanding Social Capital by Norman Uphoff

Social Capital

Norman Uphoff, Social Capital: A Multifaceted Perspective.

“Social capital […] refers to features of social organization, such as trust, norms, and networks that can improve the efficiency of society by facilitating coordinated actions.” (Uphoff, 2001)

Core ideas: Civic culture, propensity for cooperation, collective action, mutual benefit, solidarity, positive-sum outcomes.




Norman Uphoff makes an analytical explanation of the concept of SC, and breaks the theory into parts to have a thoughtful and measurable, to some point, idea of what constitutes social capital and the outcomes of investing in social interactions. (Uphoff, 2001, 215)

According to Uphoff, SC is made of assets of various kinds yielding streams of benefit. These streams are meant for mutually beneficial collective action. Although it is similar to participation, SC is more amorphous and requires analysis to try to understand what constitutes it, the elements, the connections and the consequences. (Uphoff, 2001, 217)

“Social capital is an accumulations of various types if social, psychological, cultural, cognitive institutional, and related assets that increase the amount (or probably) of mutually beneficial cooperative behavior.” (216)

“Social capital […] refers to features of social organization, such as trust, norms, and networks that can improve the efficiency of society by facilitating coordinated actions.” (327)

SC is associated to other forms of “capital” but the analogy shouldn’t be taken too literal.

Core Ideas of SC are civic culture, propensity for cooperation, collective, action, mutual benefit, reduced transaction costs, solidarity, positive-sum outcomes.

Structural category of SC is “associated with various forms of roles, rules, precedents, and procedures as well as a wide variety if networks” that contribute to cooperation, and specifically to mutually beneficial collective action (MBCA), which is the stream of benefits that results from social capital.” (218)

Cognitive category refers to “mental processes and resulting ideas reinforced by culture and ideology, specifically norms, values, attitudes, and beliefs that contribute to cooperative behavior and MBCA.” (218)

Elements of the structural category facilitate MBCA, while the elements of cognitive category predispose people to MBCA. The first elements are observable and externalized, but the second are invisible, interior, within the mind, however when declared verbally are somehow externalized. Both are modifiers of behavior, and help to build and accumulate social capital.

Uphoff explains networks as “patterns of social exchange and interaction that persist over time.” and these networks are held together, in practice, by “mutual expectations of benefit.” (219)

The epistemological root of the word social comes from “society,” which comes from the latin socius, that means friend or comrade. This implicates some sense of friendship in the connotation of “social.” Uphoff then constructs further the definition as “some degree of mutuality, some degree of common identity, some degree of cooperation for mutual, not just personal, benefit.” And the interaction that can raise from this mutuality can help to benefit other in addition to one’s self.

“Social capital based on “mixed-motive” cooperation is more productive and sustainable because it operates in a positive-sum manner” (230).

A mixed-motive can be read as the interpersonal-relations sustained by the contributions that people to each other’s welfare as well as to one’s self benefit, because people, in general, do not operate only on the basis of self-interest or altruism. They’re more inclined to use both ways, since they can overlap in people minds.


Uphoff, Norman. Social Capital: A Multifaceted Perspective. World Bank Publications, 2001. Print.


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