Our Best Definition of Social Capital

Our best social capital definition is: the resources embedded in relationships and social networks. Those resources are the sum of the human and material capital within an individual’s network that can be mobilized through trusted relationships.

Definitions Focused on Network Characteristics

A number of social capital definitions ignore the concept of resources embedded in relationships, and focus instead on the characteristics of the network. While we believe that understanding the quality of relationships is integral to understanding social capital, we think these definitions miss out on a core aspect of social capital: that it is a resource and asset that can grow in value.

The institutions, the relationships, the attitudes and values that govern interactions among people and contribute to economic and social development.

Proposed by The World Bank Social Capital Initiative.

The norms and networks that enable people to act collectively.

Proposed in Social Capital: Implications for Development Theory, Research, and Policy by a World Bank paper as an improvement on the Social Capital Initiative definition.

Social networks and the norms and sanctions that govern their character. 

Proposed by Halpern, D. (2005) Social Capital, Cambridge: Polity Press.

Referenced by Tom Schuller in Reflections on the Use of Social Capital as his working definition.

Definitions Focused on Resource Characteristics

Definitions in this category focus on the value, quality or outcomes of resources stemming from relationships. These definitions are, in a way, more specific than our definition above because they imply something about the end goal of social capital. While these are valuable lenses through which to examine social capital, we believe they are limiting in scope.

Contributing to goal achievement of actors on the basis of relationships.

Proposed by Bart Nooteboom in Social Capital, Institutions and Trust.