In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Social Capital

  • Introduction
  • Social Capital and Media
  • New Directions in Social Capital

Communication Social Capital
Hernando Rojas, Matthew Barnidge
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 August 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0115


Social groups must act collectively to address a range of communal problems. In societies, as in interpersonal relationships and organizations, members are expected to give their attention to tasks requiring joint effort. If people did not act cooperatively, many challenges would go unaddressed, for such challenges would be impossible to overcome without coordinated, collaborative action. James Coleman advanced the concept of social capital to explain how connections among individuals facilitate or hinder collective action. Social capital underlies all forms of community engagement, particularly civic participation, because each person who participates in cooperative activities usually receives only a small part of the benefits of these activities. Instead, the gains are more diffuse, coming in the form of widespread social assistance and the redress of public ills. Despite different conceptual emphases, which stem in part from the excitement with which the social sciences have embraced notions of social capital, at the core of these conceptualizations is the idea that social connections have value and produce externalities that go beyond the connection itself. While its denomination as a form of capital is recent, conceptualization of certain aspects of social capital have been present since the origins of sociology, and social capital itself can be traced back to the origins of humanity. Researchers in various fields have related social capital to multiple outcomes, including civic and political engagement, governmental performance, ethnic harmony, rule enforcement, lower transactions costs, trust, social control, reduced crime rates, and even health benefits.

Key Definitions

Contemporary accounts tend to conceptualize social capital primarily as a resource available to individuals or as a characteristic of certain communities.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.