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Sunday, 23 November 2014

Pierre Bourdieu

Table of Contents


In the words of  Shusterman, ‘France’s leading living social theorist’ (Shusterman 1999: 1), Pierre Bourdieu is, along with Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida, one of the most influential of those French thinkers ‘whose work succeeded structuralism’ (Calhoun et al. 1993: 7). There are few aspects of contemporary cultural theory (which crosses fields such as cultural studies, literary studies, anthropology, sociology, philosophy, gender studies, psychoanalysis and film and media studies) to which Bourdieu has not made a significant contribution. His concepts of habitus, field and capital, for instance, constitute what is arguably the most significant and successful attempt to make sense of the relationship between objective social structures (institutions, discourses, fields, ideologies) and everyday practices (what people do, and why they do it). Most of the ‘big’ theoretical issues being debated and explored in the world of contemporary theory gender and subjectivity, the ‘production’ of the body, communicative ethics, the public sphere and citizenship, the politics of cultural literacy, the relationship between capitalism, culture and cultural consumption, ‘ways of seeing’, the transformation of society through the forces of globalisation—are to some extent explicable in terms of, and have benefited from, Bourdieu’s ‘technologies’ of habitus, field and capital.


Being heavily influenced by philosophers like Martin Heidegger and the phenomenologist Ponty, Bourdieu became interested in structuralist anthropology by Claude Levi-Strauss.
Anthropology and allied: However, his dissatisfaction with the inability of structuralist anthropology to take into account or make sense of the practical (and strategic) dimensions of everyday life led to two of his most famous critiques of anthropology, Outline of a Theory of Practice (1977a) and The Logic of Practice (1990b).
On education: His works on education focused on the role that secondary and tertiary education play in reproducing social and cultural classification and stratification; the ‘education’ books that have attracted most attention in the English-speaking world include Reproduction in Education, Society and Culture (1977b) and Homo Academicus (1988)
On culture and gender: Perhaps the best known of his books in English, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste (1984), is an empirically based critique of Kantian aesthetics. More recently, Bourdieu has extended his interest in the field of cultural production by writing the strongly polemical On Television (1998c); and this more openly ‘interventionist’ approach has also resulted in books on the politicising of arts funding (Free Exchange (1995), with the German artist Hans Haacke), gender relations, in Masculine Domination (2001), the everyday pressures and predicaments of lower class groups in contemporary France in the multi-authored The Weight of the World (1999a) and globalisation and the withdrawal of the state from social life, in Acts of Resistance: against the New Myths of our Time (1998b).
More recent works: He has recently written three books—Practical Reason: on the Theory of Action (1998d), Pascalian Meditations (2000) and Masculine Domination (2001)—which clarify and elaborate upon, in a quite personal way, his work, methodologies, theories and relations to different fields such as philosophy, history and sociology.

Principal concepts developed by Bourdieu:

Anthropology and Structuralism:

To understand Bourdieu’s version of structuralism we need to look upon two aspects of Saussure’s work are important. First, his distinction between the grammatical or logical structure of language (langue) and the everyday, improvisational hurly-burly of speech (parole), together with his insistence that the former is the appropriate domain for the location and analysis of meaning, laid the foundation for the structuralist method: the true nature of social phenomena as relational systems of meaning is to be sought in structure, which lies somehow behind or beneath the phenomenal world of appearances. Second, he argued that aspects of culture or social life other than language could also be treated as systems for the signification of meaning, each with an appropriate structure or structures to be revealed or deciphered.

Cultural field and the habitus:

Bourdieu has tried to understand and explain the relationship between people’s practices and the contexts in which those practices occur.
Cultural field:
Bourdieu refers to the contexts—discourses, institutions, values, rules and regulations—which produce and transform attitudes and practices as ‘cultural fields’. For him the cultural field operates through cultural capital, illusion, universalisation, symbolic violence and misrecognition.
A cultural field can be defined as a series of institutions, rules, rituals, conventions, categories, designations, appointments and titles which constitute an objective hierarchy, and which produce and authorise certain discourses and activities. But it is also constituted by, or out of, the conflict which is involved when groups or individuals attempt to determine what constitutes capital within that field, and how that capital is to be distributed. Bourdieu understands the concept of cultural field to refer to fluid and dynamic, rather than static, entities. Cultural fields, that is, are made up not simply of institutions and rules, but of the interactions between institutions, rules and practices.
The definition of capital is very wide for Bourdieu and includes material things (which can have symbolic value), as well as ‘untouchable’ but culturally significant attributes such as prestige, status and authority (referred to as symbolic capital), along with cultural capital (defined as culturallyvalued taste and consumption patterns)...For Bourdieu, capital acts as a social relation within a system of exchange, and the term is extended ‘to all the goods, material and symbolic, without distinction, that present themselves as rare and worthy of being sought after in a particular social formation’. (Harker et al. 1990: 1)
Reproduction and transformation:
Bourdieu explains the competition for capital within fields with reference to two terms, reproduction and transformation. By and large, agents adjust their expectations with regard to the capital they are likely to attain in terms of the ‘practical’ limitations imposed upon them by their place in the field, their educational background, social connections, class position and so forth. Consequently—and to a certain extent, paradoxically—those with the least amount of capital tend to be less ambitious, and more ‘satisfied’ with their lot; in Bourdieu’s terms, ‘the subjective hope of profit tends to be adjusted to the objective probability of profit’ (2000: 216). What this leads to is a reproduction of symbolic domination:
What Bourdieu describes as: the realistic, even resigned or fatalistic, dispositions which lead members of the dominated classes to put up with objective conditions that would be judged intolerable or revolting by agents otherwise disposed...help to reproduce the conditions of oppression. (2000: 217)
This feature however, does not stop agencies from gambling for capital in order to improve their position within a field. For example a lowly academic can become famous if s/he has a chance to write a column in a reputed news paper. This might encourage many underclasses to join academia, however according to Bourdieu, this kind of gambling is doomed to failure. Although a lower class migrant family may strive to get its children educated, the habitus of the children will, in advance, disqualify them from success, both in the sense that the children will signal, in everything they do and say, their unsuitability for higher education, and as a corollary, the children will themselves recognise this, and more or less expect failure. As Bourdieu writes: ‘Those who talk of equality of opportunity forget that social games...are not “fair games”. Without being, strictly speaking, rigged, the competition resembles a handicap race that has lasted for generations’ (2000: 214–15).
Misrecognition and symbolic violence:
Bourdieu understands misrecognition as a ‘form of forgetting’ that agents are caught up in, and produced by. He writes:
The agent engaged in practice knows the world...too well, without objectifying distance, takes it for granted, precisely because he is caught up in it, bound up with it; he inhabits it like a garment...he feels at home in the world because the world is also in him, in the form of the habitus (2000: 142–3)
Misrecognition is the key to what Bourdieu calls the function of ‘symbolic violence’, which he defines as ‘the violence which is exercised upon a social agent with his or her complicity’ (1992d: 167). In other words, agents are subjected to forms of violence (treated as inferior, denied resources, limited in their social mobility and aspirations), but they do not perceive it that way; rather, their situation seems to them to be ‘the natural order of things’. One of the more obvious examples of the relation between misrecognition and symbolic violence can be seen in the way gender relations have, historically, been defined in terms of male domination. Every aspect of women’s bodies and activities was ‘imprisoned’, to some extent, by the workings of the habitus. Female bodies were both read as having significance which demonstrated their inferiority (they were weak, soft, unfit for hard work, unable to take pressure), and were inculcated (at home, school, church) with a ‘bodily hexis that constitutes a veritable embodied politics’ (1992d: 172).
Patriarchy, in this account, cannot be understood simply in terms of coercion by one group (men) of another (women). Rather, we can say that gender domination took (and takes) place precisely because women misrecognised the symbolic violence to which they were subjected as something that was natural, simply ‘the way of the world’. Consequently they were complicit in the production of those things (bodily performances, for instance) which worked to reinscribe their domination. Of course, as cultures change, there is always the prospect that men can be caught up in the same form of imprisonment; that is, maintain an attachment to certain performances of masculinity which are no longer acceptable or functional, and thus counterproductive.
Illusio and universalisation:
This more or less unthinking commitment to the logic, values and capital of a field corresponds to what Bourdieu calls ‘illusio’, which is:
The fact of being caught up in and by the game, of believing . . . that playing is worth the effort …, to participate, to admit that the game is worth playing and that the stakes created in and through the fact of playing are worth pursuing; it is to recognise the game and to recognise its stakes. When you read, in Saint-Simon, about the quarrel of hats (who should bow first), if you were not born in a court society, if you do not possess the habitus of a person of the court, if the structures of the game are not also in your mind, the quarrel will seem ridiculous and futile to you. (1998d: 76–7)
Thus, for example the rule in atheletics, which forbids sports personnel to take any money in exchange of their sporting activities in Olympics, however, there is nothing to stop them to take travelling expenses and other facilities including high paid government or corporate jobs. When the Spanish amateur champion Manuel Santana was asked, privately, why he did not turn professional, he replied that he couldn’t afford the drop in salary. Brundage, being international president of Olympic Games, initiated Olympic movement – to universalise itself so that its values would become synonymous with the field as a whole. The so-called ‘Olympic ideals’, which emphasise disinterested values (‘sport for sport’s sake’), were reproduced by governments, the media, bureaucrats, sports administrators and teachers as criteria (capital) for differentiating ‘true’ sportspeople. This had a number of manifestations. In the United States in the first half of the twentieth century, professional American football received very little media coverage or public attention compared to (supposedly) amateur college football. And amateur tennis players who won tournaments like Wimbledon became national heroes, while the professional circuit, dubbed ‘a circus’, was more or less ignored by the media. In both cases the professionals were much better sportspeople than those in the amateur ranks, but this did not translate into cultural (or even economic) capital. The Olympic movement’s attempts to universalise its values and capital were not, of course, universally successful. In some sub-fields (such as golf, soccer and boxing), professionals were generally accorded a higher status, and received more media and public attention, than amateurs. And in rugby league (a sport played predominantly in the north of Britain and eastern Australia), professionalism became the means by which the sport and its working class fans distinguished themselves from a rival code (rugby union) and its supporters (the upper classes). But even where a sport was clearly professional (golf, soccer, boxing, rugby league), its core values and discourses—what Bourdieu would call its ‘doxa’—were usually articulated (by the media, officials, and by sportspersons giving interviews) as being tied to the notion of ‘sport for sport’s sake’. This is another example of illusio: although by the middle of the last century many sports were operating on a professional basis (soccer in Europe and South America, golf and tennis in the United States and Europe), most members of the field were still ‘spoken’ by the discourses of what we might call ‘inalienable sport’.
Inalienable culture and market:
When we refer to sport as ‘inalienable’, we mean that it was supposedly above the values of the marketplace. Soccer players earned high salaries, and were treated—and sold—by clubs as a form of commodity. But if an English soccer star in the 1950s were interviewed about his reasons for playing the game, he would invariably cite a number of motivations—glory, representing his country, helping his teammates, pleasing the local supporters, even just having fun, all of which might be true. What he could not say, however, was that he was doing it for the money; that would have automatically earned him the contempt and anger of the fans and everyone else in the field. The only capital that a soccer player could legitimately refer to was inalienable cultural capital such as international honour, longevity, skill, loyalty to a team or town, toughness or a sense of fair play.
Habitus and objectivism/subjectivism
Most of the fields in which Bourdieu has worked, such as sociology, anthropology, ethnography and linguistics, have been split between objectivist and subjectivist explanations of human practice. In his introduction to The Logic of practice, Bourdieu writes that ‘Of all the oppositions that artificially divide social science, the most fundamental, and the most ruinous, is the one that is set up between subjectivism and objectivism’ (1990b: 25). The notions of cultural field and the habitus were created’ by Bourdieu primarily as a means of thinking beyond this subjectivist–objectivist split. What do the terms ‘subjectivist’ and ‘objectivist’ actually mean? Loïc Wacquant describes subjectivism, or the subjectivist point of view, as that which:
Asserts that social reality is a ‘contingent ongoing accomplishment’ of competent social actors who continually construct their social world via ‘the organized artful practices of everyday life’...Through the lens of this social phenomenology, society appears as the emergent product of the decisions, actions, and cognitions of conscious, alert individuals to whom the world is given as immediately familiar and meaningful. (1992d: 9)
The most common example of this way of thinking is Hollywood action movies starring Arnold Scwarzeneggar where, they are usually in control of their ideas, thoughts and behaviours, and they determine their environment through the strength of their will and their physical ability. In fact in most of Schwarzenegger’s films (and in action films starring actors such as Sylvester Stallone and Bruce Willis) the story is really about the battle between the individual hero who is courageous, strong, principled and free thinking, and his environment which is invariably bureaucratic, deterministic, dehumanised, corrupted and narrow minded. Bourdieu accepts that subjectivism is useful in that it draws attention to the ways in which agents, at a practical, everyday level, negotiate various attempts (by governments, bureaucracies, institutions, capitalism) to tell them what to do, how to behave, and how to think. In other words it serves as an antidote to those Marxist theories (associated with the Frankfurt School) which presume that people are ‘cultural dupes’ mindlessly consuming the ideologies of government and capitalism.
Bourdieu, however, rejects the subjectivist approach because it fails to take in to account the close connection between the objective structure of culture and which include the values, ideas, desires and narratives produced by, and characteristic of, cultural institutions such as the family, religious groups, education systems and government bodies, on the one hand, and the specific tendencies, activities, values and dispositions of individuals, on the other.
Objectivism is useful for Bourdieu because it allows him to decode ‘the unwritten musical score according to which the actions of agents, each of whom believes she is improvising her own melody, are organized’ (1992d: 8). The best known body of objectivist theory is structuralism, which was practiced in, and influenced, just about every major humanities and social sciences discipline, including linguistics (Saussure and Jakobson), anthropology (Lévi-Strauss), literature (the Russian Formalists), cultural studies (Barthes), Marxism (Althusser) and psychoanalysis (Lacan).
Structuralism as Bourdieu sees it:
There are three main insights which Bourdieu takes from structuralism, and which clearly influenced his notions of cultural field and the habitus.
First, structuralist accounts of practice start from the premise that people more or less reproduce the objective structures of the society, culture or community they live in, and which are articulated in terms of ideas, values, documents, policies, rituals, discourses, relations, myths and dispositions. The catch cry of structuralism was Lévi-Strauss’ observation that ‘myths think in men, unbeknown to them’ (Hawkes 1997: 41). In other words, while people think that they are employing various modes of communication (‘sign systems’ such as written and spoken language, or bodily gestures), in fact those sign systems produce them, and their activities, thoughts and desires.
Second, sign systems not only ‘think’ people into existence; they also determine how they perceive the world. What this means is that ‘reality’ is both produced and delimited by whatever sign systems we have at our disposal. In contemporary society we perceive and understand people aged, say thirteen years and under, in terms of the word ‘child’. This connotes a number of things, including distinguishing that person from an adult. But as the French historian Philippe Aries has pointed out, what we understand by that word did not exist in the sixteenth century; up to then twelve-year-olds would have been viewed and treated as miniature adults.
The third point Bourdieu takes from structuralism is the notion of relational thinking. Reality and people are ‘processed’ through the meaning machines that constitute our sign systems; but the signs in those systems mean nothing in themselves; they only ‘mean’ insofar as they are part of a sign system, and can be related to other signs in that system. For instance, the term ‘Coca Cola’ does not derive its meaning from any real thing that is out there in the world. Rather, we understand ‘Coca Cola’ in relation to other terms, called ‘binaries’ (‘Coca Cola’ means, among other things, not ‘Pepsi’, not ‘Perrier’, not ‘yak juice’).
These three points can be summed up as follows:
·         objective structures produce people, their subjectivities, their
worldview; and, as a consequence
·         they also produce what people come to know as the ‘reality’
of the world; and
·         every thing, object and idea within a culture only has meaning
in relation to other elements in that culture.
Structuralism therefore, can be understood as a form of objectivism, where it sets out to establish objective regularities independent of individual consciousness and will. It raises objectively at least the forgotten question of the particular conditions which makes doxic experience of the social world possible.

The strength and weakness of structuralism/objectivism:
The deterministic aspect of human practice as Bourdieu sees has the ability to see practice as only the reproduction of structures and no more. The most prominent short coming as he sees it is in what stereotypic anthropologists does. Anthropologists seeking out primitive culture objectivise “other” in terms of their own cultural notions. In sum, anthropologists objectifying other culture fail to objectify their own practices.
The second and even more acute problem that Bourdieu sees is that failing to understand that descriptions of objective regularities (That is, structures, laws, systems) do not tell us how people use—inhabit, negotiate, or elude—those objective regularities.
Subjectivism and objectivism remain useful notions in attempting to account for practice, mainly because they point to the shortcomings of their ‘other’. Subjectivism draws attention to the point that objectivist maps of a culture (such as laws, rules, and systems) edit out intentionality and individuality (or what is referred to as ‘agency’). Objectivism points out that individuality and intentionality are regulated by cultural contexts—that is, we can only ‘intend’ what is available to us within a culture.
Habitus and bodily hexis:
Bourdieu refers to the partly unconscious ‘taking in’ of rules, values and dispositions as ‘the habitus’, which he defines as ‘the durably installed generative principle of regulated improvisations . . . [which produces] practices’ (1977a: 78). In other words, habitus can be understood as the values and dispositions gained from our cultural history that generally stay with us across contexts (they are durable and transposable). These values and dispositions allow us to respond to cultural rules and contexts in a variety of ways (because they allow for improvisations), but the responses are always largely determined—regulated—by where (and who) we have been in a culture.
As agents move through and across different fields, they tend to incorporate into their habitus the values and imperatives of those fields. And this is most clearly demonstrated in the way the relationship between field and habitus functions to ‘produce’ agent’s bodies and bodily dispositions: what Bourdieu refers to as the ‘bodily hexis’. We may think of the body as something individual, as subject to, belonging to, and characteristic of, the self. But, as Bourdieu points out, this notion of the ‘individual, self-contained body’ is also a product of the habitus:
this body which indisputably functions as the principle of individuation . . ., ratified and reinforced by the legal definition of the individual as an abstract, interchangeable being . . . [is] open to the world, and therefore exposed to the world, and so capable of being conditioned by the world, shaped by the material and cultural conditions of existence in which it is placed from the beginning...(2000: 133–4)
There are a number of further points that Bourdieu associates with habitus
First, knowledge (the way we understand the world, our beliefs and values) is always constructed through the habitus, rather than being passively recorded.
Second, we are disposed towards certain attitudes, values or ways of behaving because of the influence exerted by our cultural trajectories. These dispositions are transposable across fields.
Third, the habitus is always constituted in moments of practice. It is always ‘of the moment’, brought out when a set of dispositions meets a particular problem, choice or context. In other words, it can be understood as a ‘feel for the game’ that is everyday life.

Finally, habitus operates at a level that is at least partly unconscious. Why? Because habitus is, in a sense, entirely arbitrary; there is nothing natural or essential about the values we hold, the desires we pursue, or the practices in which we engage.

Civil Society and Social Capital

Table of Contents



Social capital is an aspiration to those who want to strengthen neither the state nor the market but something in between that is the civil society. In the beginning it was less a matter of voluntary participation but broader view of the effects of social networks. The social capital debate met with enormous interest, as ‘‘discovering’’ and describing a new resource arouses desires. Theoretically, however, a minimum of social capital should be a guarantee for democratic and economic development. It was Robert D. Putnam[1] who first held this position and he gave reasons for it in the book, Making Democracy Work, that he wrote together with Robert Leonardi and Rafaela Y. Nanetti. The decisive impulse for this debate was, however, given by an essay in the Journal of Democracy (Putnam, 1995[2]; Paxton, 1999[3]: 89).

Definitional issues:

Putnam’s (1993) analysis of democracy based on the example of Italy is seen as a milestone in democracy research (Tarrow, 1996)[4] because Putnam succeeded in combining historical, cultural, and institutional research to create an independent new approach for explaining democratic stability and economic prosperity through civic engagement. Later on several social scientists like Bourdieu, Coleman, or Loury have proposed definitions which are subsequently used.
Pierre Bourdieu differentiated between three types of capital. In addition to economic capital, according to Marx the ‘‘actual’’ capital, he recognized cultural and social capital as being responsible for the structure of inequality in a society (Bourdieu, 1986)[5]. The allocation of cultural capital is determined above all by family origin; it refers to the access and the practicing of class and stratum-specific knowledge components and skills (e.g., performing music and learning classical languages are mentioned specifically), as well as style and taste. Children from underclass milieus thus lack not only economic, but also cultural, capital. In addition they also lack the necessary social capital for breaking out of their status. According to Bourdieu social capital consists primarily of the social networks of family and relationships. The necessary contacts and connections are generally more important for achieving a rewarding position in society than economic and cultural capital. In contrast, Putnam’s definition starts at a different level: ‘‘By analogy with notions of physical capital and human capital...‘social capital’ refers to features of social organization such as networks, norms, and social trust that facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit’’ (Putnam, 1995: 67[6]). While social capital is assigned to a person (or family) by Bourdieu, Putnam locates it in the public sphere: ‘‘Social capital ... is ...ordinarily a public good, unlike conventional capital, which is ordinarily a private good’’ (Putnam, 1993: 170[7]). According to Putnam, Bourdieu’s three forms of capital (including his definition of social capital) can therefore all be assigned to human capital (material values and the ‘‘infrastructure’’ belong to physical capital).
Even if it is separated from the attribution to persons, Putnam’s concept of social capital is hardly compatible with Coleman’s definition. In the late 1980s Coleman worked on the operational requirements for social capital, whereby he picked up on earlier work by Loury (1977) on education and income. In regard to social advancement, Loury paid special attention to the social embedding in addition to individual capabilities and established this as a new field of research. ‘‘It may thus be useful to employ a concept of social capital to represent the consequences of social position in facilitating acquisition of the standard human capital characteristics’’ (Loury, 1977[8]: 176). Coleman leaves out this task by connecting different analysis levels and describes social capital in domination and trust relationships and as a phenomenon of collective action (free rider problem etc.). In doing so, social capital becomes a good which, in terms of general economic exchange theory, is explainable according to the standards of rational choice models. Social capital is thereby both a result and a resource in exchange relations, thus an individual characteristic and a good that varies according to the social situation: ‘‘Social capital is defined by its function. It is not a single entity, but a variety of different entities having two characteristics in common: They all consist of some aspect of social structure, and they facilitate certain actions of individuals who are within the structure. Like other forms of capital, social capital is productive, making possible the achievement of certain ends that would not be attainable in its absence’’ (Coleman, 1990: 302[9]). Any kind of structural determination should explain the operational requirements for social capital that in the end, however, remains tied to individual persons. The network approaches of Ronald Burt (Burt, 1984, 1987, 1992[10]) and Nan Lin (1982 see also: Lin et al., 2001[11]) have a similar point of origin. Social capital arises here from relationships between (at least) two persons (‘‘knots’’ in a network) and is conceived through the variables information and control, which can only arise through the relationship between the knots. One could now ask to which extent certain forms of networks offer more or less social capital for the individual. This also ties up with the approach of Mark social capital Granovetter (1973[12]), who drew attention to a peculiarity of networks in his much acclaimed article ‘‘The Strength of Weak Ties.’’ Many loose contacts appear to be more favourable for the structure of a network than a few close relationships. At the same time it also dealt with the use of networks at the individual level. He looked at what positions in networks and types of relationships are especially advantageous, e.g., when looking for a job (Granovetter, 1974[13]). None of these approaches and definitions touched off such a strong public interest in the concept of social capital as did Putnam’s definition. For Putnam, neither the sociology of inequality implications (as by Bourdieu), personal advantage (as by Burt and Lin), the action theory problems at the level of the participants (as by Coleman), nor the use for the network itself (as by Granovetter) is relevant. For Putnam it is the environment of the networks, as far as possible the society, that possesses social capital. For this purpose Putnam starts with concrete, localizable places, as Jane Jacobs (1961[14]) and Lydia J. Hanifan (1920[15]) did before him. Typical, culturally anchored social relationship structures are sought there. We are thus dealing with a space-related approach that differs from personal approaches. It is Putnam’s space related approach that has formed the actual and general definition of social capital more strongly that the participant-based approaches. This appears, e.g., in the official definitions of the World Bank and the OECD. For the World Bank, any kind of sources and conditions for economic development are interesting.  The concept of the World Bank understands social capital to be – in an obvious allusion to Putnam’s definition – the social coherence of societies, especially basic normative principles of trust: ‘‘Social capital refers to the norms and networks that enable collective action. Increasing evidence shows that social cohesion ‘social capital’ is critical for poverty alleviation and sustainable human and economic development’’ (The World Bank, 1998[16]). Informal, intermediary, and formal organizations are not differentiated here. According to the World Bank definition, social capital consists of all institutions, relationships, and norms that develop an influence on the quality and quantity of social interaction. The goal of the World Bank is to use the potential for an increase in social and economic growth that is attributed to social capital and the definition turns out to be correspondingly broad. The OECD pursues a similar concept, especially for developmental aid and advice. In the concept of social capital used there, the social environment in which economic growth should take place is allowed for. The inclusion of different organizational forms in the definition of social capital (from national, regional, and local organizations to NGOs and small neighborhood mutual aid associations) is intended to facilitate the cooperation between and in different groups. A loss of social capital must be counteracted by the OECD because otherwise no endogenous development would be possible and permanent aid and (exogenous) administrative interventions would remain permanently necessary.
One of the most important issues in the study of social capital is the question of relationships and trust attributed to the members of civil society. The nature of relationship also becomes important. Quite obviously, we can neither treat every form of relationship (marriage, friendship, exchange relationship, slavery) nor every form of association (club, company, cooperative, army, religious community, administrative bureaucracy, Mafia) equally. With regard to social capital we always think of voluntary forms of relationships and groups that in some way operate positively. In the simplest terms identifying a civil society as something brought forth by non profit organisations appears easy, however, it becomes more difficult once, one tries to find out which organisations, networks and actions tend to support or not support the pursuits of the development of modern society.

The question of modernity – bowling alone

Putnam (1993, 1995) starts not with organizations, but ‘‘dense networks’’ und ‘‘networks of organized reciprocity,’’ which make possible and stabilize economic growth and democratic development: ‘‘In fact, historical analysis suggested that...networks of organized reciprocity and civic solidarity, far from being an epiphenomenon of socioeconomic modernization, were a precondition for it’’ (Putnam, 1995: 67). He argues that the forms of network are important contributor to civility. For Unites States Putnam (1995) finds a steady decline in these forms. He argues that four factors are responsible for these: the increased employment of women, the increased mobility, the generational change and the increased spread of technology in leisure time (increased television consumption). These four developments disrupt face-to-face contacts in the communities and lead to more individual or isolated activities being carried out. However, many others like Wuthnow, (2001)[17] argue that increase in employment ensures better civility and that mobility does not automatically breaks down relationships. While Postman (1985)[18] presents a complex effect of mass media rather than simple breaking down of relationships because of TV consumption, Putnam is accorded as having occupied a position of antimodernist. However, Putnam more recently argues that ‘‘The level of social engagement is higher among affluent housewives than among other woman – they spend more time visiting friends, entertaining at home, attending club meetings and so on’’ (Putnam, 2000: 202[19]).
Mobility, like frequent repotting of plants, tends to disrupt root systems, and it takes time for an uprooted individual to put down new roots. It seems plausible that the automobile, suburbanization, and the movement to the Sun Belt have reduced the social rootedness of the average American ...’’
(Putnam, 1995: 75). If we follow this biologistic reporting-analogy increased mobility would always lead to an erosion of social capital. As a whole in ‘‘Bowling Alone’’ he laments the decrease of the bonding social capital. These forms of relationships are similar to the Gemeinschaft (in terms of To¨nnies) formed around the ‘‘essential, organic, or natural will’’ (To¨nnies: ‘‘Wesenswillen’’) of the participants. This contradicts the findings of network theory which tended to see loose ties, heterogenic, and nonredundant groups to be more successful for the bridging social capital. This would tend to correspond more to the arbitrary-will (Ku¨rwillen) that T¨onnies ascribed to the relationships in modern societies (Gesellschaften). Thus a considerable doubt arises about the traditionalistic understanding of social capital and the thus predicted decline through flexibilization and individualization. The way in which network structures that produce bridging social capital can develop in modernly structured civil societies must be empirically clarified.

Measuring social capital:

Club memberships, commitment, and trust are generally used as indicators for social capital. In a comprehensive overview of the standard quantitative research on social capital up to now, Tristan Claridge (only available on the Internet: www.gnudung.com) shows that most studies refer both to individual aspects and to several aspects of the definition of social capital. Thus, for example, Cox, and Caldwell (2000), Glaeser et al. (2000) and Newton (2001) suggest using the variable trust to show social capital O’Connell (2003), Price (2002), Warde et al. (2003) and Wollebaek and Selle (2003) measure on the other hand above all memberships in formal organizations. Lappe et al. (1997), Lochner et al. (2003) and Veenstra (2002) use both variables. Isham et al. (2002), Skrabski et al. (2003) and Staveren (2003) suggest a mix of these variables plus reciprocity norms. Zhao (2002), on the other hand, only operationalizes social capital as network contacts. Grootaert (2001) finds a whole palette of indicators and index values (including the unemployment criminality, and suicide rates and the percentage of illegitimate children) that are included, with differing weighting, in the measurement.
Putnam himself applied the social capital index (SCI), an instrument made up of 14 variables which measure five groups of characteristics (Putnam, 2000: 291): (1) community organizational life (five variables: percent of the population who served on committees or served as officers in local organizations, civic, and social organizations per 1,000 inhabitants, average number of club meetings attended last year, average number of group memberships), (2) engagement in public affairs (two variables: turnout in presidential elections, attendance of local public meetings), (3) community volunteerism (three variables: nonprofit organizations per 1,000 inhabitants, average work on community projects, average number of times volunteer work was performed), (4) informal stability two variables) and, finally, two variables for social trust. The main focus of the variables regarding community benefits and contacts in the SCI correspond to the conceptual linkage of the term social capital to the community: ‘‘In other words, these 14 indicators measure related but distinct facets of community-based social capital, and we have combined them into a single social capital Index’’ (Putnam, 2000: 291). The variables are, however, not analyzed for the community or personal level, but are attributed to larger units (states).

Relationship with state:

There are three prevailing views. First, according to strict liberal view any kind of governmental support for social capital must be rejected. Many of the exemplary networks arose in conflict with the state and its institutions, namely with a clear emancipatory concern, against governmental arbitrariness and for more decision-making powers for individual citizens. Second, authoritarian approach accepts social capital only in ‘‘orderly’’ forms. For the one side tightly organized networks serve only to ‘‘overcome’’ the free market society, for the other they serve the destruction of democracy. Both result in the absolute power of the form of government dictatorship, which is the opposite of the civil society and thus does not need social capital in terms of Putnam’s theory. Here that type of ‘‘compliance’’ is required that was used, e.g., by the ‘‘Subbotniks’’ (‘‘voluntary’’ unpaid work on Sunday in the USSR) or the ‘‘Reichsarbeitsdienst’’ in fascist Germany. Both could be counted as social capital, but this would be virtually absurd in the background of a clear social capital definition. The measurement of social capital in those uncivilian contexts would be bringing eventually low scores of social capital by using the SCI. The third, corporatist approaches represent a middle course between liberal and authoritarian definitions of social capital. Here it is possible that social capital can be promoted, in its structure (e.g., through corresponding legal protection of associations), indirectly (through tax breaks) and directly (through governmental subsidies). In comparisons of societies we see again and again that there is no contradiction between a high level of engagement for the civil society and a high level of social welfare transfers. Even in the United States many forms of civic engagement are directly and indirectly promoted by local government, states, and federal agencies.
The current development in the direction of the ‘‘Longevity Society’’ (Butler, 2008) represents the greatest potential for the social capital. The increasing share of healthy and fit elderly, to the extent that they no longer have to provide for their own livelihood and thus have more time for those relationships that Putnam localizes in th  ‘‘dense networks,’’ can provide for the strengthening of social capital in a society (cf. the entry ‘‘Civil society and the elderly’’). This is only rewarding, however, when the premises for social capital are observed. If nothing else, since the World Bank and the OECD consider social capital to be important for development, the strengthening of respective infrastructures and networks will remain in the discussion and practical recommendations will be sought. It is self-evident that any kind of economic and democratic developments are dependent on the sociocultural context conditions that are connected with social capital. The strengthening of social capital in the communities is necessary to facilitate an independent and self-supporting (endogenous) development in local areas that extricates itself from dependence on subsidies and from bureaucratic paternalism (through regional rulers, governmental ministries as well as the World Bank and the OECD themselves, see Woolcock and Naravan, 2000). For the future it is important to consider which aspects of the variables that have been used to measure social capital up to now increase and decrease, which of them will need to be supported, which are less relevant for the future development, and which would tend to be detrimental.
If we regard the theoretical considerations together with the quantitative and qualitative findings and ask which characteristics informal groups, formal organizations or networks should have if on the one hand they should strengthen the social capital in their region and, on the other hand, be attractive and interesting enough to bind individualized actors, there are four structural characteristics that can be discussed for the future definition of social capital:

Heterogeneity or diversity:

This provides for the characteristic of bridging. Without the representation of different social groups in the engagement, only bonding capital would be created. Structures with a homogeneous status hardly provide the participants with contact and recognition in their community. Necessary for this are rules like ‘‘one man one vote’’ in order to equalize the internal power imbalances to accomplish group goals. In traditional contexts activities are often initiated by Gemeinschaften that are organized with a homogeneous status (according to castes or classes) and thus do not necessarily form productive social capital. Bourdieu’s analysis started here: his differentiating social capital used exclusive networks and thus tended to function in an exclusionary manner. Networks only form social capital as a common good for the civil society when through heterogeneous groups and direct – personal – contacts the existing networks (families, organizations) are made accessible for the neighborhood. Furthermore, according to the findings of network research, heterogeneous groups are more successful as a system because they are less redundant.


Without a free choice, group memberships remain compulsory communities. We can only refer to social capital when a range of engagement possibilities is discernible. If there is no choice between different types of engagement there are fewer possibilities for decisionmaking and the incentive for commitment sinks. Exclusive access, ‘‘lifelong’’ membership, a threat of sanctions against members who leave the group and loyalty to directives are the opposite of optionality and narrow the scope for decision-making. They lead to the principle of Folg schaft which is typical for traditionalistic sects or uncivil governmentally organized services (especially for national defense). Social capital does not evolve as well when the commitment invested is not perceived as a personal choice.

Status potential:

social capital does not emerge without societal recognition for voluntary involvement. The intensity of the participation in non profit actions must lead to an improvement of a person’s position in the status framework in the community. This quasi benefit represents on the one hand an individually attributable value of social capital that cannot be replaced by wage or wage compensation benefits at present. If involvement in  nonprofit activities is compensated by a wage-like low payment, this can have negative effects on the status potential and on the social capital. On the other hand, the symbolic ‘‘profit’’ has to be incorporated in the societal recognition, as it is by no means self-evident as is the case with altruistic motives (e.g., the mother-child-relationship). When actions that serve the group are presupposed as understood (like in traditional societies), then the element of status potential is lacking.


The conspiracy of the Mafia, secret societies and intelligence services form the typological antipode to transparency, which is necessary for the development of civic involvement and thus of social capital. Groups of actors and nonprofit companies that cultivate few personal relationships with their environment, where there is a lack of clarity about their policies, jurisdictions, and the disposition of their funds will hardly achieve a democratizing effect and not produce any social capital. Activities that are relevant for social capital thus require openness ‘‘from the beginning’’ as a matter of principle.
Differing contexts will affect the social capital in each society and each community. A promotion of groups or structures that are not transparent, do not offer status potential, present themselves as without alternatives for the addressees and allow little scope for making decisions (no optionality), and are closed for other ethnic groups, castes, classes, age groups, as well as political and religious persuasions (little heterogeneity) will not lead to the development of economic and political contexts and contradict the concept of social capital.

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