Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Social Capital for Communication

Social Capital Theory

Social capital in the Communication Capital Framework represents the capacity of movement members to obtain useful resources through the development and ongoing maintenance of social networks and ties. The use of the term “social capital” for this framework is based on Alejandro Portes’s review of the term and the more poignant definitions developed by prominent sociologists in his 1998 article “Social Capital: It’s Origins and Applications in Modern Sociology”. In this article he quotes Pierre Bourdieu who he felt provided the most theoretically refined introduction of the term. Bourdieu “…defined the concept as ‘the aggregate of the actual or potential resources which are linked to possession of a durable network of more or less institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance or recognition’ (Bourdieu 1985, p. 248; 1980)” (p. 3).

The ties and social networks that produce social capital have both benefits and downsides. Both strong and weak ties can produce benefits for the individual but they can also exclude others from enjoying these benefits and/or limit the individual from enjoying benefits that could potentially be accrued by other ties and group memberships. Members of the sustainability education movement in BC need to be well versed in both the benefits and downsides of the pursuit of social capital.

Social capital is included in the Communications Capital Framework for three reasons.

First, because the development and maintenance of social ties and networks requires deliberate investment by individuals and this investment includes the utilization of strong interpersonal communication skills. Members need to be aware of the benefits of their current networks, learn to increase the potential for accruing benefits from these networks and attempt to increase networks and ties that provide increased access to social capital.

The second reason this concept is included in this framework is because it’s important to see how social capital can produce human, cultural and political capital resources for the movement. Portes discusses how the ‘capital’ in social capital can many times come in the form of access to educational opportunities, membership in notable organizations or status and power that would greatly benefit the movement as a whole.

Third, movement members need to be acutely aware of the potential negative affects of social capital such as exclusion of outsiders from group access to social capital, suppression of group members who excel or succeed in ways that are outside of group norms, demands for group conformity within the movement and the downward leveling norm that keeps group members at the same level as others (Portes, 1998 p. 15-17). If each member of the movement has access to strong social capital sources and the movement itself is a source of social capital for movement members, the chance of success for achievement of movement goals would be greatly enhanced.

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