Image taken from Iowa State University's Department of Sociology Website (www.soc.iastate.edu)
Keywords: Community, capitals, resources, bonding, bridging, resources
The idea of social capital comes from the larger concept of what is known as the community capitals framework. The community capitals framework was a community-level of analysis that was developed by primarily rural sociologists, most noticeably Jan and Cornelia Flora, to help evaluate communities. An important aspect of the community capital framework is the use of the term "capital"--which implies that different aspects of the community can be viewed as a positive strength or resource. Thus, it is important to consider that the capitals (including social capital) within the community capital framework are meant to be (and should be) viewed in a positive sense.
Specifically the community capital framework refers to seven different "capitals" which range from natural beauty and resources to the culture of the people who live in an area. Social capital is one of the seven capitals and it refers to the connections among (and between) various groups of individuals. In order to better assess these connections, social capital is often broken into two categories--bonding and bridging. Bonding social capital refers to the "bonds" that are formed within groups. Bonding strengthens relations amongst members of the same or similar groups. In contrast, bridging social capital refers to the connections (or bridges) that occur between different groups. Thus, a helpful way to differentiate between bonding and bridging is that bonding is primarily focused on members of the same group that bond together while bridging refers to different groups bridging differences.
Another important aspect of social capital is assessing the ability (or power) of groups to "make things happen". This ability is important because at the community-wide level different groups may have different amounts of power or influence. Therefore, researchers can better understand the power relations that shape and influence communities by using social capital as a framework of analysis.
However, researchers who are interested in using social capital as a means of analysis also need to consider the other aspects of the community capital framework in which social capital is but one part. Ignoring the larger philosophical underpinnings of the community capital framework could result in methodologically flawed or incomplete work. Likewise, social capital (and all the community capitals for that matter) is best used at the community or group level of analysis. They would not be appropriate or helpful at the individual or household level. However, for researchers interested in gaining a clearer understanding of how groups function within a community--social capital may be an excellent means of analysis.
Level of Analysis:
The community capital framework (including social capital) is best used at the community and group level of analysis. While researchers can study the impact of social capital at the individual or household level; it is important to remember that the community capital framework was developed for analysis at a larger level.
Researchers have multiple options when using the community capital framework. However, an essential component of any research method would include some element of qualitative research, including fieldwork. Qualitative research is important for social capital research because it allows researchers to analyze the interactions between various groups within a community. Commonly researchers will spend time in the field collecting field notes and jottings, which will be followed by time spent coding and analyzing the collected notes. This process lends itself to researchers using a variety of methods--including elements of ethnography, constant-comparison coding, grounded theory, qualitative data collection and coding, discourse analysis, and mixed methods.
The community capital framework (including social capital) can be extremely helpful for researchers interested in understanding group and community issues in housing studies. Researchers can use social capital to understand how groups interact and what they value (or prefer) in regards to housing and community development. Furthermore, understanding the community capital framework can also allow researchers to examine the ability of groups and communities to "get things done". This is especially important in studying and understanding groups that may operate outside the dominate or mainstream culture. For example, a new immigrant community may rely on informal networks or groups to help form a sense of community, which may in turn influence the housing decisions of members of the immigrant population. In this example, studying the social capital of the group can illuminate the underlying values and preferences that influence housing choices.
The link above comes from Iowa State University's Department of Sociology, where Flora and Flora are both faculty members. This webpage provides a concise and excellent overview of the entire community capital framework.
Flora, Cornelia Butler, and Jan L. Flora. Rural Communities: Legacy and Change. Boulder, CO: Westview, 2008. Print.
Rural Communities: Legacy and Change is a book by Flora and Flora that outlines and details specifically how to use the community capital framework in a rural setting. It does an outstanding job of explaining each community capital in separate chapters. The book is an excellent (almost essential) starting point for any researcher interested in using the community capital framework. Here also is the link to the book on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Rural-Communities-Cornelia-Butler-Flora/dp/0813345057
Agnitsch, K., Flora, J. & Ryan, V. (2006). Bonding and bridging social capital: The interactive effects on community action. Journal of the Community Development Society, 37(1), 1-16.
The Agnitsch and Flora article is a helpful piece for researchers who may be interested in seeing social capital applied to understanding the concept of "community action". This piece demonstrates how social capital can be used to help understand an element of a community, using both qualitative and quantitative data. This piece is also helpful because it provides a clear and logical outline of how a researcher can conduct research using social capital as a primary means of analysis.
Emery, M. Fey, S., &Flora, J. (2006). Using Community Capitals to Develop Assets for Positive Community Change. CD Practice, 13, 1-19.
This piece provides an excellent example of how both academics and practioners can apply the community capital framework to examining rural communities. This piece also provides a brief overview of all the community capitals and describes how the community capital framework can be used to help understand the "assets" (in a positive sense) that comprise a community.