- Francesca VassalloFrancesca VassalloDepartment of Political Science, University of Southern Maine
Social capital is created by engagement in groups or associations. As a product of social involvement inside and outside of the family, people trust others more. Social commitment leads to activism while expanding social trust and cooperation for mutual benefit. Social capital develops typically through interaction that happens face-to-face, locally, and over a period of time.
A large variety of measures are used to assess quantity and quality of social capital in society. The number of associations, types of groups, and intensity of membership in a club are examples of social engagement generating social capital. Scholars are also employing empirical data from longitudinal and cross-national studies. Research looks at family interactions and membership in sports clubs, environmental groups, arts associations, nonprofit organizations, volunteer networks, and a variety of other state institutions.
Since the development of social media, social capital also has been measured digitally. Users in online communities show that engagement connects to political action. Although operating electronically, people can still interact socially. Online individuals can become politically involved, and new digital movements have developed from simple social interaction via Twitter.
A major concern is the type of social capital generated. Some associations create bridging social capital, a version of social engagement that is inclusive and supportive of bonding across social divides. In this situation, social trust benefits the most from individuals with different backgrounds interacting in a social activity. Other organizations generate bonding social capital, which is exclusive because it focuses on a social bond among similar individuals only, at the exclusion of others. This type of social capital represents the dark side of social engagement that may undermine democracy by creating trust within groups, at the expense of society at large. Social engagement at an early age inside the family, and later in life in recreational associations, generates social capital. As a resource that can benefit all members in a network, social capital creates a community across society.