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.
Social capital is a slippery concept that signifies different things for different authors, and its uses are not always consistent. Despite this lack of consensus, most scholars agree on its basic idea: “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” Participation or membership in social networks and voluntary organizations creates norms and values such as trust, cooperation, and reciprocity that lead to productive state, institutional performance, and democratic communities. Social interactions and connections expand access to information and political ideas, nurture active citizens, stimulate individual participation in politics, collective decision-making, and policy formulation, which increase governmental accountability. In recent years, civil society actors in Africa have been emboldened to build social capital in response to restrictions and attacks on civil and political liberties, creeping authoritarianism, constitutional manipulations, and lack of governmental accountability. However, there are formidable challenges to generating social capital due to the character of civil society, its structural weaknesses and internal contradictions, socio-cultural factors, and limitations from the state.
Africa is a place of low social trust. This fact is significant for understanding the politics and economics of the region, whether for questions of national unity or economic coordination and growth. One of the central ways in which trust and social relations have come to be examined within the social sciences is through the notion of social capital, defined as the norms and networks that enable collective action. Use of the concept of social capital has mushroomed in popularity within academia since the 1980s and has been used within African studies to interpret the developmental effects of social relations. It is important to review how researchers have been synthesizing the study of African societies with the social capital approach, and offer suggestions on how this can be better achieved. Specifically, there is contradiction between the view that social capital is useful for economic development and the view that social capital means a community can decide its own economic goals. Students of social capital in Africa must accept that the cultural and normative diversity of the continent necessitates appreciation of the diverse aims of social networks. This means a rejection both of modernist theories of development and postmodern reduction of human relations to forms of power exchange. Future research on trust and social capital in Africa must give weight to community articulations of motivations to trust, what activities count as communal, and what new economic cultures are being formed as a result of present communal varieties.
The Gülen movement is a transnational social movement with presence in more than 120 countries. The movement emerged out of Turkey’s informal Islamic sector in the 1960s and combined elements of Turkish patriotism, Islamic revivalism, Sufi mysticism, interfaith outreach, activist pietism, and conservative modernism. The initial focus on faith-based community-building gave way to a broader “presence movement” in the public sphere. The movement is organized around clusters of non-governmental institutions, including schools, tutoring centers, universities, business associations, community organizations, humanitarian aid, healthcare, and media outlets. Its organizational structure resembles concentric circles of volunteerism with varying degrees of commitment and contribution, with a core of dedicated full-time “elders” (abi/abla) and more specialized contributions in the periphery. Despite its transnational presence and growth, the structure of the movement retained its reliance on the charismatic authority of the movement’s founder, Fethullah Gülen, and a core group of the elders. The participants call the movement simply the hizmet (service), emphasizing its functions as opposed to its identity or leadership. As the community evolved from its early Muslim restorationist identity in the Turkish periphery, it has gradually widened its appeal, incorporated an increasingly universal-humanist language, and achieved a considerable global reach since the 1990s. The movement found a niche in interfaith/intercultural dialogue activism in the public sphere and allied itself with other civil society actors in various countries. The movement schools and services assumed bridge-building roles across ethnic and religious lines in divided and conflict-prone developing countries. These peace-building and civil society–organizing roles in turn helped the movement mobilize its members and promote its legitimacy in the public sphere, and offered layers of protection against its opponents. In Turkey, however, the movement became much more entangled in the state bureaucracy and politics, turning its civil society–based service profile into a controversial organization. Despite achieving a high-profile public presence, the movement’s politics remained informal, its positions on social and political issues vague, and its structure amorphous for much of its existence until the mid-2000s. The changing balance of power between Turkey’s Kemalist state establishment and the Islamists under the Justice and Development Party (AKP) offered a major opportunity for the Gülen movement to increase its access to power between 2007 and 2013. Many affiliates of the movement assumed key positions in the Turkish bureaucracy and the business world. During this period, the AKP gradually dismantled the Kemalist establishment. However, instead of a liberal democratic order, the “new” post-Kemalist Turkey witnessed a power struggle between the former allies. The mistrust between the Gülen movement and the AKP ultimately led to an all-out war, with battles around high-stakes corruption and graft investigations against the AKP government, followed by mass purges of Gülenists from the bureaucracy and crackdown on its economic and human resources, and finalized by criminalization of all movement activities after a coup attempt that implicated Gülenists in the military. The Turkish government extended its crackdown abroad and pressured other countries to declare the movement as a terrorist organization, shut down or transfer its schools, and extradite its leadership to Turkey, with mixed success. The movement is challenged by the conflicting imperatives of self-preservation under existential threats and the need for critical reflection on its relationship with power. It is likely to experience a period of soul searching while its center of gravity shifts away from Turkey. An integrated approach from social movement theory sheds light on how motives, means, and opportunities account for the rise and decline of the Gülen movement, with implications for Islam and modernity, religion and democratization, and state-society relations.