Social capital is the human potential or ability to generate social interactions which positively impacts on community development (Lin, 1999). Social capital encompasses multiple intangible elements including attitudes, networks, norms and values within the community which facilitate coordination and collaboration for mutual benefits. Research on social capital gained considerable popularity in the 1990s as many scholars began applying social capital theory to addressing issues across virtually all disciplines (Wellman, 1979, Bastani, 2007). These studies described social capital as an outcome of human capacity to consider, think and act generously and cooperatively with others. Since social capital is about social relationships and shared understandings, it relates to factors such as cooperation, patience, tolerance, goodwill, self-discipline and so on. This paper critically defines and discusses social capital in relation to personal communities, the occupational structure and the chances of finding job.
Definition of social capital
Basically, social capital is described as the effective functioning of social groups through interpersonal interactions and shared sense of identity, understanding, norms, values and reciprocity (Bastani, 2007). Social capital is also a measure of tangible and intangible resources and how they impact on the specific resources involved in the relationship. Social capital has also been explained as the production of public goods for common good. Burt (1984) used social capital to explain the reasons for improved performance among diverse groups, superior managerial performances, improved supply chain relations and growth of entrepreneurial firms. As communities evolve and strategic alliances formed, the value of social capital also changes. Alternatively, social capital refers to genuine interest in developing authentic relationships and commitment to other people. This can be reflected in the three main themes of social capital which include benevolence, cooperation and goodwill (Bellotti, 2008). People’s relationships are only important if they are viewed as a means to an end. That is, people develop contacts so that they can attain a particular goal. The intention is not self-interest but more of a strategic one. In a nutshell, social capital encompasses actions and a behavior of a person which does not devalue or ignore costs and benefits for other people.
Impact of social capital on personal communities
A person’s community generally conceived as more or less a homogenous group consisting of people asserting similar identity originating from their consciousness of the past or common origin. However, a person’s identity is both a product of their local specificity and members of the community (Lin, 1999). Consciousness results from the cultural traits and aspirations shared by most members of the community. In this regard, personal communities are regarded as outcomes, not actors, in affecting and constraining individual’s future possibilities. Hence, community can be described as a function of the internal attributes of the people living and/or working at a particular place. Communities are also outcomes of complex set of power-based internal and external relationships between actors within the community and the rest of the world (Burt, 1984). Considering London’s financial services industry, there are people who works in banks’ lending and insurance practices, educational financing policies, local governments among other sectors. These people include those who were born in London, those from the rest of the UK and immigrants to the UK (Bellotti, 2008). All these people form a single community known as London finance community. This example explains how some communities especially cities and urban areas develop from multiple relationships that extend geographically to places well beyond the conventional community.
In relation to community engagement, social capital is considered a civic virtue that aims to nurture mutual social relationships. For strong ties within the community, sufficient tangible and intangible resources should be available to allow for social formation (Wellman, 1979). Alternatively, social capital is a political concept that helps to explain community dynamics and design strategies that will strengthen relationships and community development in order to build a more sustainable society. These social ties are characterized by unique rules, norms and informal values that help in coordination of action among community members and promote collaborative relationships which would otherwise be impossible. Smith (2005) showed that social capital is also vital for community development processes. Community members with a high level of social trust tend to be independent when compared with those with low levels of social trust. This can be seen in membership of organizations attached to large communities is linked to higher levels of self employment and vice versa. Besides, social capital is directly linked to promotion of education within the community. This implies that community is a vital component within the social learning process hence has a role to play in empowering individuals to participate in collective activities aimed at socio-economic development.
Social capital theory argues that social relationships are resources which can result in the society developing and accumulating human capital. For instance, through a stable family setting, children would be able to attain positive results academically. Stable family environment also supports development of skills and credentials for the mutual benefit of the person and the community in general. From evolutionary perspective, social capital builds social relationships which can lead to reproductive benefits (Schweizer, Schnegg and Berzborn, 1998). Schweizer, Schnegg and Berzborn (1998) highlighted that human evolution depends on the choice of companionship and preferences for cues which reveals high levels of social capital. Social capital theory can also be used to explain gender differences and division of labor in the society. For instance, the society may expect female members to derive emotional satisfaction from belonging to small social networks consisting of close personal relationships and characterized by strong social ties. These relationships are vital for women and girls as they provide the necessary resources in providing and caring for children. On the other hand, male members of the society often belong to larger social networks characterized by weak ties such as political alliances and fighting parties (McDonald and Elder, 2006). Male relationships are more effective in conferment of economic resources and social status.
People who belong to same community tend to possess same values, norms and behaviors. They also have a shared vision for the entire community. This implies that all members of the society engage in some forms of sanctioning (Schweizer, Schnegg and Berzborn, 1998). Sanctioning refers to selection of behaviors or practices that they can engage in as a community. Sanctioning carries some costs to the community in general. For instance, sanctioning cost include time taken to engage and the risks associated with deviation from the sanctions on the group. The community therefore has a powerful influence on the nature of individual norms and social sanctions. Elsewhere, Hennig (2007) contended that reformulation of the sociological explanations of crime from evolution perspective provide in-depth insights into crime deterrent. Specifically, choice and social control theories suggest that the threat posed by loss of social bond serves as a powerful inhibitor to deviant and criminal behaviors. For women members of the society, behaviors that jeopardize personal ties are particularly costly thus the threat of breaking their relationships would deter that behavior. In the case of men, social capital is associated with material benefits and social status thus the threat of losing the benefits and social status could hinder criminal behaviour (Mouw, 2003). This argument is consistent with those of other studies which have found male to be highly sensitive to loss of status.
Impact of social capital on occupational structure and chances of finding jobs
Social networks are the social interactions among individuals. In theory, social networks offer operational and conceptual frameworks to understand the relational aspects of social life and realities as well as relationships structures among various actors in the community (Smith, 2005). Social networks are both symbolic and informational in nature. In practice, social networks creates and constraints opportunities for action for the individuals who are dependent on them. From the personal relationships perspective, social networks are defined as the structure where creation, expression and distribution of social capital take place. In this regard, social networks play an influential role in the nature and structures of occupations that members of the community indulge. Social capital created by these social networks assists people to actively participate in the labor market (Plickert, Cote and Wellman, 2007). However, social capital could be detrimental to the labor market structure if individuals are heavily reliant on the care and support of family, friends and voluntary organizations. Studies indicated that there is a potential relationship between social capital, labour market and community participation from the family perspective. For example, in a working class family, children and elderly people tend to suffer from deprivation of access to traditional family networks and support due to the time demands on the working parents and children (McDonald and Elder, 2006). Flexible occupational structure would therefore lead to strengthening of family social networks and improve social capital.
From employment context, social capital is a positive asset for people who are seeking to find employment or change their current jobs in the labor market. Multiple studies have attempted to explain the important association between job search and social capital (Parks-Yancy, 2006, Mouw, 2003). In Mouw (2003), the researcher found that a significant number of people employed heard of the job availability from the family member or friend who worked at the same place while others heard of the opportunity from job clubs or employment agencies. These findings showed that social networks or ties were considerably influential in job search. Social capital can also be considered from the perspective of opportunity creations, job retention and inhibitors to career progression. Though social capital has significant benefits in the labour market, one must acknowledge that it can potentially be a disadvantage to other groups or individuals in the same market. According to a review conducted by ONS on the UK and other countries’ labour markets, it was found that social capital had potential significant positive and negative influences. Hennig (2007) showed that people with no common friends or contacts find it hard to socialize with the job search process. These people were at a relative disadvantage in seeking and finding employment.
Social capital is neutral under conditions of perfect competition in the labour market. This implies that social capital gains for individuals are gained at the expense of others who may not have similar social networks. This creates an inequality in the jobs market that can only be addressed through creation of an occupational structure characterized by equal access to information about job opportunities (Plickert, Cote and Wellman, 2007). Today, internet and websites are widely used to bridge the information gap that is often created by the traditional methods of advertising such as newspapers, job centers and employment agencies. However, internet and website still leads to inequality issues. For example, most members of the low income groups tend to have no or little access to internet compared to those from higher income groups. In the case of low skilled jobs, employers may prefer to leverage on employees’ social capital by conducting recruitment by relying on employee referrals. Employee referrals have economic benefits to the company such as minimal screening costs. Employee referrals are a disadvantage to other potential employees as jobs are not publicly advertised. Studies indicated that most employees were unlikely to recommend someone who might discredit their position within the company. Employment regulations could also have a significant negative influence on the degree of access to social networks within the employment markets (Pichler and Wallace, 2009).
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- Difrine Madara (Author), 2020, The concept of social capital in relation to personal communities, the occupational structure and the chances of finding jobs, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/961655