whatissocialcapitalWhen we think of capital, we typically think immediately about money. Entrepreneurs seek Venture Capitalists to provide money to get their product or idea off the starting blocks and into the races.  The valued resource in this example is purely financial, or economic, and this is just one dimension of what “capital” really means. For example, economic capital provides a position of class, and individual wealth; political capital provides a position of authority, and individual power; and social capital provides a position of status or prestige, and individual reputation[pg 37]. The elements of social capital, or the embedded resources in social networks, include the flow of information, social ties that exert influence, certifications of an individual’s social credentials, and reinforcements of support and acknowledgement [pg 20].

Lin writes that there are “two ultimate rewards for human beings in a social structure:” economic standing and social standing. Economic standing is based on the accumulation and distribution of wealth, and social standing is based on the accumulation and distribution of reputation. Lin adds, “both economic and social standings enhance an individual’s power and influence in the structure (over other members)[pg 150].” Looking from a perspective of resources alone, Lin compares personal vs. social resources. Personal resources are resources possessed by an individual and may include ownership of material (including economic capital) as well as symbolic good (e.g. diplomas and degrees), referred to as human capital. Social resources are resources accessed through an individual’s social connections. Lin claims that in both quantity and quality, social resources far outweigh personal resources in their potential usefulness to individuals. [pg 21]

Ultimately, with capital, there is some form of action, and Lin summarizes this action as either instrumental or expressive. Instrumental action is taken to obtain resources not possessed (e.g. entrepreneurs seek Venture Capitalists), and the returns are extrinsic: economic, political, and social. Expressive action is taken to maintain resources already possessed, and the returns are more intrinsic: physical health, mental health, and life satisfaction [pg 244]. Lin states that “social capital works in instrumental and expressive actions not accounted for by forms of personal capital such as economic or human capital [p 20],” meaning social capital requires both forms of action. In a simple summary, social capital could be described as your reputation within your network, and how you leverage both.

This was originally posted in another blog postInfluence of Social Capital on the STEM Pipeline, Nov 1 2012.

Does Social Capital Influence the STEM Pipeline?

Meagan’s essay/blog mentioned above examines the theory of social capital, as described in Nan Lin’s book, Social Capital: A Theory of Social Structure and Action, and aims to provide a new perspective by extrapolating the potential influence social capital has on the STEM pipeline, specifically women and engineering, from K-12, to university, and into industry. Read it now.

Reference: Lin, N. (2002). Social capital: A theory of social structure and action. Cambridge, UK, Cambridge Univ Press.


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