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Social Capital

CC photo by IsaacMao.com via Flickr

Social capital is about the value of social networks, bonding similar people and bridging between diverse people, with norms of reciprocity.

According to  Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler, authors of the 2011 book Connected: The Surprising Power of our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives, being connected is good for your health. They note that “the friend of a friend becoming obese has been show to increase one’s own chances of gaining weight even when one has never met that person.”

Robert Putnam’s 2000 book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community also notes the value of social capital – “it has been shown that joining and participating in one group cuts your odds of dying over the next year in half. States with high levels of social capital have lower mortality rates and a better quality of life than states with low levels of social capital.”

Additionally, the Knight Foundation’s “Soul of the Community” study found that  “areas with the highest levels of “community attachment” also had the highest local GDP.” Communities with high levels of civic health had lower rates of unemployment than comparable communities with lower levels of civic health.

Putnam and Feldstein’s 2003 book Better Together  notes that “there are two main types of social capital, both of which are essential:

  • Bonding: Some networks link people who are similar in crucial respects, and tend to be inward-lookingbonding social capital.
  • Bridging: Other networks encompass different types of people and tend to be outward-lookingbridging social capital.

Bridging social capital is harder to create than bonding social capital, but it is “most essential for healthy public life in an increasingly diverse society like ours.”

“For the creation of social capital, smaller groups are better. But for extending the power and reach of social networks, bigger is often better. The dilemma can be resolved, in part, by creating networks of networks — nesting smaller groups within larger, more encompassing ones. Moreover, social capital is usually developed in pursuit of a particular goal or set of goals and not for its own sake.”

Developing networks of relationships that weave individuals into groups and communities takes a great deal of time and effort, since it develops mostly through extensive face-to-face conversations. Social capital is usually developed in pursuit of a particular goal or set of goals and not for its own sake.

Here in Redding, CA a group of us are going to be reading the book Community: The Structure of Belonging by Peter Block and having a discussion group. Interested?

Perhaps reading this together and discussing the book is a good organizing framework for A Beloved Community in Redding, CA?