Social Capital & Organizing

Social Capital, Facilitation and Organizing

This page explores the view that social capital is only generated by good systems facilitators. In this view, organizing is seen an outgrowth of good systems facilitation. The causal relationship is: good systems facilitation leads to generic organizing which leads to social capital.

Social Capital

The work of Robert Putnam, James Coleman, Pierre Bourdieu and others has recently focused attention on social capital as those features of social organization such as networks, norms and social trust that facilitate cooperation for mutual benefit. Putnam (1995: 67) summarizes elegantly a range of social theorizing that leads us to believe that stocks of social capital enhance capacities for community problem solving:

In the first place, networks of civic engagement foster sturdy norms of generalized reciprocity and encourage the emergence of social trust. Such networks facilitate coordination and communication, amplify reputations, and thus allow dilemmas of collective action to be resolved. When economic and political negotiation are embedded in dense networks of social interaction, incentives for opportunism are reduced. At the same time, networks of civic engagement embody past success at collaboration, which can serve as a cultural template for future collaboration. Finally, dense networks of interaction probably broaden the participants’ sense of self, developing the “I” into the “we,” or (in the language of rational choice theorists) enhancing the participants “taste” for collective benefits. As Putnam fully recognizes, there are many unanswered questions about the mechanisms through which social capital produces better schools or more effective government, or which types of social capital are needed to help solve which kinds of problems. And there is a host of complex questions about the impact of social policy and the role of administrators, made ever more pressing by a polarized political debate of more state intervention or more markets that tends to ignore the civic fabric in between. Examining civic innovation over the past three decades can help us begin to answer some of these questions, and to get a better understanding of the dynamics of social capital formation within the framework of the broader trends that we have outlined above. We focus here on two areas: a) civic and grassroots environmentalism, and b) community organizing and community development.


Social Self-Organization

Constructing Groups