Saturday, November 15, 2008

Social Capital

Social capital.
An idea that refers to the connections between individuals and entities that can be valuable for a community. Social networks that include people who trust and assist each other can be a powerful asset. These relationships between individuals and organisations can lead to a state in which each will think of the other when something needs to be done. Along with economic capital, social capital is a valuable mechanism in growth.

Social capital describes the value created by elements, intangible elements, such as trust, reciprocity, communication, community.

Why am I talking about social capital? Well, I was reading Homeschooling : A Family's Journey ( the Millmans). In this book, a memoir of a family and its unschooling life, was mentioned Bowling Alone. Another book I found I wanted to read.

I love these sort of book meanderings.

In Bowling Alone, author Robert D. Putnam describes social capital and the deterioration of such social capital via the gradual decline of involvement in community groups, groups such as churches, political organisations, volunteer groups...even bowling leagues ( hence the book's name).

The Millmans, author of the homeschooling book above, hold that homeschoolers defy the trend towards less volunteerism and towards the erosion of social capital. They write ~ Homeschoolers pitch in, volunteer, carry their fair share, help one another, and succeed together.

True. Very true, in most situations.

Yet, when I read of social capital I thought not only of the local homeschool network and not only of homeschool volunteerism. I thought also of the social capital that is being built, has been built, in my local parish.Local church.

In the time that the members of our family have been members of this parish, well, since Easter 2005, in this time I have seen the growth of social capital before my very eyes.

The parish has long term volunteers, long term networks. A history of community.

And these are in a growth state, not stagnant nor declining. New members, new helping hands, new ideas, new families are seen in the parish. Our own family, to be sure , but many others. People who will come for working bees. Or form a women's or young men's group. To serve drinks or salad at a barbecue. To help with morning teas. To clean the church.

I knew we had joined a large parish. I thought it was going to be a daunting task to meet others, to help out, to share, to grow with others.

The reverse has been true. The longer I am in this parish, the more groups I seem to find. Or that I seem to see someone starting. That people are invited to join, to help out with...and they do.

We had more helpers this year for the parish barbecue than last year. And more last year then the previous year, our first year.

Isn't that cool? An example of the growth of social captial.

A powerful asset not just for our family but for all families involved. For the parish community. For the wider community of Kellyville. Even for the wider church.

However, there can be negatives to this idea of social capital. Social capital is A Good Thing when it works in an atmosphere of goodwill. But the possible negatives are
Exclusion of outsiders;
Excess claims on group members;
Restrictions on individual freedoms; and
Downward levelling norms

Do I see this sometimes in homeschool networks and in the different parishes in which I have lived ?

Yes. To be brutally honest.

In our current parish, however, we have an advantage, something that helps to counteract any possible negative social capital experiences.

The friars.

WT# ? Friars?

Yes, friars; our parish is under the care of the Conventual Franciscans and the work and prayers of these friars provide a safeguard against the negatives mentioned above. In fact, their mission, their service, their prayers and masses and their example, who they are and what they do, help build and re-inforce social capital as an asset in our church.

I also think that each individual in a group, a homeschool or church or other group, plays a role. If social capital can be an evolving, grassroots kind of thing, then changing a negative into a positive is best done on an individual basis. One person making a change, then another and another. To promote the Good Things of social capital. Namely,

Participation in local community;
Proactivity in a social context;
Feelings of trust and safety;
Family/friends connections;
Tolerance of diversity

I see these traits in individuals in our parish. Amongst my close homeschool friends.

Actually, this whole concept of social capital reminds me of the principle of subsidiarity, as mentioned by the Church, by the catechism, by popes. Particularly its mention in Rerum Novarum, the encyclical by Pope Leo XIII. Subsidiarity assumes that human persons are by their nature social beings, and emphasizes the importance of small and intermediate-sized communities or institutions, like the family, the church, and voluntary associations, as mediating structures which empower individual action and link the individual to society as a whole. "Positive subsidiarity", which is the ethical imperative for communal, institutional or governmental action to create the social conditions necessary to the full development of the individual, such as the right to work, decent housing, health care, etc., is another important aspect of the subsidiarity principle.

Such interesting connections. One idea, one activity, one person helping out, leads to another idea, another connection, another helping another.

Reading one book, on homeschooling, leads to reading another, on economic and social growth. To thinking. To blogging. To talking about these ideas with some sons.

A form of mental capital?


Greg said...

I think 'social capital' is an idea that David Cameron has been talking about over here for a while. Though with the credit crunch he'll probably want to find a term that doesn't sound quite so nearly related to economics :)
Interesting idea but I'm actually not sure I'm comfortable with the term itself. I think it does create a perception of hte value of community involvement; and that's a positive; but I wonder too if its economic overtones could be a negative (not just now but in general). Probably too complicated to discuss in a comment on a blog post :)

Leonie said...

I understand. There is a tendency to bring corporation values to other ares, and not always with success ( as in Stephen Covey and his 7 Habits series. I like the ideas but one can go too far with family mission statements and planning).

However, we all build capital, a storehouse if you like, of memories and relationships and ideas. If one thinks of social capital in this way, one thinks in terms of bulding on, of context and not necesarily of economics.

I think. :-)

Willa said...

I suppose it's a placeholder term. Because our society tends to be so economically oriented (I guess I'm talking globally : )) there needs to be some sociological recognition of the more intangible values. The Popes are very good about putting economics in their proper place in the hierarchy of things -- but contemporary sociology, perhaps not so much.

Very interesting post -- I liked reading the bits about community in the Homeschooling A Family's Journey.

Laura A said...

Jut wanted to say that I liked this. I struggle a lot with the idea, but I think there's something to it.

And I agree with Willa that "social capital" might be a placeholder. Maybe what it describes didn't need a name before, or maybe it was "community," but that got too bloated.

Hopewell said...

As a single parent, I've found the homeschool groups here in the American Bible Belt to be really COLD. Since I'm "single" it's assumed that I'm divorced [even though many of the other Moms are too--only remarried] or even that I'm on welfare [I'm not.] And, even though my beliefs are strongly Christian and somewhere between "moderate" and "conservative" on the political scale I'm thought to be liberal and therefore not very welcome. I miss the community that could be! I have had one Church Community that I cried over leaving, one that I rejoiced over leaving. I have a former workplace that is still "family" after nearly 10 years. We have cut ourselves off in other ways--too much work, tv, dvds. My great aunt and uncle sat by the same folks at the college basketball games for 30 years--they were each season ticket holders. That was community. Another g-aunt/uncle looked for the same couple at the movies every Saturday during the depression and WWII--they were community. Kiwanis, Masons, Oddfellows, Lions Clubs--all are suffering a loss of membership. Bowling Leagues and Card Clubs used to be a fact of life in the burbs. What has replaced them? Soccer fields, basketball courts, gymnastics and karate matches--congregating a kid-activities. We aren't "joiners" in that sense anymore (nor are we likely to talk to folks at the movies!)but we do form communities.
Another book that may (may be too dry-scholarly) interest you is "Information Ecologies."

Leonie said...

Thanks for the book tip - and, yes, I do think we tend to still look for and form communities.Perhaps they are not as easy to find, or need more work?

Mmm. Maybe socail capital as a term is something useful for us to describe intangibles, things we always knew but perhap didn't
( didn't need or want to ) identify in sociological terms.

Chris said...

You are great at making people feel included. I will try to do the same but at certain times you may have to send me a set of forks.

Leonie said...

lol Chris! Friday was so funny! My fork comment - I knew you understood....