The journal article by James Coleman titled Social Capital in the Creation of Human Capital talks in detail about the concept of Social Capital. The author identifies three predominant forms in which social capital manifests: “obligations and expectations, information channels, and social norms”. Social structural conditions under which social capital is created are explained in detail. He prefers the ‘rational action paradigm’, whereby social capital is useful for constructive social action. The author takes surveys of high school students in America to validate his theories and assumptions.
Coleman’s criticizes both the dominant analytic paradigms of social action. Under the sociological model, the actor is seen as socialized and the action governed by social norms, rules and obligations. The “principal virtues of this intellectual stream lie in its ability to describe action in social context and to explain the way action is shaped, constrained, and redirected by the social context”. (Coleman, p.S95) The economic model too is equally flawed, for its principle virtue “lies in having a principle of action, that of maximizing utility.” (Coleman, p.S95) These two models take an exclusivist approach to identifying and defining social action, which can be problematic. Instead, as the author suggests, due inclusion of all the relevant factors is necessary to properly evaluate social capital.
Coleman is correct, when he points out that a conceptually coherent framework that brings together the two opposing intellectual traditions is necessary. This can be achieved by starting with one framework and adding important elements from the other, without destroying the former’s basic structure. Coleman defines social capital as
“not a single entity but a variety of different entities, with two elements in common: They all consist of some aspect of social structures, and they facilitate certain actions of actors – whether persons or corporate actors – within the structure. Like other forms of capital, social capital is productive, making possible the achievement of certain ends that in its absence would not be possible. Like physical capital and human capital, social capital is not completely fungible but may be specific to certain activities.” (Coleman, p.S98)
Robert Putman’s article Social Capital and Institutional Success takes a more practical approach to analysis, as opposed to the more abstract and theoretical work of James Coleman. Putman take Modern Italy as his test case in illustrating how and where various dilemmas of collective social action emerge. He also cites from a broad range of political philosophers such as David Hume, Pietr Kropotkin and Hobbes to bring credibility and clarity to his arguments. As Putnam cites, social capital, like other forms of capital, “is productive, making possible the achievement of certain ends that would not be attainable in its absence. For example, a group whose members manifest trustworthiness and place extensive trust in one another will be able to accomplish much more than a comparable group lacking that trustworthiness and trust”. (Putnam, p.167) The farming community in Italy provides the context and cases for measuring the value and utility of social capital. There is some congruence between the work of Putnam and Coleman in that the former recognizes the key difference between social capital and conventional capital, namely, “social capital, like trust, norms, networks, is that it is ordinarily a public god, unlike conventional capital, which is ordinarily a private good”. (Putnam, p.170) Putnam’s article further analyses social capital in the context of family and social structures in modern Italy. He also gives a historical perspective to the term by outlining its evolution in recent centuries.
In conclusion, both the studied articles offer interesting insights and perspectives on the concept of social capital. James Coleman’s article focuses on the two main paradigms governing the definition of social capital – namely the sociological and the economic. He highlights the flaws in these two models and how a coherent combination of the two is necessary. Putnam’s article is equally informative and insightful. Its strength is its broad range of references, citing major philosophers and thinkers on the subject. The use of modern Italy for case study gives his ideas and arguments concrete proof.
James S. Coleman, Social Capital in the Creation of Human Capital, The American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 94, 1988, pp. S95-S120, The University of Chicago Press.
Robert D. Putnam, Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy, Princeton University Press.