How do we make the shift from individual to group social capital?
Social capital remains an ambiguous term. The last decades it is used often, and often for different meanings. Recently, Chris Jones also mentioned it and raises great questions. Sometimes I also refer to social capital, but I learned to use the term with care, or at least explain what you mean by it when you mention it. You could avoid the term completely because of the ambiguity, but I prefer to keep using it.
Because it is being used for multiple meanings, but always related, I like to use it by combining at least two versions of the term. For example, The fact that it can refer to the social capital of a person (whatever exact definition you would give it) and for a group, makes it a multilevel concept. Somehow, the social capital of all persons in a group combined and the social capital of the group seem to be similar, but it’s really not. Making the step from one level to another must be done with great care.
This can be the basis for new challenges in research. Oh, Labianca and Chung (2004, 2006) did a great job with this challenge. In a way, because a group is made up of people, the individual social capital of these people is related to the social capital of the group. Under what conditions can the group perform? What is needed in terms of closure in the group, and bridging with other groups? What is the role of the individual people that are member of a group? What about people that belong to multiple groups?
In my current research, I focus on behavior of people in online groups. I look at people who form bridges between groups, distinguishing between the number of people that form the same bridge. We found some solid results there, which creates questions about what this means for the group or groups. So perhaps I need to make the step from the individual to the group, and probably social capital will be included in such research.
Below you will find my presentation for the Sunbelt 2013 conference in Hamburg last month. These are my first baby steps in the world of social network analysis research, and to me, (group) social capital is still a holy grail somehow…
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