The social impact of social media: creator or destroyer of social capital?

This is a learning module for the class Contemporary Social / Mass Media Theory taught at Purdue University by Sorin Adam Matei

Social Capital Theory proposes that effective social action and the wellbeing of social groups, from the smallest voluntary organization to entire societies, is the product of a “secret ingredient:” social capital.  Traditionally, if a group or institution functioned effectively, its success was attributed to well-designed formal rules, the sharing of common values, fair distribution of rewards and punishment, and forward-looking, clearly-defined goals. While important, studies revealed that these attributes were insufficient unless the groups also possessed social capital, which is a dense network of interpersonal relationships built on trust. According to the theory, only groups and institutions that cultivate this “social capital” will thrive.

Social capital, like other kinds of capital, is a form of wealth that “yields.” However, rather than possessing a truck (physical capital) or computer programming skills (human capital), which can be employed to make a profit, an individual with social capital possesses close trust-based relationships that are used to further his or her social, civic, or political agenda. These relationships entitle the individual to be used as a type of credit that can then be “cashed in” when he or she is need of resources, assistance, or other benefits (Bordieu, 1986). For example, if a couple brings a casserole to their neighbors who just had a baby, these new parents will see the fruit of the social capital they had cultivated with their neighbors. Thus, the gains of social capital are similar to  those generated by economic capital (Coleman, 1988), benefitting the individuals in these interpersonal relationships—but also the communities in which they are embedded. As connectedness, interdependence, and trust between individuals grow, the social ties binding the group together grow stronger, which in turn, creates well-connected, smoothly-functioning communities.

How then does media influence the creation—or disintegration– of social capital? In our technological society, many believe that social capital is rapidly deteriorating, that Americans and many other modern people are becoming increasingly isolated, dependent on their devices, and disconnected from each other. Some fear that the “weak ties” online are replacing the “strong ties” formerly born out of civic clubs, bowling leagues, and volunteer organizations.  Meanwhile, other voices sing the praises of new media and its social benefits, claiming the decline of civic organizations or PTAs to be counterbalanced by new, nontraditional social groups such as virtual communities or social networking sites. For many, these online environments are thriving incubators of social capital, creating or maintaining dynamic interpersonal networks. To examine the true influence of media on the health of our relationships, this module will explore social scientists’ attempts to identify the role of media in the cultivation, maintenance, and erosion of social capital.

What, how, to what effect: the first conceptualization of social capital

Though a vague concept of social capital emerged in early works by individuals such as Alexis de Tocqueville, Marx, and Durkheim, Pierre Bordieu was the first to offer an explicit definition in his 1986 work, “The Forms of Capital.” In this work, Bordieu describes social capital as the benefits one derives from membership within a particular group. He also proposes the “credit” analogy, by which he identifies credit as the resources or advantages one accesses through the members or his or her group. In this early explication of social capital, Bordieu also describes social capital as in dynamic interrelationship with other forms of capital, illustrating how their overlap and intersection truly produces the “yield” of all the kinds of capital.

A few years later, James Coleman gave social capital far greater visibility in his work, “Social Capital in the Creation of Human Capital” (1988). In this wok, Coleman defines social capital as the “potential to engage and sustain efficacious communities” and identifies “closure” as a key concept in understanding social capital. Closure, as defined by Coleman, is the collective observance of social norms that results from dense connections between members stretching between all the “nodes” in the social network.

Robert Putnam, however, drew mass attention to social capital through his well-known work Bowling Alone. In this extensive treatment of social capital, Putnam stretched the original definition considerably, examining social capital’s effects on entire nations and societies. The popular conception of social capital likely stems from Putnam’s definition– the “features of social organizations, such as networks, norms, and trust, that facilitate action and cooperation for mutual benefit” (2000, p. 35). Putnam also makes an important distinction between types of social capital– identifying both “bonding” capital and “bridging” capital. Bonding social capital is the product of close relationships and trust among individuals in the same community. This form of social capital grows the existing group tighter. Bridging social capital, however, is social capital that extends outward—connecting individuals from separate groups to each other, forming linkages between new people and new communities.

Putnam first started his investigations on the role of social capital in Italy (Making democracy work), illustrating how municipalities whose populations had high social capital were more likely to be effective than municipalities with less social capital. In Bowling Alone, Putnam argues that social capital in America has been rapidly decreasing over the past fifty years (2000). Using data collected on a national scale, Putnam illustrates how effective participation in civic organizations and political involvement has declined in the U.S., a process that goes hand-in-hand with the increasing isolation of the American individual. For Putnam, at the root of this unfortunate phenomenon lies electronic media and technology, specifically television. According to Putnam, Americans today are more connected to their TVs and less connected to their neighbors. As they’ve turned to computers, they’ve turned away from civic organizations. Upon publication, Putnam’s work seemed to confirm the fears of many—that the inherently antisocial nature of technology’s is harming not only individuals and communities, but our great nation as well.

The role of media in creating or destroying social capital

However, since Putnam’s time, the media landscape has changed drastically. Television—the medium supposedly responsible for the erosion of social capital—is a hallmark of old media. If new media, however, is characterized by connectedness, networks, and participation, how then, does this influence social capital?

In 1998, as internet usage was becoming widespread, researchers Wellman, Haase, Witte, and Hampton conducted a large-scale national survey to examine how this growing phenomenon affected offline, interpersonal relationships. By surveying thousands of visitors on the National Geographic website, researchers began gauging the level of Internet users’ online interaction and offline community involvement (Wellman et al., 1998). Surprisingly, they discovered that online interaction had very little influence on participants’ amount of offline interaction. The researchers concluded that the Internet merely supplemented these interactions without replacing or increasing them. More surprisingly, they discovered that frequent Internet users were more likely to engage in volunteerism—a finding seemingly contradictory to Putnam’s hypothesis about media and the decline of civic involvement. Such a study seemed to indicate a countercultural trend—that the Internet was not destroying but simply supplementing pre-existing social capital.

Recent studies of social media have taken these findings even further—demonstrating that new media has gone beyond supplementation and begun facilitating the creation of social capital. As early as 2001 Matei and Ball Rokeach have shown that social capital migrates from offline to online environments. Furthermore, individuals with social aptitudes and ability to connect in everyday life will use these skills to build social capital online as well. A 2006 study conducted by Ellison, Steinfeld, and Lampe examined the influence of Facebook on bonding and bridging capital as well as “maintained” social capital, or the capital resulting from connections maintained from former networks. The findings indicated a positive relationship between Facebook and all three kinds of social capital. The strongest relationship was bridging capital, illustrating the unique nature of online social networks to connect individuals by virtue of their weak ties, or “acquaintance” relationships.

Studies of other online social environments have illustrated similar results. Researchers studying the popular online game World of Warcraft explicitly stated that WoW players are certainly not “bowling alone” (Williams et al., 2006, p. 357). Rather, these individuals operate in dynamic social environments where people meet, connect, and build communities together online. In their study, many players maintained and strengthened preexisting relationships in the gaming environment. Nearly all players met new people, cultivating bridging capital that often turned into bonding capital over time. Just as WoW players reinforce existing social ties in their virtual environment, Matei’s study of online communities, Yahoo! groups, indicates a “magnification of [offline] pre-existing social capital” as well (2004, p. 36). Thus, more recent studies of online social environments—whether social networking sites or virtual communities—reveals a consistent trend of the creating or strengthening of social capital.

Social capital as a theory

The primary strength of social capital is its ability to explain the intangible, yet powerful benefits derived from relationships and social networks, for both individuals and communities. For the mass media researcher, it can be an important variable in measuring media influence on these relationships and the health and effective functioning of social groups and institutions.

However, vague definitions and diverse applications of social capital have weakened the theory’s conceptual framework. In much of the literature, descriptions of the possessors, sources, and benefits of social capital are intertwined, muddying the clear meaning and application of the concept. Social capital has been used to examine individual, dyadic relationships as well as effects on nations and societies as a whole. These more ambitious applications of social capital—particularly to massive, multi-faceted groups of individuals—has stretched it beyond a tight, focused conceptualization, and into some loose generalizing about social phenomena. Such diversity—and even conflict—in definitions and applications has threatened the strength of its explanatory power of the effects of media on society.

Furthermore, critics consider some applications of social capital to be circular in logic as well as vague in definition (Portes, 1998). For example, lack of social capital has been identified as the cause of social fragmentation and moral disintegration—and has also been identified as the result of social fragmentation and moral disintegration. The moralizing often attached to social capital is another criticism of the theory, as many uncritically laud the societal benefits of social capital without addressing its negative attributes. Portes (1998), however, discusses the dark side of social capital, describing four of its unhealthy outcomes in his article, “Social Capital: Its Origins and Applications in Modern Sociology.” The first negative aspect of social capital is its common “exclusion of outsiders” (p. 15). As communities privilege bonding over bridging capital, they likely shut out others and become increasingly insular and homogenous. The second negative attribute is “excess claims on group members,” or the overlarge contribution demanded of some members to counterbalance other members’ lack of effort. Social capital can also limit individuals’ personal freedoms. As certain norms are strongly reinforced in close-knit communities, these expectations may inhibit the liberties of some group members. Finally, social capital can lead to “downward leveling norms.” This occurs when social groups encourage unhealthy behavior, but group loyalty and social pressure discourages individuals to seek positive alternatives. As these negative practices become normative, the entire social group suffers.

Thus, there are clearly two sides to social capital. Just as close bonds between group members can benefit a community, so they can also forestall important progress and change. However, if a mass media researcher understands this duality to social capital, he or she is better equipped to apply the theory effectively. By avoiding the common pitfalls in theorizing, and creating a tight, focused application of the concept, social capital theory can be a powerful lens through which to examine media effects in society.

Of the couple dozen theories that aim to explain how mass media impact society, how many of them are still valid today, when mass media is slowly metamorphosizing into social media? Or, in other words, if there has been a shift from one-to-many, to many-to-many communication systems, have the theories that explained the former, such as media dependency, agenda setting, or knowledge gap, still applicable to the latter? The course from Mass Media to Social Media, which I will teach at Purdue University in the fall of 2010 will scrutinize this problem in great detail.

 

Readings

Robert Putnam, Bowling Alone. Read Chapters 1, 6, and 13 — download via Blackboard. I highly recommend buying the book (click the image to see the Amazon.com page of the book).

James Coleman, Social Capital in the Creation of Human Capital, The American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 94, Supplement or http://www.jstor.org/stable/2780243

In this paper, the concept of social capital is introduced and illustrated, its forms are described, the social structural conditions under which it arises are examined, and it is used in an analysis ol dropouts from high school. Use of the concept of social capital is part of a general theoretical strategy discussed in the paper: taking rational action as a starting point but rejecting the extreme individ- ualistic premises that often accompany it. The conception of social capital as a resource for action is one way of introducing social structure into the rational action paradigm. Three forms of so- cial capital are examined: obligations and expectations, information channels, and social norms. The role of closure in the social struc- ture in facilitating the first and third of these forms of social capital is described. An analysis of the effect of the lack of social capital available to high school sophomores on dropping out of school be- fore graduation is carried out. The effect of social capital within the family and in the community outside the family is examined.

Pierre Bourdieu, The forms of social capital. From J. E. Richardson (ed.). Handbook of Theory of Research for the Sociology of Education (Greenwood Press, 1986); 241-58.

Social capital is the aggregate of the actual or potential resources which are linked to possession of a durable network of more or less institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition – or in other words, to membership in a group – which provides each of its members with the backing of the collectivity-owned capital, a ‘credential’ which entitles them to credit, in the various senses of the word. These relationships may exist only in the practical state, in material and/or symbolic exchanges which help to maintain them. They may also be socially instituted and guaranteed by the application of a common name (the name of a family, a class, or a tribe or of a school, a party, etc.) and by a whole set of instituting acts designed simultaneously to form and inform those who undergo them; in this case, they are more or less really enacted and so maintained and reinforced, in exchanges. Being based on indissolubly material and symbolic exchanges, the establishment and maintenance of which presuppose reacknowledgment of proximity, they are also partially irreducible to objective relations of proximity in physical (geographical) space or even in economic and social space.

The volume of the social capital possessed by a given agent thus depends on the size of the network of connections he can effectively mobilize and on the volume of the capital (economic, cultural or symbolic) possessed in his own right by each of those to whom he is connected. This means that, although it is relatively irreducible to the economic and cultural capital possessed by a given agent, or even by the whole set of agents to whom he is connected, social capital is never completely independent of it because the exchanges instituting mutual acknowledgment presuppose the reacknowledgment of a minimum of objective homogeneity, and because it exerts a multiplier effect on the capital he possesses in his own right.

Alejandro Portes, The origins of social capital.
Annual Review of Sociology
Vol. 24: 1-24 (Volume publication date August 1998)
(doi:10.1146/annurev.soc.24.1.1)

This paper reviews the origins and definitions of social capital in the writings of Bourdieu, Loury, and Coleman, among other authors. It distinguishes four sources of social capital and examines their dynamics. Applications of the concept in the sociological literature emphasize its role in social control, in family support, and in benefits mediated by extrafamilial networks. I provide examples of each of these positive functions. Negative consequences of the same processes also deserve attention for a balanced picture of the forces at play. I review four such consequences and illustrate them with relevant examples. Recent writings on social capital have extended the concept from an individual asset to a feature of communities and even nations. The final sections describe this conceptual stretch and examine its limitations. I argue
that, as shorthand for the positive consequences of sociability, social capital has a definite place in sociological theory. However, excessive extensions of the concept may jeopardize its heuristic value.

Wellman et al.
Does the Internet increase, decrease, or supplement social capital?: social networks, participation, and community commitment
American Behavioral Scientist November 2001 vol. 45 no. 3 436-455
doi: 10.1177/00027640121957286

How does the Internet affect social capital? Do the communication possibilities of the Internet increase, decrease, or supplement interpersonal contact, participation, and community commitment? This evidence comes from a 1998 survey of 39,211 visitors to the National Geographic Society Web site, one of the first large-scale Web surveys. The authors find that people’s interaction online supplements their face-to-face and telephone communication without increasing or decreasing it. However, heavy Internet use is associated with increased participation in voluntary organizations and politics. Further support for this effect is the positive association between offline and online participation in voluntary organizations and politics. However, the effects of the Internet are not only positive: The heaviest users of the Internet are the least committed to online community. Taken together this evidence suggests that the Internet is becoming normalized as it is incorporated into the routine practices of everyday life.

Nicole B. Ellison Charles Steinfield, Cliff Lampe
The Benefits of Facebook ‘‘Friends:’’ Social
Capital and College Students’ Use of
Online Social Network Sites

10.1111/j.1083-6101.2007.00367.x

This study examines the relationship between use of Facebook, a popular online social
network site, and the formation and maintenance of social capital. In addition to
assessing bonding and bridging social capital, we explore a dimension of social capital
that assesses one’s ability to stay connected with members of a previously inhabited
community, which we call maintained social capital. Regression analyses conducted on
results from a survey of undergraduate students (N = 286) suggest a strong association
between use of Facebook and the three types of social capital, with the strongest relationship
being to bridging social capital. In addition, Facebook usage was found to
interact with measures of psychological well-being, suggesting that it might provide
greater benefits for users experiencing low self-esteem and low life satisfaction.

 

Steinfeld, C., Lampe, C., Ellison, N., and Vitak, J. Online social network sites and the concept of social capital.  Lee, F. L. F. (2013). Frontiers in New Media Research. Routledge.

 

From Tree House to Barracks : The Social Life of Guilds in World of Warcraft
Games and Culture 2006 1: 338
Dmitri Williams, Nicolas Ducheneaut, Li Xiong, Yuanyuan Zhang, Nick Yee and Eric Nickell
DOI: 10.1177/1555412006292616

A representative sample of players of a popular massively multiplayer online game
(World of Warcraft) was interviewed to map out the social dynamics of guilds. An initial
survey and network mapping of players and guilds helped form a baseline. Next,
the resulting interview transcripts were reviewed to explore player behaviors, attitudes,
and opinions; the meanings they make; the social capital they derive; and the
networks they form and to develop a typology of players and guilds. In keeping with
current Internet research findings, players were found to use the game to extend reallife
relationships, meet new people, form relationships of varying strength, and also
use others merely as a backdrop. The key moderator of these outcomes appears to be
the game’s mechanic, which encourages some kinds of interactions while discouraging
others. The findings are discussed with respect to the growing role of code in shaping
social interactions.

Sorin Matei
Journal of Broadcasting and electronic Media
The impact of state-level social capital on emergece of virtual communities

The paper analyzes the 48 contiguous states of the Union and their ability to create and maintain online communities (Yahoo! groups). Multiple regression analysis indicates that the number of online groups and overall amount of online activity increase with amount of social capital. Also, ethnic homogeneity positively influences the number of online groups, while population density and number of IT workers are positively associated with level of online activity. In broad terms, the analyses support the idea that the Internet strengthens offline interaction, sociability online building on sociability offline.

MATEI, S., & BALL-ROKEACH, S. J. (2001). Real and Virtual Social Ties: Connections in the Everyday Lives of Seven Ethnic Neighborhoods. American Behavioral Scientist, 45(3), 550–564. doi:10.1177/0002764201045003012

The relationship between online and offline social ties is studied in seven Los Angeles ethnically marked residential areas. Contrary to visions proposing a zero-sum game between the two, the authors advance a “the more, the more” approach to online social ties. A higher level of belonging to real communities translates into a higher propensity for interaction online. This approach is informed by a social shaping of technology perspective, which proposes that strong anchoring to offline social and cultural groups links cyberspace to people’s local communities. Results of a logistic regression analysis indicate that the chances of making a friend online increase by 7% for each belonging index unit and by 32% for each neighbor known well enough to talk to about a personal problem. Belonging is captured through an index measure, combining eight items concerning objective and subjective involvement in residential community. Ethnic differences are less pronounced than expected. However, Asian respondents, particularly those of Korean descent, are more likely to form online ties than mainstream White respondents. Focus group data suggest that online ties are established with people of the same ethnicity.

 

Sorin Adam Matei

Sorin Adam Matei – Professor of Communication at Purdue University – studies the relationship between information technology and social groups. He published papers and articles in Journal of Communication, Communication Research, Information Society, and Foreign Policy. He is the author or co-editor of several books. The most recent is Structural differentation in social media. He also co-edited Ethical Reasoning in Big Data,Transparency in social media and Roles, Trust, and Reputation in Social Media Knowledge Markets: Theory and Methods (Computational Social Sciences) , all three the product of the NSF funded KredibleNet project. Dr. Matei’s teaching portfolio includes online interaction, and online community analytics and development classes. His teaching makes use of a number of software platforms he has codeveloped, such as Visible Effort . Dr. Matei is also known for his media work. He is a former BBC World Service journalist whose contributions have been published in Esquire and several leading Romanian newspapers. In Romania, he is known for his books Boierii Mintii (The Mind Boyars), Idolii forului (Idols of the forum), and Idei de schimb (Spare ideas).

40 thoughts on “The social impact of social media: creator or destroyer of social capital?

  • October 10, 2010 at 8:37 pm
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    The Social Capital Theory highlights the value of social networks and the role of these networks in people’s lives. Putnam argue that social contacts may impact individual or group productivity in a similar way that a screw driver which may be classified as a physical capital and a college education which may be classified as a human capital may increase an individual or group productivity. Physical capital describes physical objects and human capital describes properties or characteristics of individuals. On the other hand social capital describes the connections that exist among various individuals or groups as well as the social networks and norms of mutual exchange and trust that emerge from these connections. According to Putnam (2000) social capital may be to some extent related to what is decried as “civic virtue”. Although civic virtue may be related to social capital they also differ in a way which social capital highlights that civic virtue may be more powerful when it is involves in dense networks which involves mutual social exchange among individuals. Essentially, a society may have many virtues but if individuals are isolated rich social capital may be lacking.
    According to Putnam (2000) the social capital concept emerged and reemerged over six times throughout the twentieth century. Firstly, in the 1916 by L. J. Hanifan who was a state supervisor of rural schools in West Virginia. During this time the social capital concept was used by L. J. Hanifan to highlight the important role that communities play in building successful schools and how a community can benefits from such partnerships. While this first discovery of the social capital concept consisted of all the major elements that was brought out in later discoveries the concept disappeared for a while. In the 1950s Canadian sociologists rediscover the social capital concept and urbanist Jane Jacobs in 1960s used the term to praise neighborliness within modern metropolitan areas. The social capital concept was also rediscovered in the 1970s by economist Glenn Loury in analyzing the social heritage of slavery. French social theorist Pierre Bourdieu and German economist Ekkehart Schlicht used the term in the 1980s to emphasize the social and economic resources that are found in social networks. The social capital concept was finally established in the 1980s by James S. Coleman who was a sociologist. Similar to L. J. Hanifan, James S. Coleman used the social capital concept to emphasize the social context of education.
    When individuals interact with one another on a frequent basis certain norms are generated which are mutually exchanged among those individuals. In a similar way civic engagement and social capital involve certain mutual responsibilities for action. These social networks and the development of social norms result in collaboration which produces mutual benefits. Many different groups can be classified as social capital or social networks. For example family groups, church groups, chat rooms, professional groups and others as well as various civic organizations. Similar to many community groups social capital may produce positive outcomes such as the development of mutual trust and support among individuals.

    Reply
    • October 12, 2010 at 1:30 pm
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      Great summary of social capital as a concept and of its origins. The big question is how does this concept intersect with social media and online communication… What are the implications for researching social media?

      Reply
  • October 11, 2010 at 9:57 am
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    Putnam (2000) argues that social capital has declined in American civic society since the 1960s. Participation in politics, voluntary opportunities and neighbors, according to Putnam, has declined due to multiple reasons, particularly evidenced by a decrease in voting in elections, attendance in public meetings and a distrust in government. Wellman, Quan Haase, Witte, & Hampton (2001) provocatively question Putnam’s measurement of social capital: people may remain in civic society via mediums other than face-to-face interaction. When Bowling Alone was published, the Internet was rapidly expanding as a medium of interaction among users. Putnam’s measurements, while important, may be well served with an updated analysis.

    Wellman et al. (2001) suggest that the more people are on the Internet and the more involved they are in political and organizational activity, that the offline counterpart holds true as well. Their data, pulled from a National Geographic survey, provide evidence to this claim, although the data has its own limitations in that participants were visitors to that web site, which may have a slew of additional biases.

    I hold two beliefs regarding the Internet’s impact on social capital. Firstly, people are inherently egocentric beings who seek out social/network capital for self-serving needs. They seek out community as a way to fulfill certain innate needs, such as social support (Ginossar, 2008). Consider someone who seeks out health information online, or perhaps support for coping with an illness. They may join an online group to provide that need. When the illness is no longer present, or when they feel their needs have been met, they may leave that community. Granted, there are multiple possibilities we could discuss as potential outcomes. However, the very foundation that should even spark such involvement is based on individual need. Participation in an online community satisfies an individual need to feel fulfilled. Civic participation occurs as a way to become engaged with society. For instance, housing residents may join a local residential community to share their existence and feel connected. That same principle can be applied to online communal interaction, which, by their very nature, serve functions quite similar to FTF groups.

    That leads me to my second contention, that the Internet is a way for social capital to thrive, but that it should be accompanied by interpersonal interaction in other mediums as well—such as FTF, as Putnam (2001) describes as being the crux of civic involvement. The Internet is supplemental to offline participation in sociability. In some cases, the Internet is a way for people separated by time and space to provide a forum on issues relating to civic involvement.

    How do we position ourselves as members of multiple networks in the online and offline realm of social capital? What are your personal beliefs about the Internet as either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ for civic involvement?

    References

    Ginossar, T. (2008). Online participation: A content analysis of differences in utilization of two online cancer communities by men and women, patients and family members. Health Communication, 23, 1-12.

    Putnam, R. D. (2000). Bowling alone: The collapse and revival of American community. New York: Simon & Schuster.

    Wellman, B., Quan Haase, A., Witte, J., & Hampton, K. (2001). Does the Internet increase, decrease, or supplement social capital? Social networks, participation, and community commitment. American Behavioral Scientist, 45, 436-459.

    Reply
    • October 12, 2010 at 1:32 pm
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      So, are you of the opinion that social interaction online needs to sustenance of offline interactions to survive?

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      • October 18, 2010 at 6:34 pm
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        Online social interaction can exist without offline ties, but such interaction is enhanced through offline interaction. A multitude of groups and connections begin through the Internet and last for years where participants only know each other through that medium. Referring back to the conversation in class last Thursday, I believe that civic involvement isn’t necessarily on a steep decline (as Putnam might argue), but rather, is changing in ways that are part of a larger phenomena indicated in trends in the way we communicate today and live our lives.

        Then again, I could be entirely wrong. As a big advocate of CMC, I believe the Internet has the potential to provide unique modes of interaction and collaboration that were previously not possible. That’s precisely why it’s so interesting to study to me.

        Reply
  • October 12, 2010 at 12:15 pm
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    The question as to whether social media has a positive impact on the formation and maintenance of social capital can be summed up in can be evaluated by looking at the forms of social capital identified by sociologist James S. Coleman in his American Journal of Sociology article entitled “Social Capital in the Creation of Human Capital.” Coleman wanted to explore how social capital effected the creation of human capital and, to do so, he analyzed high school dropouts in search of what sociologist Mark Granovetter calls “embeddedness.”

    Granovetter (1985) theorized that people become embedded in concrete personal relations and networks of relations by 1) generating trust, 2) establishing expectations, and 3) creating and enforcing norms. These kinds of relationships produce accumulated resources called “social capital,” which has been linked to a variety of positive societal outcomes. In sociologist Robert Putnam’s (1996, 2000) view, social capital is on the decline in America.

    Whether or not the use of social media can actually create social capital is a hotly debated topic. Certain immersive aspects of the Internet (those which involve asocial solitary activities like Web surfing) have the capability of disconnecting people from community involvement, but when used to communicate and coordinate, the Internet becomes a tool for increasing community participation. “The effects of the Internet on social contact are supplementary,” according to Wellman and colleagues (2001) who found that Internet use both helps and hurts a user’s engagement with community and family. What is less challenged are findings that support the ability of social networking sites to maintain existing social capital, this is, the face-to-face social capital built up from years of high school, on a job site, in the military, etc. (Koku, Nazer & Wellman, 2001).

    If the atmosphere required for the optimal creation of social capital requires a sense of “embeddedness,” then social networking sites have the advantage over other kinds of online communities because they benefit from the social capital transferred from face-to-face relationships, both current and past. The potential for new opportunities to develop social capital may even arise online when users feel motivated to activate a latent tie because of SNS features that “provide personal informational others, makes visible one’s connections to a wide range of individuals, and enables [users] to identify those who might be useful in some capacity…” (Ellison et. al, 2007). It’s a case of the transferability of social capital through our attitude that “if my friend likes you then you must be okay and I should like you, too” or, more simply, “you’re my friend because you’re my friend’s friend.” These kinds of multiplex relations allow the resources of one relationship to be appropriated for use in others (Gluckman, 1967).

    The qualities of social relations that can constitute useful capital resources boil down to the obligations, expectations and trustworthiness of structures that people determine how many credit slips outstanding they can draw from at any time. Information is a form of social capital whereby people can find out what others already know so they don’t have to do in depth investigating (Katz and Lazarsfeld, 1955). And norms exist as a form of social capital that ensures members will act selflessly for the common good of the organization.

    In addition to filling communication gaps between face-to-face meetings, does the social networking site you visit incorporate tools to build up these three forms of social capital: 1) generating trust, 2) establishing expectations, and 3) creating and enforcing norms? SNS’ may indeed enhance social capital by making users more aware of each other’s needs and, thus, prompting communication with weak ties.

    Reply
    • October 12, 2010 at 1:35 pm
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      So, your opinion is the SNS have the property of social extensibility, right? This is an interesting concept… How could this be further developed to explore specific research questions related to social media?

      Reply
  • October 7, 2012 at 7:48 pm
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    By James S. Coleman, the social capital “constitutes both an aid in accounting for different outcomes at the level of individual actors and an aid toward making the micro-to-macro transitions.” Social capital is not an idea special media researches, but a theory that takes important part in social science, economics, organizational behavior, management science and many other theories. Thus, it will be a good idea to see how Internet or new social media influences the social capital to see how the shifting from mass media to social media impact the social, since the impact on social capital can be viewed from so many aspects. Regarding media as an information system, social capital is the resources people owned and depended in macro level and the interpersonal network which linking the whole Macro-meso-micro structure.

    To view the impact of Internet on social capital from different aspects, Wellman provided the idea of network capital (2001) and participatory capital (1835), and McAdam gave the idea of community commitment (1982). The result is that though Internet increases both the connection among people and the resources associating to a person, only the participatory capital increases with the using of Internet. The main reason of this is that Internet and social capital are not linked directly, but indirectly by human. It is the human who owns the social capital, and the human who chooses and experiences the Internet. So though internet can provide a better environment for the growing of social capital, the impact is still depends on people and their selections.

    For the increase of participatory capital, Wellman said that there is a positive feedback effect between online and offline activities (2001). This positive feedback effect can be viewed simper that Internet owns the ability to provide more resources and possibilities than off-line behavior, and resources are never negative.

    When relating to network capital and community commitment, we can view how personal selection participates in the impact of Internet on social capital and the fact that better connectedness doesn’t meaning stronger interpersonal network. Internet is just supplemental to the network capital not only because Internet ties are weaker than face-to-face, but also that a person’s energy is limited. For example, while Internet enabling a person has connections with millions of people, a person might just be able to built relationships with a small group. That is the reason why Internet performs better in maintaining, a part require less energy. And for the decrease of community commitment, while Internet providing more choices and details of communities, the unpleasant feeling of exposure by person decrease the capital in total. (Wellman, 2001)

    References:

    Wellman et al. 2001 Does the Internet increase, decrease, or supplement social capital?: social networks, participation, and community commitment

    James Coleman, Social Capital in the Creation of Human Capital, The American Journal of Sociology

    Sandra J. Ball-Rokeeach and Joo-Young Jung, The Evolution of Media System Dependency Theory

    Reply
    • October 10, 2012 at 12:56 pm
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      Can you explain this a little bit more? ” Internet increases both the connection among people and the resources associating to a person, only the participatory capital increases with the using of Internet” Also, what are the mechanisms by which this happens: “So though internet can provide a better environment for the growing of social capital, the impact is still depends on people and their selections.”

      Reply
      • October 11, 2012 at 12:27 pm
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        Internet increases both the connection among people and the resources associating to a person. This is a pure fact that what do Internet do. Since social capital is also about resources, it is rational to think that since Internet provides more resources, the Internet will increase the social capital. But by Wellman’s study, the findings are that Internet supplies the network capital, increase the participatory capital and decrease the community commitment. Why this happens is what I try to answer.

        And I believe that the answer is the people’s selection. This might be better understood by imaging a person breathing the air. The more oxygen in the air, the better a person will feel. No person can live in an air without oxygen, but if the oxygen content is too high, the air will kill the person too. The oxygen is like the resources, the air is like the society, and the person is like the social capital. Internet can increase the ‘oxygen’ in the ‘air’, but sometimes it is good for a breath, and sometimes it can kill a ‘person’.

        Bur comparing to the ability of breath, a person can choice whether to use Internet or not. So in the breathing case, we might say that it is the high oxygen content air killing the person, but when we map this to the relation between Internet and social capital, I would rather to say that it is the inability of the person to breath in a high oxygen content air killing the person. Thus, the Internet increase the resources a person can achieve all the time, it is the person’s ability and inability to survive in such an environment deciding whether the social capital will increase or decrease. In another world, in the new high resources environment provided by the Internet, people adapt well in participatory capital aspect but adapt bad in community commitment aspect.

        Reply
  • October 8, 2012 at 2:10 am
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    The article titled “Benefits of Facebook “Friends:” Social Capital and College Students’ Use of Online Social Network Sites” by Ellison et al., (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com.ezproxy.lib.purdue.edu/doi/10.1111/j.1083-6101.2007.00367.x/pdf) spends a majority of the time talking about Facebook and its ability to bridge social capital. The discussion on this was very interesting as it revealed that the nature of social ties on social networking sites, generally weaker than those that form face-to-face, and how they can facilitate an excellent bridge of social capital. These ties allow students to obtain information and media from people that they may hardly know at extreme convenience, while not putting them in a position where they may be responsible for providing emotional support. This is obviously a result of Facebook making it easy to maintain brief acquaintances over space and time, but on impact of this characteristic that I found surprising was the role that this social bridge tends to play when it comes to ones self-esteem.
    The findings of this study actually showed that those who use Facebook more intensely tend to have greater satisfaction with their real world college community and their own life than those that don’t. After considering this finding, I began to ponder why this may be the case. I think that Facebook tends to make people feel as if they are closer to the people they “friend” than they are in reality. Because of the mass amount of information available on Facebook regarding each individual, it is possible to learn a large amount of “small talk” information about someone’s life without ever having to actual interact with them. As a result, people that use Facebook more intensely probably encounter this phenomena more frequently, thus feeling as if they have hundreds of best friends and experiencing an increased self-esteem as a result, when in reality, without Facebook they may find themselves very lonely. Even though they may have very few friends in real life, Facebook fulfills this need for an achieved sense of popularity that many people have, thus boosting their own opinion of themselves.
    This idea of Facebook as a social bridge may also have some negative implications. For example, it shows that one may be able to fulfill a social need through a passively social means. As a result, people may focus more on growing weak ties with people they hardly know online because it may be more comfortable and easier for them, thus decreasing the amount strong ties that generally form more effectively over face-to-face interaction. If one can get the same satisfaction through this sort of pseudo-relationship online, what will prevent stronger face-to-face ties from becoming a rarity?

    Reply
    • October 10, 2012 at 12:42 pm
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      Your speculative interpretation of the “self-esteem” effect is very interesting. Can we reformulate this hunch in terms of any known theories?

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      • October 11, 2012 at 7:21 pm
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        Could connections be made between this effect of Facebook on self-esteem and uses and gratifications? In a way, people with low-self esteem seem to be using social media like Facebook to fulfill the desire to be liked/popular, whether they know that’s what it’s doing or not.

        Reply
  • October 8, 2012 at 10:55 am
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    Throughout all the readings is the idea that, as Matei (2004) summarized, “social capital is a complex relational phenomenon that spans multiple temporal and social levels; it is both conjectural and historical, institutional and personal, etc.” (p. 27). In all, social capital is complicated, yet, we, as scholars, sometimes try to reduce complicated processes like social capital to dichotomies (e.g., is it good or is it bad? Is our current cultural environment creating or destroying it?). These dichotomies can limit the way scholars think about a phenomenon.

    For example, inherently bound in Putnam’s (2000) argument is the assumption that social capital, and the resulting civic virtue is good, and should be preserved or upheld as beneficial for society. The argument also seems to assume that the weakening of social ties, evidenced through reduced dinners out with friends and other social markers, is linked to fundamental changes in society that are detrimental to the civic functioning of that society (Putnam, 2000). The reduced civic involvement might even be a result of television viewing habits (Putnam, 2000). This is a simplification of Putnam’s overall arguments, so it is important to point out that Putnam does mention that “networks and the associated norms of reciprocity are generally good for those inside the network, but the external effects of social capital are by no means always positive” (p. 21). However, despite recognizing that increased social capital is not always beneficial to all involved, the other chapters read for this week highlight the general demise of social capital due to the reduced social ties (Putnam, 2000).

    Portes (1998) also shed light on the dark side of social capital and mentioned four areas where social capital may be detrimental: 1) social capital can bring people together, but it also segregate those in the group from those who are not; 2) in businesses, increased reliance on those within a closed social network may hurt business practices; 3) enhanced community can also mean enhanced conformity; and 4) some groups are connected because they share “a common experience of adversity and opposition to mainstream society” meaning “individual success stories undermine group cohesion” or that group norms may ultimately destroy the group (p. 17). Throughout all of these examples, he notes that “social capital, in the form of social control, is still present in these situations, but its effects are exactly the opposite of those commonly celebrated in the literature” (Portes, 1998, p. 18).

    Additionally, Portes explained that the reduction of social capital in one context may cause increased investment in social capital in another context. For example, a family that moves may lose the established bonds they had in their community, which reduces social capital gained through those interpersonal ties, but become closer as a family as a result, which increases social capital through different interpersonal ties. The idea of contextual social capital also draws attention to how complex social capital is as a concept—it does not simply exist or not exist, but comes from a variety of relationships. Researchers need to distinguish what context the social capital they are researching is situated within.

    Ultimately, it is important to understand that social capital is always present in some form (and that it has multiple forms), it is not inherently good or bad, and that there is not a quantity of it that is the “magic amount” that makes everything better. Recognizing that social capital has the potential to be helpful and hurtful but that it always exists (abet in different forms) changes the types of questions we as scholars have about it. For instance, instead of questioning whether social media technology creates or destroys social capital (which implies that there can be a situation where there is no social capital overall), researchers can question how the use of social media develops or maintains social capital, what the context of the social capital is, and what the outcomes of that social capital on the larger societal or cultural levels are. It is possible that the changes Putnam (2000) noted and attributed to a decrease in social capital are in fact representative of different forms of social capital that may be privileged today.

    References
    Matei, S. (2004). The impact of state-level social capital on the emergence of virtual communities. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 48, 23-40.
    Portes, A. (1998). Social Capital: Its origins and applications in modern sociology. Annual Review of Sociology, 24, 1-24.
    Putnam, R. D. (2000). Bowling alone: The collapse and revival of American community. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.

    Reply
    • October 10, 2012 at 12:52 pm
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      Very nice emphasis on the + / – aspects of social capital. Excellent summative questions.

      Reply
  • October 8, 2012 at 5:14 pm
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    Diskussionsindlæg

    I was intrigued by Bourdieu’s (1986) conceptualization of cultural capital, namely, the Embodied State , because it addresses one of our earlier discussion points; if, how, and to what extent the media can create “false needs”. Basically, the embodied state presupposes embodiment, which means that part of our cultural capital is innate and therefore cannot be replicated, purchased or transmitted instantly (p.48). Therefore, I place needs as within the embodied state as these are a fundamental part of ourselves which we seek to gratify by using different forms of stimuli (e.g. media) (Katz, Blumler & Gurevitch 1975). However, when comparing it to social capital, Bourdieu essentially highlights the social capital accruing from relationships to be much greater, because it stimulates social, cultural and economic capital (p.52).

    This poses an intriguing question: if I, as an organization, can build a relationship with clients that generates some form of economic value and a sense of social connectedness, can this open up for the facilitation of an appeal that is directed at the embodied state of cultural capital, and will I then have a bigger change of targeting their needs or even creating new needs because of this stronger, and in theory, potentially longer-lasting relationship? This might be the case, if we look at Coleman’s (1988) rendition of social capital. He theorizes that social capital constitutes a particular type of resource available to an actor (p.107). Furthermore, it is inherent in the structure of relations between actors, while not being lodged in the actors themselves (p.98). So this basically opens up the possibility of creating certain social capital in the relationship an organization creates with potential clients, and if this kind of relationship is particularly powerful, has a long-lasting potential, and facilitates trust, one might be tempted to look at the reciprocal exchange relationships between the media (or organizations) and the users to figure out whether false needs can be created.

    I believe that we already see attempts at creating needs on the basis of relationships. Example: a producer advertises a specific product as being able to gratify a certain need. This need has to fit within the embodied state, in my line of thinking, in order to facilitate actual use of this to seek gratification. How do you then, as an advertiser, make it to this level? Here I turn to social capital; if an advertiser grants the individual the opportunity to make use of a certain resource such as e.g. a brand of toothpaste with amazing whitening effects and this product promises to fulfill a certain need, then there should be a level of trust as a form of social capital resource which allows the individual to say to him- of herself: “Okay, I trust that you deliver a product that allows me to get whiter teeth”. This in turn creates obligations and expectations that are reciprocal. But if these factors are fulfilled and make up a closed system of reciprocity (Coleman 1988), then, fueled by the power of the relationship, it should open up for the possibility to create needs that perhaps we didn’t realize we had, e.g. we might want clean teeth, but do we want to go the extra mile and get clean and whiter teeth? This question, I believe, is ultimately decided by the embodied individual on the basis of the possible accumulative social capital. And I suspect that the media knows how to spark that process of gaining accumulation.

    References:

    Bourdieu, Pierre (1986). The forms of social capital. From J. E. Richardson (ed.). Handbook of Theory of Research for the Sociology of Education (Greenwood Press, 1986); 241-58.

    Coleman, James (1988): Social Capital in the Creation of Human Capital, The American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 94.

    Katz, Elihu: Blumler, Jay G.; Gurevitch, Michael (1975). Uses and Gratifications Research. In The Public Opinion Quarterly, Vol. 37, No. 4, p. 509-523.

    Reply
    • October 10, 2012 at 12:39 pm
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      Intriguing ideas… Can you explain this “can this open up for the facilitation of an appeal that is directed at the embodied state of cultural capital” in more concrete terms? Also, how can we invent needs on the basis of social capital?

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      • October 10, 2012 at 3:57 pm
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        I sure can! As I mentioned, the embodied state is innate and can therefore not be replicated, purchased or transmitted instantly. So if I were to target and taylor a persuasive appeal to an individual in order to make them purchase my product, I would look at factors inherent in e.g. Social Exchange Theory (Blau 1964). This theory suggests that we engage in interaction based on an expectation that it will lead in some way to social rewards such as approval, status, and respect. So if I were to convince that individual to buy my product, I would have to look at the very basics of that individual’s embodied state and i.e. what would motivate them to buy that particular product.

        My product, the exceptional whitening toothpaste, I would facilitate as being able to enhance the buyer’s appearance socially, thereby giving the buyer an opportunity to get social recognition and approval from others. This can be viewed upon as a depiction of a gratification, i.e. an outcome. What I would then need is the motivation to buy the product as the result of a need that was previously not there. By showing an outcome that can lead to social recognition and respect from others, then, depending on the strength of my message, I might just be able to activate a need on the basis of motivation for positive social outcomes and the depiction of a gratification. So the gist of this argument is that one can’t directly create false needs; it requires the motivation and activation of needs that are inherent in the embodied state, which ultimately is the individual’s choice.

        Reply
        • October 15, 2012 at 8:38 pm
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          I see, so embodied state is some sort of “being in the world,” an existential state that is unique to each individual, right? It a little bit of an existentialist theory, right?

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          • October 16, 2012 at 11:11 am
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            I would say so. Therefore individual motivation becomes the driving factor for whether a need can succesfully be cultivated in each and every individual. And when each individual has non-replicable parts of themselves, it helps us to explain why media messages cannot be targeted towards everyone because of their unique existential state.

  • October 14, 2013 at 3:55 pm
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    The idea of social capital is certainly interesting, and Putnam’s “Bowling Alone” presents a fascinating examination of social capital in American culture. Putnam defines social capital as the value of a social network. Social networks encourage norms of reciprocity and trust among members, and these structures contribute to overall civic engagement. Putnam discusses the idea that social networks exist on both an individual and a collective level: individual networks are personally beneficial, comprised of family, friends, business contacts, coworkers, etc; on the public level, Putnam recognizes networks of networks, where behavior influences specific groups and the wider community as opposed to a single individual (Putnam, 2000). In “Bowling Alone,” Putnam raises and discusses concerns about the impact of mass media on social capital, and the decline of social capital in general (Putnam, 2000). Given his concerns regarding mass media, it seems appropriate to reconsider the idea of social capital in the new media landscape.

    Putnam’s concerns address the decline of social capital in American culture in the latter part of the twentieth century. He begins with a comparison of involvement in organizations and groups meeting face-to-face from the 1960s to the 1990s, noting that interest and revitalization of these groups through new members is steadily dropping; indeed, some organizations are dying out entirely (Putnam, 2000). Overall, Putnam sees less civic involvement, as well as a decrease in community involvement. He differentiates between those who are active citizens (termed machers) and those who focus mostly on informal connections (termed schmoozers); individuals are more likely to spend time in informal interactions with friends, family, and neighbors than they are to participate in community organizations or broader society (Putnam, 2000). After making this observation, Putnam goes on to comment that even these informal ties are declining as more Americans spend time in solitary activity. Along with this idea, Putnam discusses the impact and influence of mass media, specifically examining media use for information and for entertainment. The author comments that news media audience, who may have regularly read the newspaper in the past and now watch news on TV in addition to or in place of newspapers, is shrinking overall. There are more ways to gather news information, but a smaller audience to engage with these information routes (Putnam, 2000). Considering entertainment, Putnam is concerned both about the rising trend in solitary viewing (reducing even those informal ties), and the perceived connection between increased TV viewing and decreased civil involvement. With a discussion that largely resembles Lazarsfeld and Merton’s narcotizing dysfunction (Lazarsfeld & Merton, 1948), Putnam raises concerns that so much information is reducing individual drive to participate in society, which further reduces participation in organizations and informal social ties (Putnam, 2000). These concerns are certainly valid; however, when considering the ideas of “Bowling Alone” in the current media landscape, the view shifts slightly.

    In examining the data presented by Putnam regarding participating in organizations and face-to-face groups, it is impossible to say that this particular type of participation is not declining. If face-to-face involvement in community groups and overall civic involvement is the main focus, then this is a cause for social concern. However, in examining informal connections among friends and family, the picture is perhaps not as dire as Putnam thought. To address the informal social connections of the schmoozers, Putnam looked at face-to-face meetings, family mealtimes, and participation in a variety of face-to-face activities. With today’s technology, we do not necessarily need to share physical space with friends and family in order to spend time with them; we can participate in shared activities in virtual space. Social media sites such as Facebook are designed around the idea of sharing information. Users can create content for self-expression, to provide personal news, or share ideas about topics of interest. By consuming this content created by our friend networks, we, as Facebook users, are able to maintain connections with friends and family. Social networking sites allow us to be present in each other’s lives even when we cannot physically share the same space – by looking at pictures, reading status updates, and using chat features. Video chat programs allow users to spend time together without being in the same space – and in a more media rich way than a simple phone call. Entertainment media also provide avenues for shared interaction. Computer and console video games, in particular, are expanding the available variety of massively multiplayer online role playing games; with these media, players can interact with others in a vast virtual game space, either playing with people they know from other realms or life or establishing new connections and relationships in the virtual world. As a specific area, numerous studies have examined the formation of in-game groups (called “guilds”), elements of teamwork, and both bridging and bonding behaviors within and among in-game groups.

    “Bowling Alone” was written in a time when the uses and abilities of internet media were not as varied as they are today. Though Putnam’s concerns about declining civic involvement deserve further attention, his concern for informal connection was, in my opinion, misplaced. Today’s changing media landscape provides evidence for what Putnam termed the “…story of collapse and renewal” (pg 25); we are in the middle of a natural cycle of increases and decreases in civic involvement and informal interaction (Putnam, 2000). While Putnam may be right that face-to-face interaction is declining, especially among younger generations, users of social media and massively multiplayer online role playing games are not spending time alone. Perhaps the changing media landscape requires a reevaluation of our approach to the establishment and maintenance of informal social capital.

    References

    Putnam, R. D. (2000). Bowling alone: The collapse and revival of American community. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.

    Lazarsfeld, P. F. & Merton, R. K. (1948). Mass communication, popular taste and organized social action. İletişim kuram ve araştırma dergisi, 24, 229-250.

    Reply
    • October 21, 2013 at 10:50 am
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      Great summary and interpretation of Putnam’s findings. However, the book was written at the end of the 90s and it does acknowledge the Internet and it’s potential for change. Also, his data looks at what had been happening for the previous 30 years…

      Reply
  • October 18, 2013 at 3:10 am
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    Robert D. Putnam’s Bowling Alone (2000) is a sweeping academic survey in the tradition of Daniel Bell’s The Coming of Post-Industrial Society (1973); it seeks to explain shifts in the general culture, this time specifically focusing on the notion of national community. Also like Bell’s book, it utilizes a wide variety of data to back up what would otherwise be very general claims. The idea in Bowling Alone is that after the deceivingly labeled “golden age” of the 1950s and 60s, American communities took a turn for the worse into culturally private and isolated groupings (p. 19, 2000). The term that Putnam uses to describe these changes is “social capital,” which is meant to be understood as the type of social background network of people, places, and things that lead to a well-furnished and vibrant social life (p. 19, 2000).

    The term “social capital” comes to us from a few different places, yet Pierre Bourdieu provides a succinct and useful description. Social capital is “the aggregate of the actual or potential resources which are linked to the possession of a durable network of more or less institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition—or in other words, to membership in a group—which provides each of its members with the backing of the collectivity-owned capital, a ‘credential’ which entitles them to credit, in the various senses of the word” (p. 51, 1986). The term develops out of Bourdieu’s earlier engagement with “cultural capital,” a related but different concept meant to help us think analytically about things like taste and distinction in terms of class (1984). I wholeheartedly agree with this definition of social capital; the idea of individuals embedded in a type of social network which they can depend on is something towards which I have much sympathy, and if this is how Putnam envisions social capital then I agree with him also.

    Putnam begins the laborious task of outlining the general decline of American community in terms of social capital by analyzing “informal social connections” and “technology and mass media.” In the informal connections, he looks at “schmoozers” who spend a lot of time engaged in informal conversation and visiting with friends (p. 95, 2000). The sad news, he tells us, is that there is a decline in these practices of 45 percent in two decades (p. 99, 2000). Families too do not see each other as much; the time spent eating dinner together has also declined (p. 101, 2000). People do not see “regulars” anymore at bars, and instead they visit the anonymity of McDonalds (p. 103, 2000). Card games, sports clubs, and neighborly visits are also on the decline. In terms of technology, he presents two theses that support the decline of the American community. The first is that “news and entertainment have become increasingly individualized,” and the second is that “electronic technology allows us to consume this hand-tailored entertainment in private, even utterly alone” (p. 217, 2000). Television especially has brought us home and away from the friends and neighbors of our communities. His final conclusions on television are that it “competes for scarce time,” “has psychological effects that inhibit social participation,” and that “specific programmatic content on television undermines civic motivations” (p. 237, 2000). Much data is present to support these claims.

    While I am sympathetic to grand narratives like the one presented in Bowling Alone (in that they offer a wide variety of details about forgotten ways of life presented through the viewfinder of contemporary social science), I am unable to shake the feeling that there is something missing in these accounts. That something is, namely, an ability to read technological changes in terms of the emergent communities that might envelop them over time, rather than suggesting that these technologies merely signal the end of a previously existing type. There is pessimism in these lines: “we have been pulled apart from one another and from our communities over the last third of the century” (p. 27, 2000). It is overblown rhetoric like this that I find somewhat troubling. Putnam does address that fact that correlation does not necessarily imply causation, but in the end he seems to treat it that way anyway. Additionally, by not asking what types of new connections people make with new technologies, Putnam can only remain in a nostalgic mode, lamenting the loss of a once vibrant American community, as people did not have the desire to be sociable. But this is not the whole story. Globalization, like television, has surely has added to American community decline, yet it has fostered community in other ways, such as in online gamely, interactive news message boards, and social oddities like Chatroulette. American’s may be playing less bridge, this is true, but they are also engaging in new forms of social connection and building new connections of social capital in ways that are not hermetically sealed in American culture. Couchsurfing.com is just one example, where strangers are encouraged to travel the world experiencing different cultures while sleeping on a strangers couch for free. So, in the end, while I agree with the theory of social capital and see much use in it, and while I value the analyses conducted in Putnam’s book, there is a part of me that feels as though the tale of decline in American community might not be the whole story.

    References

    Bell, D. (1973). The Coming of Post-Industrial Society. New York: Basic Books.

    Bourdieu, P. (1986). “The Forms of Capital.” in Handbook of Theory of Research for the Sociology of Education. J. E. Richardson (ed.). Richard Nice (trans.). Greenwood Press. 241-58.

    Bourdieu, P. (1984). Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

    Putnam, R. D. (2000). Bowling Alone: The Collapse of American Community. New York: Simon & Schuster.

    Reply
    • October 21, 2013 at 11:02 am
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      The quote from Bourdieu is right on the money. It is the perfect definition of social capital… As for the overstatement re: social atomization implied by Putnam’s book, this is a very delicate issue. The Internet might’ve reconnected us to each other to a certain extent, but the loss of social grounding is not to be ignored.

      Reply
  • October 18, 2013 at 11:12 am
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    The question of whether the internet and the virtual world it represents has supplanted the physical world we live in and as a result, shifted community participation, social capital building and relationships from one world to the other is debatable. According to Putnam (2000), the introduction of TV has negatively impacted people’s social capital building and maintenance, and lowered community involvement partly because it demands less interaction and encourages passivity, and partly because the dependency and consumption of TV is more of an addictive, individualistic activity that increasingly binds us to our home and decreases the time we have to spend building social capital and being involved in the community.
    If we draw parallels between TV proliferation, and the increasingly individualistic consumption of its content with the widespread adoption and use of the Internet, we could also come to the same conclusion that the Internet will negatively impact social capital building and community involvement. For, it also promotes consumption of information and media in isolation from others, and even though it does not necessarily bind people to the confines of their home per se, it still demands that they dedicate a considerable amount of their time individually focusing on their screens regardless of where they physically are.

    Yet unlike the TV, which completely replaces social interaction between people, the Internet also presents opportunities for people to engage in online communities that facilitate communication, extend offline relationships online and, or help build virtual new relationships between people who are previously unknown or unexposed to each other. In terms of social media, people can maintain or prolong their existing offline relationships by staying connected through Facebook or twitter for example, and therefore unlike TV consumption patterns which are, according to Putnam, often detrimental to existing social capital networks, social media can at the least help preserve these social networks. Of course, that does not necessarily mean that the type of relationship or tie between people remains the same, for strong ties might transform into weaker ones over time but nevertheless, using social media at least helps guarantee that these ties are not severed completely and that the existing social capital is not indefinitely lost. Also, social media allows the extension of social networks and social capital by connecting people through their existing network of acquaintances and friends, whether that connection is superficial or not however, depends on the situation. If an individual adds a public figure to his or her social media network for example, they might connect with them and might have access to their information but that does not necessarily mean that they have in any way added to their social capital.
    What is more, because the Internet eliminates physical boundaries, it allows people to create communities that are not specific to their geographical location. This in turn, could negatively impact people’s involvement in their own local “offline” community and their level of engagement within it, while at the same time increasing people’s level of engagement within their new “online” virtual worldwide community to which they are more emotionally and personally invested.
    This might suggest, that people’s perception of what local community is and stands for has changed along with the proliferation of the internet, and the elimination of physical boundaries, which used to confine people to specific physical spaces in which they live and engage. It might also indicate that the idea of local civic engagement and collective action for these people, who spend a considerable amount of time engaging in online communities, has altogether changed from one that addresses public local or national concerns “offline”, to one that addresses concerns that reach beyond national and local borders to a new limitless “online” public community which they imagine they belong to. So, civic engagement and social capital building that results from it, might have actually shifted from people’s physical world to their virtual world creating the impression that overall civic engagement has decreased when in fact for people who spend most of their time engaging in online communities, it has only transformed into a new shape?

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    • October 21, 2013 at 11:08 am
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      Very good example of a comment that tries to go beyond rehashing the readings. Very good attempt to speculate how the Internet can extend social life. Yet, again, as I mentioned above, the fact that social ties have been declining for more than 40 years is undeniable, while the net effect of Internet connections on social life is yet to be determined.

      Reply
  • October 18, 2013 at 11:58 am
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    Putnam (2001) gives a powerful overview of the declines and revivals of community in America and their connection with different types and uses of social capital. His treatment of the subject provides insight into how the theory of social capital can guide research on social media uses and effects.
    According to Putnam (2001), “social capital” refers to the connections among people, specifically the “social networks and norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them.” The theory holds that social networks have value and can affect the productivity of individuals and groups. Social capital works off the norm of “generalized reciprocity.” This norm says that people will contribute something for another’s benefit without expecting anything specific in return for that action; the giver expects that he or she will be on the receiving end of a similar action sometime in the future (pp. 19 – 21).
    While social capital can be a private or public good, some exchanges of social capital are more beneficial to the individual than to society and vice versa (Putnam, 2001, p. 20). For example, there are exchanges of social capital that bridge differences between diverse people in a community and exchanges that bond like people. Bridging social capital benefits society like a lubricant benefits a machine. A lubricant prevents different components of a unit from grinding against each other, so the machine, or society if you will, can sustain efficiency and proper function. On the other hand, bonding social capital glues together like people and can benefits the individual or a specific group more than it benefits society as a whole. This is often where social capital can take a sharp turn for the negative, when people bond over prejudices that negatively affect community. Both bridging and bonding capital exist on a continuum (p. 24).
    The positive and negative enactments/effects of social capital are also explained in Putnam’s (2001) chapter on schmoozers and machers. A schmoozer participates in social activity that directly benefits the individual (e.g. hanging out at a bar) and a macher engages in social activity that contributes to building community (e.g. volunteering at a homeless shelter). Both are found in social interactions, and neither is necessarily bad or good, but each has differing benefits and consequences for the individual and the community (pp. 93-115).
    Later in his work, Putnam (2001) takes the above social capital concepts and applies them to different trends in media consumption (e.g. movie-going, television consumption, etc.) and explores how these trends correlate to community engagement. He finds both positive and negative aspects of social capital that were specifically related to how media contribute or take away from community connections.
    I believe Putnam gives an effective treatment of social capital by explicating its contexts and nuances. He assumes social capital will always exists, because humans are social beings. The question is not if social capital is destroyed, but if community can be destroyed through different types of social capital. Perhaps new media can, have and do create new types of social capital that have yet to be identified and explained. In regard to social media contexts, researchers should assume social capital exists within the social connections in the mediums; they should explore the different types of capital and the related exchanges that take place. Then, it can be determined whether these types of social capital are positive or negative for the individual, the community or both.
    Facebook is one medium where this research could be built out. Social capital on Facebook has already been explored by researchers like Ellison, Steinfield and Lampe (2007). They see Facebook as a site where bonding, bridging and maintaining social capital is exchanged. These exchanges seem to contribute to the well-being of the individual. On the other hand, researchers like Kross, Verduyn, Demiralp, Park, Lee, et al. (2013) found that Facebook also has negative effects on the individual. They found the more people used Facebook, the more dissatisfied they were. The researchers conclude that, while Facebook seems like a great resource for social connection, it may actually undermine well-being.

    Researchers have begun to explore social capital within social media, but there still many questions to ask and answers to find to build out the story of social capital and its effects on community, across America and across the globe.

    References:

    Ellison, N. B., Steinfield, C., & Lampe, C. (2007). The benefits of Facebook “friends:” Social capital and college students’ use of online social network sites. Journal of Computer‐Mediated Communication, 12(4), 1143-1168.

    Kross E, Verduyn P, Demiralp E, Park J, Lee DS, et al. (2013) Facebook Use Predicts Declines in Subjective Well-Being in Young Adults. PLoS ONE 8(8): e69841. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0069841

    Putnam, R. D. (2001, July 31). Bowling alone: The collapse and revival of American community. Simon and Schuster.

    Reply
    • October 21, 2013 at 11:14 am
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      This is a very clever way of getting at some of the subtleties implied in the social capital concept: “The question is not if social capital is destroyed, but if community can be destroyed through different types of social capital.”

      Reply
  • October 18, 2013 at 1:04 pm
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    The implications of the Internet for interpersonal relationships and civic participation have long been debated. Central to these issues has been the idea of social capital. In addressing the question of whether the Internet, and in particular social media, has served as a “creator or destroyer of social capital,” it is important to consider two transitions that appear to have taken place within the literature on social capital.

    Before doing so, however, it is important to speak to social capital itself. Social capital is a complex term that refers to the “aggregate of the actual or potential resources which are linked to possession of a durable network of more or less institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition – or in other words, to membership in a group” (Bourdieu, 1986, p. 51). Social capital places value on the diversity and strengths of the relationships within a social network, the resources within that network including its information channels, and the norms, expectations and obligations present in that network that function to enable (or limit) action (Coleman, 1988). Social capital has been perceived as a “civic virtue” and linked to a variety of individual and societal goods, from career advancement to political participation (Putnam, 2001, p. 19).

    Two important transitions can be identified within the literature on social capital as it relates to the Internet. First, researchers have increasingly moved away from a monolithic view of the Internet and towards a recognition of its diverse functions and effects. Some scholars seemed to lump all of the many functions of the Internet under one umbrella, using sweeping questions about what the “Internet” does to social capital. As Wellman, Haase, Witte, & Hampton (2001) point out in their findings regarding such sweeping questions, Internet use “is not a uniform activity,” as people engage in both active, social interactions as a well as more asocial or passive activities (p. 450). Taking the Internet, or even social media, as a whole neglects the differences in uses, functions, and content online. This transition serves to complicate the original question.

    Second, scholars are increasingly transitioning a way from a “virtual” vs. “the real” dichotomy that treats Internet use as distinct from “real life” and toward ideas that the Internet is an extension of everyday life (Matei, 2004; Wellman et al., 2001). Views that operate on the virtual vs. the real dichotomy are more likely to privilege offline, face-to-face interaction (Wellman et al., 2001). If “virtual” interactions are not “real,” then any relationships formed are seen as “pseudopersonal,” representing “a false sense of companionship” and ultimately unsatisfying (Putnam, 2001, p. 242). This could then lead to a decline in social capital. In contrast, recent studies have suggested that the Internet supplements or even strengthens offline relationships, interactions, and participation (Matei, 2004; Wellman et al., 2001). For example, in a study of Facebook use, Ellison, Steinfield, & Lampe (2007) argue that “online interactions do not necessarily remove people from their offline world” but instead can be used to support and maintain existing contacts (p. 1165). In speaking to the need to move beyond the dichotomy between online and offline spaces, Matei (2004) suggests, “We do not need to see them as two different worlds, inhabited by two different species of people” (p. 27). However, Ellison et al. (2007) also demonstrate in their preceding statement that such language is still pervasive even within studies that attempt to move beyond.

    These two transitions within the literature complicate the original question of whether the Internet, and social media in particular, “create or destroy” social capital. It is unlikely to be an either/or scenario, as it is increasingly difficult to separate social media, and the Internet as a whole, from “real life.” Additionally, social media are not one entity with a singular function and use. As Wellmen et al. (2001) point out, “there are no single Internet effects” (p. 451). Both the creation and destruction of social capital are likely taking place.

    References

    Bourdieu, P. (1986). The forms of capital. In J. E. Richardson (Ed.), Handbook of theory of research for the sociology of education (pp. 241–58). New York: Greenwood Press.
    Coleman, J. (1988). Social capital in the creation of human capital. American journal of sociology, 94(1988), 95–120. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2307/2780243
    Ellison, N. B., Steinfield, C., & Lampe, C. (2007). The Benefits of Facebook “Friends:” Social Capital and College Students’ Use of Online Social Network Sites. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 12(4), 1143–1168. doi:10.1111/j.1083-6101.2007.00367.x
    Matei, S. (2004). The Impact of State-Level Social Capital on the Emergence of Virtual Communities. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 48(1), 37–41. doi:10.1207/s15506878jobem4801
    Putman, R. (2001). Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. New York: Simon & Schuster.
    Wellman, B., Haase, A. Q., Witte, J., & Hampton, K. (2001). Does the Internet increase, decrease, or supplement social capital?: Social networks, participation, and community commitment. The American Behavioral Scientist, 45(3), 436–455.

    Reply
  • October 13, 2014 at 8:30 am
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    The definition of social capital, according to Putnam (2000), is the connections between people and social networks, and the customs that direct the day to day interactions and trust between those individuals. This definition lends itself to the ideas of social networks and social norms. Putnam (2000), discussed post war US and how the introduction of TV became the main leisure form in the US’s younger generation. His belief was that this new medium of entertainment hurt the interactions between people and social groups. Meaning that as people were more likely to stay at home and watch TV, as opposed to the more social activity of going to the movies, the bonds and trust between the social groups (movie goers) began to weaken. Without the social interaction and the shared experiences of the group, the group begins not to matter as much as the bonds between members become frail and less important.

    While I agree with Putnam on how the media has changed the relationship of social norms and social networks, I tend to lean more to the ideas of Colman (1988), who stated that while Putnam was correct in part, the bonds between members in a social setting are contextual in nature. This is a very interesting point to me. From a personal perspective, I have experienced this first hand. As a former Law Enforcement Officer and military member, the group of people that I had the most interaction with was my brothers in uniform. I had to trust members of this group with my life and always believe that the person behind me, literally had my back. When leading a tactical entrance, you have to focus on your assigned areas and just trust that the other members of the team are covering their areas, so you do not get caught by surprise. However, this trust does not necessarily transfer into general society, and rarely does. Law enforcement members generally do not trust others outside of their social group (unit). I can tell you, from personal experience that I do not have a large social group of people that I trust and most of them are former colleagues. Hence, Coleman (1988), resonated with me on a more personal level.

    Social capital has not been eliminated from society, nor do I believe that it has been hurt by social media. I feel that it has just evolved into more intricate groups with in social media. A person that plays lots of multi-player online video games, may have a very strong connection with other players in a guild or group (Williams, et al., 2006) that they trust their online lives with (funny I know, but if you have ever invested months or years into building a character online, you would understand). To the players, this is no different than real life social networks that others hang out in and they take membership in these groups quite seriously. Again outside this group the person may not trust other players in the virtual world that they play in. Social capital is contextual and may not be transferable between groups or mediums.

    Coleman, James (1988). Social Capital in the Creation of Human Capital. The American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 94.
    Putnam, R. D. (2000). Bowling alone: The collapse and revival of American community. New York: Simon & Schuster.
    Williams, D., Ducheneaut, N., Xiong, L., Zhang, Y., Yee, N., & Nickell, E. (2006). From Treehouse to Barracks: The Social Life of Guilds in World of Warcraft. Games and Culture.

    Reply
    • October 20, 2014 at 1:03 pm
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      Great personal testimony, but it is not very clear why and how Coleman and Putnam ideas are different. I would agree that they are, but why?

      Reply
  • October 13, 2014 at 9:48 am
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    There has been much debate about the value of media with regards to social capital. According to Putnam (2001), media, overall, has resulted in more harm than good to society and its citizens. The author argues that the widespread, household use of media has led to a decrease in civic participation and social interaction over the last several decades resulting in decline in social capital. After the advent of television, many citizens have morphed into “home-bodies”, leading to a decline in interaction with neighbors, friends, and even family. Many choose to “relax” at home with the television versus visiting friends and family or entertaining guests at their home. This lack of interpersonal contact, and subsequent lack of stronger relationships, has been shown to affect youth education and drop-out rates, with weaker relationships leading to negative outcomes (Coleman, 1988). Overall, the authors do a great job in showing the detrimental effects a lack of social capital can have on all aspects of life, however I do not believe social media falls in the same category as television, radio, etc. In fact, I argue that social media increases social capital due to its ability to boost communication in spite of distance and monetary constraints leading to an rise in civic participation among social media users.
    Internet and social media (much like television) have pushed more people to become home bodies; however, internet possess a social aspect which was completely lacking in television (Wellman, Haase, Witte, & Hampton, 2001). Television viewing involved paying more attention to the storyline, which means less conversation occurring even between people sitting in the same room at the same time. Internet does not suffer as greatly from this fault because internet use may include communication with other users such as chatrooms, discussion boards, and other social activities that increase social interaction online, which could lead to increased face-to-face contact in the future. Additionally, internet use has allowed persistent contact to become much more affordable among family and friends separated by great distances. I can personally attest to this fact because internet has allowed me to keep in touch with my cousins back in India. Prior to social media availability, our only form of communication involved letters (very slow and cumbersome) and telephone calls (long distance calls were extremely expensive). With the advent of the internet and social media, I was able to have weekly chats with my family via Facebook messenger and e-mail. It also allowed us to share pictures and even video chat, giving us access to information about events in each of our lives, which would have previously been unknown to us. Although, Wellman et al. (2001) indicate that face-to-face contact are unique communication methods that internet cannot substitute, I am certain even the benefits gained from this alternative level of communication and interaction would not have been possible without internet and/or social media access by both parties. Overall, social media use allows for more frequent communication among friends and family, both near and far, consequently increasing social (network) capital.
    Furthermore, I disagree with naysayers who argue that internet use decreases community participation because research indicates that the internet supplements and increases involvement in organizations (Wellman, Haase, Witte, & Hampton, 2001). For instance, a few years ago, I was a full-time student working toward my master’s degree and also worked a full-time job, leaving little time for anything else, particularly volunteering. Besides the time constraint, distance also was an issue because most of the volunteer opportunities that interested me were 30+ miles away. However, I was able to find an organization that communicated primarily through social media, meeting face-to-face only once every month or so. Due to the use of social media as a supplement to traditional forms of communication, I was able to contribute to the organization without negatively effecting my school or work responsibilities. Once again, social media lead to an increase in social (participatory) capital, which would not have been possible prior to its introduction.
    Additionally, research supports ties between Facebook use and maintenance and creation of social capital, particularly bridging social capital but bonding as well (Ellison, Steinfield, & Lampe, 2007). Bridging social capital refers to an individual’s weak ties that provide information and new perspective but do not usually offer emotional support. Many use Facebook to keep in contact with old friends and maintain relationships with new friends. Although I do not communicate with many of my friends and acquaintances from high school, the information I gleam from their Facebook feeds provide me valuable insight about important events in their lives, as well as my hometown. Facebook may also help individuals maintain pre-existing close relationships, resulting in increased bonding social capital. There are times when your schedule is hectic that a visit or a phone call may not be feasible given the time constraint, however a quick text or private message on Facebook helps keep the bonds strong without interfering in our busy lives. In the end, social media (Facebook) helps individuals increase social capital by improving the ease at which one is able to maintain contact with old friends, new friends, and pre-existing friends.
    While television leads to negative consequences for civic participation and interpersonal communication, social media and internet are a whole new ball game which may, in some instances, aid citizens in increasing interpersonal communication and social capital.
    References
    Coleman, J. S. (1988). Social Capital in the Creation of Human Capital. American Journal of Sociology, 94, S95-S120.
    Ellison, N. B., Steinfield, C., & Lampe, C. (2007). The Benefits of Facebook ‘‘Friends:’’ Social Capital and College Students’ Use of Online Social Network Sites. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 12, 1143-1168.
    Putnam, R. D. (2001). Bowling Alone: The Collapse adn Revival of American Community. Touchstone Books by Simon & Schuster.
    Wellman, B., Haase, A. Q., Witte, J., & Hampton, K. (2001). Does the Internet Increase, Decrease, or Supplement Social Capital?: Social Networks, Participation, and Community Commitment. American Behavioral Scientist, 45(3), 436-455.

    Reply
  • October 13, 2014 at 10:27 am
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    Bourdieu (1979) suggested “social capital of any significance can seldom be acquired without the investment of some material resources and the possession of some cultural knowledge, enabling the individual to establish relations with valued others (Portes & Landolt, 2000, p. 3). From a traditional view, people with social connections who acquire valuable resources could use social capital. Coleman (1988) mentioned that possession of information cost and social capital can provide the information that facilitates benefits.

    However, with emerge of the Internet and social media, the paradigm of information flow has changed, which facilitates a new way of acquiring social capital. For example, Tesla Motors is the most advanced company in producing sustainable transportation. The company has accumulated intellect property and patents related to electronic car technologies. CEO Elon Musk announced that they opened all the sources to the public and took benefits from rapidly evolving technology platforms (June, 2014). The company no longer shares important sources with the few connected others because they know social capital, from the sharing sources with a few, is limited in this new era of social media. The company is now in a “structural hole” in the social network. As posited at the interface between other groups of networks, they not only approach the combined sources of other groups, but also the welcome the opportunity for creative ideas by connecting separate sources in new ways (Burt, 2004). Thus, the company “bridges” other companies, institutions, and individuals by offering information, where they can create social capital.

    Ben-Porath (1980) mentioned that the “F-connection” includes families, friends, and firms, which are important forms of social connections that affect economic exchanges. The F-connection suggests that economical benefits are present in groups defined as having close relationships and sharing similar social norms. However, social media has expended the traditional concept of social connections. For example, Facebook leads people to interact with their strong ties (e.g., best friends) and with weak ties (e.g., acquaintances) as well. Social network sites make interactions with weak ties possible, which plays a basic role as bridging social ties (Ellison at al., 2007). According to network theory (Granovetter, 1983), interactions with weak ties are more likely to occur than are those with strong ties on social networks because people with strong connections have other mediums of interaction; thus, new information opens the flow through weak connections on social network sites. Emerging social media neither creates nor changes the traditional concept of social capital; rather it facilitates social capital in new ways.

    References

    Ben-Porath, Y. (1980). The F-connection: Families, friends, and firms and the organization of exchange. Population and development Review, 1-30.
    Burt, R. (2004). Structural holes and good ideas. The American Journal of Sociology, 110(2), 349-399.
    Coleman, J. S. (1988). Social capital in the creation of human capital. American journal of sociology, S95-S120.
    Ellison, N. B., Steinfield, C., & Lampe, C. (2007). The benefits of Facebook “friends:” Social capital and college students’ use of online social network sites. Journal of Computer‐Mediated Communication, 12(4), 1143-1168.
    Granovetter, M. (1983). The strength of weak ties: A network theory revisited. Sociological theory, 1(1), 201-233.
    Musk., E. (2014, June 12). All our patent are belong to you [Web blog]. Retrieved from http://www.teslamotors.com/blog/all-our-patent-are-belong-you

    Reply
    • October 20, 2014 at 12:47 pm
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      Social capital is traditionally seen as an phenomenon that occurs at individual/civic level. Can it be applied to companies, as well? If yes, how so? Do corporations have the same needs and requirements as people?

      Reply
  • October 13, 2014 at 11:36 pm
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    Social Capital, Interpersonal Communication, & Social Media

    As an interpersonal scholar, the concept of social capital excites me. It places emphasis on relationships and their crucial role within society, specifically claiming that they can become a resource, even greater than education, materials, etc. However, the way that sociologists have conceptualized and operationalized social capital disappoints me. In this post, I utilize interpersonal communication theories to critique the current definitions of social capital and then examine social capital’s relationship to social media.
    Current definitions of social capital examine the breadth of relationship without examining their depth. As others before me have mentioned, namely Andrew and Jasmine, social capital is commonly conceptualized as the “aggregate of the actual or potential resources which are linked to possession of a durable network of more or less institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition – or in other words, to membership in a group” (Bourdieu, 1986, p. 51). From this perspective, social capital increases by adding members to the network and decreases by removing members from the network. Just as financial capital is related to the quantity of money, social capital is related to the quantity of people. Matei’s (2004) study evidences this relationship by use of Putnam’s (2000) Social Capital Index, which overall measures more the breadth and quantity of relationships than the depth and quality of relationships.
    However, social penetration theory claims that relationships consist of both breadth and depth. A theory that deals with self-disclosure with real implications for relational development, social penetration theory (Altman & Taylor, 1973) claims that people consist of 2 key dimensions: breadth and depth. People disclose information based on these two factors. Furthermore, trust develops most with greater disclosure within the deepest layers of penetration (Altman & Taylor, 1987).
    Overall, social capital ignores the depth of relationships. Coleman’s (1988) three-fold typology claims that there are three forms of social capital: obligations and expectations, information channels, and social norms. While there certainly can be strength in weak ties (Granovetter, 1985), deep relationships most often cultivate trust and the highest levels of reciprocity. Coleman’s three forms may change with increased relational depth. Social capital scholars should examine not only the quantity of relationships but also the quality of relationships; furthermore, social capital concerns not only relational breadth but also relational depth. Social capital increases with both breadth and depth of relationships.
    When examining social capital, the question becomes not only if people are developing a larger network but also if people are developing deeper relationships. Wellman, Quan Haase, Witte, and Hampton (2001) and Ellison, Steinfield, and Lampe (2007) both found positive effects of social media on the quantity of social capital, yet both articles overall ignored the impact of social media the depth of relationships. Social information processing theory (Walther, 1992) would claim that social media can increase relational depth, with extended time and increased verbal messages. In both cases, social media doesn’t necessarily replace all face-to-face relationships but supplements, while also forming zero-history computer-mediated relationships. Thus, it appears social media is not going to lead to the demise of social capital; rather, it can serve as a vehicle to increase both the depth and breadth of social capital.
    References
    Altman, I., & Taylor, D. (1973). Social penetration: The development of interpersonal relationships. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.
    Altman, I., & Taylor, D. (1987). Communication in interpersonal relationships: Social Penetration Theory. In M. E. Roloff and G. R. Miller (Eds.), Interpersonal processes: New directions in communication research,257-277. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
    Bourdieu, P. (1986). The forms of capital. In J. E. Richardson (Ed.), Handbook of theory of research for the sociology of education (pp. 241–58). New York: Greenwood Press.
    Coleman, J. (1988). Social capital in the creation of human capital. American journal of sociology, 94(1988), 95–120.
    Ellison, N. B., Steinfield, C., & Lampe, C. (2007). The benefits of Facebook “friends:” Social capital and college students’ use of online social network sites. Journal of Computer‐Mediated Communication, 12(4), 1143-1168.
    Granovetter, M. (1985). Economic action and social structure: the problem of embeddedness. American journal of sociology, 481-510.
    Matei, S. (2004). The Impact of State-Level Social Capital on the Emergence of Virtual Communities. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 48(1), 37–41. doi:10.1207/s15506878jobem4801
    Putnam, R. D. (2000). Bowling alone: The collapse and revival of American community. New York: Simon and Schuste.
    Walther, J. B. (1992). Interpersonal effects in computer-mediated interaction a relational perspective. Communication research, 19(1), 52-90.
    Wellman, B., Quan Haase, A., Witte, J., & Hampton, K. (2001). Does the Internet increase, decrease, or supplement social capital? Social networks, participation, and community commitment. American Behavioral Scientist, 45, 436-459.

    Reply
    • October 20, 2014 at 12:42 pm
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      Excellent points… Now, the case for social capital is not without hope, even if you look at it from a qualitative perspective. Some social capital measures differentiate between amounts of trust one can invest in a social connection. Coleman, as you remember, distinguishes between connections that close the loop, and those that do not close it. I think that the real question here is not if social capital, as conceptualized, can do what we want it to do, but if the concept itself can do things the initial proponents did not think it can do.

      Reply

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