Approaches for Measuring Social Capital

Approaches for Measuring Social Capital

Ben Kei Daniel (University of Saskatchewan, Canada)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-663-1.ch004


While it is possible to measure how much an economic capital is worth, at least in terms of monetary value, through the use of sophisticated econometric tools, while conditioning other factors, in comparison, measuring social capital is significantly more challenging and complex business. The complexity in measuring social capital relates to the fact it is an intangible concept, multidimensional and multivariate in nature. Further as discussed earlier, social capital lacks a unified definition and dimension. To make matters more problematic, social capital is not a static construct that can be easily captured and conditioned during measurement, but rather it is a moving target, difficult to capture, without resorting to some assumptions and conditioning during measurement. An exploration of the various ways in which researchers have measured social capital is critical to our understanding of the range of approaches and techniques available, to guide us when thinking about measuring social capital. This will also enable us to make informed decisions on the most relevant and appropriate approaches and level of measurement as per a variable or component of social capital. This Chapter presents some of the major approaches currently employed to measure social capital and the approaches used to achieve this endeavour. The Chapter describes with illustration, the dimensions taken by each approach.
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Measurement Social Capital Conceptual

The analysis of current work on social capital revealed that there is still no one clear way to measure social capital. Many researchers have acknowledge that there is wide and growing gap between theoretical understandings of what constitutes social capital and the ways social capital is measured. In much of the empirical work to date, there is a growing criticism of whether it is even worth measuring the theory. It is this lack of consistent and unified approach for measuring social capital which leads to empirical confusion about the meaning, outcomes, validity and relevance of social capital as an analytical tool in many application areas.

Though the apparent lack of clarity in measurement is a source of confusion, it is also a source of unnecessary and sometimes unjustified critique of the theory. Another problem leading to inability to develop benchmark measurements is appearance of wide range of definitions; evident in the different ways the concept is operationalised. For example, Putnam (2000) examined social capital in terms of participation in groups (e.g., membership in voluntary organizations, local community clubs and political parties). Cote and Healy (2001) concentrated on structural aspects e.g. social networks, values, norms.

The World Bank (1999) used various measures, some of them relay on prevalence of various information and communication technologies. Researchers at the World Bank argue that maintaining and enhancing social capital depends critically on the ability of the members of a community to communicate among each other, with other communities and with members of their networks that live outside the community. Further, Robinson (1997) thinks that measures of social should focus on measuring contextual cultural issues. Given its multidimensionality and multivariate nature measuring a single variable within social capital such as trust does not provide us with adequate analysis of social capital.

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