Social Capital in the City

· Social Capital Research

In recent years, both scholars and policymakers have expressed a remarkable amount of interest in the concepts of social capital and civil society.  Social capital refers to intangible resources and benefits available and mediated through social networks and ties. The concept of social capital originated in sociological theory and has emerged as an important area of research, drawing from various disciplines in the social sciences. Social capital consists of resources embedded in social relations and social structure, which can be mobilized when an actor wishes to increase the likelihood of success in a purposive action. It is an investment made by individuals in relationships. Individuals are aware of the presence of resources in his or her networks and relations and can make a choice in evoking the particular resources.

The origins of social capital can be traced to the early 19th century, but three seminal works by Bourdieu, Coleman, and Putnam have shaped the contemporary framework of social capital research and provide the foundation for a study abroad experience in Italy.   

Robert Putnam's infamous book, Bowling Alone, focused on the decline of social capital in the United States over the past 3 decades using participation rates in social associations and secondary organizations (PTA, etc).   The research for Bowling Alone was based on his time in Italy as he explored the cultural differences between North and South Italy as a representation of social capital. Putnam's definition of social capital refers to features of social organizations such as networks, norms, and social trust that facilitates coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit.  It is hypothesized that Northern Italy is a more developed region due to the influence of social capital, i.e., the networks and relationships that have been established.  Currently,  Italy is the only country that seeks to measure social capital, which is reflected in the country's statistical literacy initiative through the National Institute of Statistics (Isat).   

Since the Brexit issue, Italy has been gaining attention for the creation of it's own form of currency, called Sardex. Founded in 2010 by a group of childhood friends in Sardinia, is an example of social capital to help with the economy on Sardinia.  The fundmental purpose of Sardex is an established network amongst business owners to sell and purchase goods.  Since it's founding, the company has extended beyond Sardinia with additional circuits in Tibex and Umbrex.   

The Sardex circuit has been successful because it is not based on an exchange of currency, but an exchange of goods and services.  According to one of the founders, Carlo Mancuso, it is not about money “but the relationship trust and reciprocity: who is part of the circuit participates in a collective process of change and in the background there is the goal of rewriting a social pact.”  

How is this concept related to the college setting?  In the context of higher education, it is assumed those who are privileged, able to amass the most social and cultural capital, as well as set norms for which forms of capital are most valued are more likely to persist and attain a college degree (Wells, 2009).     

Research on the role students’ access to capital plays in the persistence process is not new, but most existing studies focused on economic capital resources.  My research will focus on the networks and relationships built upon trust or reciprocity college students will utilize in order to persist to graduation. I am following the graduating classes of high achieving college students, 2017 – 2020.  I will observe the influence of social capital (if any) on their ability to persist and compare their networks, norms and organizations with those established by those participating in the Sardex circuit. 

The first stage of this research begins with my visit to Italy, September 4 – 10.  Follow me through this blog and Instagram (@hkaybanks) as I make connections with those familiar with Sardex, meet with the staff at Isat and finalize logistics for an SCHC Honors Maymester 2017 trip to Italy.


Cheung, R.K. Chan Cross.  2008.  Access to social capital and status attainment in the United States: Racial/ethnic and gender differences.  364-379. [BB] 

Ferman, Barbara. Leveraging Social Capital. In Social Capital in the City by Richardson Dilworth. 81-100.  

Gilioli, Alessandro.  2016.  Così il Sardex conquista l’Italia.  L’Esspresso.    

Minkoff, Debra.  Producing Social Capital.  American Behavioral  Scientist.  40(5) 

Portes, Alejandro. 1998.  Social Capital: Its Origins and Applications in Modern Sociology.  Annual Review of Sociology 24: 1-24.  

Putnam, Robert D. Tuning In and Tuning Out: The Strange Disappearance of Social Capital in America, PS 28(4) 664-683.  

Putnam, Robert D. 1993.  Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy.   

Putnam, Robert D. 2001. Bowling Alone.  

Portes, Alejandro and Patricia Landolt.  1996.  The Downside of Social Capital.  The American Prospect, 26:18-22.