What is the meaning of Social Capital?

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1. Introduction

The term ‘Social Capital’ pertains to a multifaceted domain with interpretations in different disciplines such as sociology, political science, economics, and public health. For UPSC aspirants, developing a comprehensive understanding of this concept can prove to be beneficial for several exams, primarily for General Studies Paper II, which focuses on Governance and Social Justice.

As we delve deeper into its understanding, you will discover that ‘Social Capital’ is an integral part of social studies and its comprehension can enable one to grasp the more enormous mechanisms of societies and communities more effectively.

2. Definition of Social Capital

In its simplest form, ‘Social Capital’ can be defined as the stock of social relationships and networks, along with the accompanying norms of reciprocity and trust, which may facilitate the achievement of certain ends whether individually or at a collective level. These are intangible resources encompassed in relationships, networks, shared values, understanding which people draw on to cooperate in society.

3. Forms of Social Capital

There are two main forms of Social Capital – Bonding and Bridging.

3.1. Bonding Social Capital talks about relations between homogenous groups – such as family members and friends. These closely knit relationships help in getting by and provides emotional and substantive support.

3.2. Bridging Social Capital on the other hand refers to relationships that bridge social divides, connecting unlike groups – such as those from different social classes or ethnic backgrounds. These cross-cutting relationships help in getting ahead with resources such as information or job opportunities.

4. Importance of Social Capital

Social Capital brings immense value to our lives, society and economy. It fosters cooperation, reduces economic inequalities, and aids in the smooth functioning of democracy. Its importance reveals itself in various walks of life – be it in education, health, crime rate, employment, politics or economy.

5. Social Capital in Indian Context

In Indian society, various forms of social capital exist intertwined with social structures like kinship, caste, community and religious groupings. India’s rich communal life, neighborhood ties, and familial networks are reflections of bonding social capital. These connections help people manage difficulties and provide significant emotional support.

In parallel, bridging social capital is observed in associations like self-help groups, cooperative societies, and non-profit organisations. They often play a role in reducing social inequalities by aiding resource-poor communities or individuals.

6. Conclusion

A grasp of the concept of ‘Social Capital’ can help UPSC aspirants to better understand and explain the complexities of the societal framework. Social Capital underlines that social relations matter and that they have value – both in economic and non-economic terms.

More importantly, the concept reminds us that societies cannot function merely with rules and regulations but require a continuous investment in social relationships and networks, to foster mutual cooperation and trust among its members. Understanding this concept can provide potential civil servants with the insight to frame public policy that can leverage these social connections for the benefit of society.

Prince Luthra (UPSC CSE AIR 577)

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