Introductory Articles and Books on Social Capital


Putnam, Robert D. Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community(Simon and Schuster, 2000).

Putnam, Robert D. Democracies in Flux: The Evolution of Social Capital in Contemporary Society(Oxford University Press, 2002).

Putnam, Robert D., and Lewis Feldstein. Better Together: Restoring the American Community(Simon & Schuster, September 2003).

Halpern, David. Social Capital(Polity Press, 2004).
Good discussion of social capital. Makes a very useful distinction among micro-, meso- and macro-level social capital and posits that social capital may achieve its effect by different causal pathways at the different levels.

Ahn, T.K., and Elinor Ostrom, eds.Foundations of Social Capital: A Reader(Cheltenham, U.K.: Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd., 2003).
See especially the introduction by Ahn and Ostrom, which is quite good, although it focuses overly on social capital as a vehicle to solve collective action problems, and not enough on the “private returns” to individuals from being in social networks.
Ostrom, Elinor, and James Walker, eds.Trust and Reciprocity: Interdisciplinary Lessons for Experimental Research(Russell Sage Foundation Publications, 2005).

Field, John. Social Capital(Routledge, 2004).
A good and readable summary of the concept of social capital, the ideas of 3 key social capital thinkers -- Bordieu, Coleman, and Putnam -- a distillation of the work showing the importance of social capital to education, economy and health, a discussion of the dark side of social capital and a discussion of social capital policy.

Briggs, Xavier de Souza. "Social Capital and the Cities: Advice to Change Agents." National Civic Review86, No. 2 (Summer 1997): 111-118.
Gladwell, Malcolm. "Six Degrees of Lois Weisberg." The New Yorker(January 11, 1999).
Article quite useful on the value of bridging social capital, although he refers to bridgers as "connectors." Only weakness is that he makes it sound like there are Herculean connectors, like Lois Weisberg, or non-connectors, when in reality even individuals who have only some bridging relationships are adding a lot of value. Discussion of this also found in Gladwell's The Tipping Point.

Overton, Patrick, ed.Rebuilding the Front Porch of America: Essays on the Art of Community Making(Columbia College, 1997).
Focuses especially on smaller or rural communities.
Winer, Michael Barry, and Karen Louise Ray. Collaboration Handbook: Creating, Sustaining, and Enjoying the Journey(Amherst H. Wilder Foundation, 1994).

Better Together, The Report of the Saguaro Seminar: Civic Engagement in America.
Final Report




Page, Scott. The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Teams, Schools and Societies(Princeton University Press, 2007).
The Differencedoesn't focus on social capital per se, but discusses how diversity unlocks group creativity and how diversity trumps ability. This fascinating book also discusses how diversity is an asset in problem-solving but can be a detriment to the group when it comes to selecting a choice.

There's a quartet of books on how humans are wired from an evolutionary perspective to cooperate—those humans who learned when and how to cooperate increasingly survived to pass on their genes.

Buchanan, Mark. Nexus: Small Worlds and the Groundbreaking Science of Networks(W.W. Norton & Company, 2002).
Explains the conundrum of "small worlds" (how you can be a handful of social links away from millions or billions of others, but have most of your social friends be local). The book also describes the difference between egalitarian and aristocratic small worlds, and how small worlds pop up in very different scientific domains.

Watts, Duncan J. Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age(W.W. Norton & Company, 2003).
The book describes the emerging science of networks and how the structure of the network and the behavior of individuals of individuals in a network determine how the network is used and the benefits of the network. The book also tries to link the behavior of social networks to the spread of computer viruses, behavior of financial markets, etc.

Surowiecki, James. The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations(Doubleday, 2004).
This fascinating book shows how groups can effectively aggregate information held by individual members, one of the clear benefits of social capital (beyond eased collective action). Nevertheless, Surowiecki often focuses on less social-capital-friendly mechanisms (e.g., group averaging or information markets). This process of gathering information (or wisdom) from groups effectively is not always a simple one as this recent very interesting paper by Cass Sunstein on Group Judgments shows.

Seabright, Paul. The Company of Strangers: A Natural History of Economic Life(Princeton University Press, 2004).
This very readable and thought-provoking book illustrates how trust underpins a highly sophisticated economy that links strangers inextricably and fragilely together.

Barabasi, Albert-Laszlo. Linked: The New Science of Networks(Perseus Publishing, 2002).
Describes the frequency of 'free-scale' (or power hub) networks across biological, technological and social networks where a few nodes (people, website, biological cells, etc.) are much more connected than all others. This develops because new nodes disproportionately link to the popular and high-value sites. Such power hub networks are less prone to disruption from random attacks (since only a few of the nodes are huge hubs) but much more fragile to targeted attacks on these hubs. It is unclear how much of these free-scale network findings relate to social networks since it is much easier to scale a WWW router to be 10x its current size than multiply the hours of socializing of an individual ten-fold. More work needs to be done to understand whether these free-scale networks are found outside of business and professional hierarchies (where hierarchies explain power laws) and outside of e-mail networks (where scale is costless). Moreover, it will be interesting to see whether individuals heavily linked to others are more or less respected by them, and understand the relationship between those with lots of strong network ties and those with lots of weak network ties.

Ball, Phillip. Critical Mass: How One Thing Leads to Another(Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2004).
A look at the physics of community. What properties and laws can one observe about things like social networks, reciprocity, war, alliances, etc? The first section is heavy on physics, but we recommend chapters 9 and 13-18.

Diamond, Jared. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed(Penguin, 2005).
Tries to sort out what factors determine whether or not societies survive over the long-term.

Csermely, Peter. Weak Links: Stabilizers of Complex Systems from Proteins to Social Networks(Springer, 2006).
Csermely, a former Foggarty Fellow at Harvard, helps show how weak links (analogous to bridging ties) strengthen networks. His free-ranging examples span fruitflies, omnivores and herbivores, and the role of women in networks, but collectively he shows how weak links reduce the reliance and dependence on hubs in social networks.

Horgen, Turid et al.Excellence by Design: Transforming Workplace and Work Practice(John Wiley & Sons, 1999).
Describes how process architecture—involving the community in the design of buildings—helps shape their ability to support social connections of employees using these buildings.

Berry, Wendell. Jayber Crow(2001).
Recommended by Social Capital, Inc., this novel beautifully describes the importance of social connections in enriching the protagonist's life in a small Kentucky town.



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Other Sources

Information about social capital and the Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey:
Our own Saguaro Seminar site
Provides overview of Professor Putnam’s work to date, as well as the historical Saguaro Seminar meetings, and has links to various other social capital research and publications (Bowling Alone, Better Together, Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey [SCCBS]).
Through vast new data, Putnam’s book shows how we have become increasingly disconnected from family, friends, neighbors, and our democratic structures and how we may reconnect.
Better Together
Better Together is the Saguaro Seminar
report based on three years of dialogue
among a diverse group of thinkers and
doers. This report details promising
strategies and recommendations for
increasing our social capital through
faith-based efforts, schools and youth,
the workplace, politics, and the arts.
Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey
Home page of the Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey (SCCBS) describing goals, methods, metrics, participants, results, etc.
Social Capital Gateway
The Social Capital Gateway is a fine site on social capital worldwide, including recent books, theses, social capital events and conferences, and basic readings on social capital.
Observatory Pascal often has links to new, interesting research on social capital.

InfEd provides an overview and bibliography related to social capital.

Civic Practices Network
This site has a good description of social capital. There are also definitions of other related civic words in their CPN dictionary.