Democracy, Civil Society, Social Capital

Week 10


In week 10 we’ll look at Putnam’s key ideas related to bridging and bonding social capital, and augment these with other studies, which explain how violent conflict disrupts and transforms social capital.


Putnam refers frequently to the correlates of social capital – social cohesion, community cohesion, internal cohesion, neighborhood cohesion, and community cohesion.  In their work for the World Bank on recovery from conflict, Colletta and Cullen (2000) try to draw a distinction between two different forms of social capital, which make a contribution to social cohesion and the stability required for economic development. These are not exactly equivalent to bonding and bridging capital, but tend to move in the same directions.  First, we have social responsibility, which tends to act defensively to protect the smaller “us” against the larger them, mitigating risks like epidemics, illiteracy and conflict. Second, we have social initiative, which consists of efforts to grow and expand rather than mitigate risk.  These two aspects of social capital (roughly equivalent to bonding and bridging) interact with two aspects of social cohesion: the absence of latent conflicts that split social groups along racial, ethnic, or other lines; and the presence of social ties and institutions including trust, reciprocity, functioning democracy, etc. These linkages, (adapted from Colletta and Cullen, 2000, 9-15) are illustrated in Figure 1.

Woolcock (1998) considers some of the same problems of social capital and development that occupy both Putnam and the World Bank.  In his notes in “The Story Behind this Book,” Putnam refers to Woolcock as the author of a brilliant article, and an important co-conspirator in the social capital movement.  Woolcock divides social capital somewhat differently, considering vertical and horizontal capital.  Falling back on the basic concept of social capital as networks of trust relationships, the distinction between bridging capital between groups and bonding capital within them is overlaid by another distinction between families, smaller groups, and communities at the low end, and larger political and economic entities – states, markets, and international systems – at the high end (Figure 2).


Civil society, the sum of all voices not controlled by government, tends to work to enhance social cohesion, supporting a general move of trust relationships towards larger political and economic units and greater degrees of inter-unit trust.  It does this because each successful example of reciprocity builds the expectation that reciprocity will continue (put another way, every time a cheque doesn’t bounce, it increases your willingness to take another one).


The three grey bubbles in Figure 2, however, present three phenomena that threaten the progress toward integrated states and markets with high social cohesion. Globalization can threaten the cohesion of national political and economic structures.  Putnam writes, “…accelerating nationalization and globalization of our economic structures…The replacement of local banks, shops, and other locally based firms by far-flung multinational empires often means a decline in civic commitment on the part of business leaders.” (Ch. 15) But this can also mean that states are less willing to clash over economic interests.


Secondly, urbanization has a strong impact on bridging capital, developing the tolerance and mutual respect essential for both market economies and democracy. Urbanization breaks down stereotypes and racial/ethnic boundaries that remain prevalent in rural or more isolated areas.


The third force, however, works in the opposite direction. The resurgence of primitive forms of violence and warfare accelerate demands for bonding capital – the tight links of family and clan – which can withstand the pressures of protracted conflict and periodic flare-ups of violence. The clan violence in Mogadishu demonstrated that these patterns can persist in urban areas, and new clan boundaries can form, as in the gangs of Los Angeles, and their transferral to El Salvador in the 1990s (Arana, 2005). Urban violence is increasingly seen as a development constraint (Moser and McIlwaine, 2006), and new theories of counter-insurgency warfare are emerging based on the geography of cities (Kilkullen, 2013).

This third force is a response to the other two, just as Polanyi described a “double movement” and Wallerstein describes systemic and anti-systemic movements. The WD40 of bridging social capital precipitates the alienation and dislocation, the winners and losers, that force some back on the super-glue of bonding capital, to survive in a more complex and hostile market environment than has hitherto been the case.

But there is another lesson in Putnam’s exploration of social capital. Tolerance grew from the mid-1960s to the late 1990s – the same period during which civic engagement declined (Ch. 22). The dark side of social capital is that it can support exclusiveness, bigotry, and inter-group conflict.

It can also help communities to recover from conflict. Colletta and Cullen (2000) report on research from Cambodia, Rwanda, Guatemala and Somalia. Social capital (trust networks) was assessed by measures such as density and nature of organizations and networks, trust, and propensity to exchange. Communities with higher levels of social capital overcome the effects of violence faster, but violence also has the effect of destroying bridging social capital and forcing people and communities back into exclusive and bonding social capital.

Thus, we can surmise that states are potentially eroded from two levels – globalization above and fragmentation and conflict from below, partly in response to the pressures of globalization.  Market capitalism is beginning to look shakier.

Learning Objectives

  1. Understand hypothesized links between social capital (bridging and bonding) and social cohesion, and the evidence for these links at macro and micro levels.
  2. Analyze the requirement for bridging capital in effective markets, and the effect of markets on bridging capital.
  3. Analyze the effect of collective violence on social capital and markets

Required Reading

Review Putnam, Ch 15, particularly the impact of globalization of markets and corporate headquarters

Read Putnam, Ch 16

Skim Putnam, Ch 19 and 21

Read Putnam, Ch. 22

Optional Reading

Arana, A. (2005). How the street gangs took Central AmericaForeign Aff.84, 98.


Colletta, N. J., & Cullen, M. L. (2000). Violent conflict and the transformation of social capital. (Vol. 795). World Bank Publications.


Duffield, M. (2007). Development, security and unending war: governing the world of peoples. Polity. – explore this as a manifestation at the international level of social alienation at the community level – the discarding of people in a market system, and the consequences for development and security.


Kilcullen, D. (2013). Out of the Mountains: the coming age of the urban guerrilla. Oxford University Press.


Last, D. (2009). Transformation or Back to Basics? Counter-Insurgency Pugilism and Peacebuilding Judo. Cell, 613(328), 2720. This was written for a workshop on military transformation and the revolution in military affairs (RMA). Skip the first part criticizing the RMA as a intellectual fad intended to sell weapons, and skim the argument for the transformative value of understanding the context of violence, rather than the technical means of delivering it.


Moser, C. O., & McIlwaine, C. (2006). Latin American urban violence as a development concern: towards a framework for violence reductionWorld development34(1), 89-112.


Mulgan, G. (2013). The locust and the bee: predators and creators in capitalism’s future. Princeton University Press.  This is a fascinating book written by a senior policy advisor to Tony Blair. He identifies Polanyi as an important influence.


Woolcock, M. (1998). Social capital and economic development: Toward a theoretical synthesis and policy frameworkTheory and society27(2), 151-208.


Answer the self-assessment questions online. You should be making progress with your second assignment and may wish to discuss it in detail.

Self-Assessment Questions

  1. What are the links between social capital (bridging and bonding) and social cohesion?  What is the evidence for the existence of these links at the level of family and community?  What is the evidence for them in a city, a state, or between states?  (If you’re having trouble with this, and have skipped Putnam Chapters 17, 18, and 20, the links are more clearly explained there than in the chapters you were required to read).
  2. Is it a contradiction that social capital can help to mitigate the effects of socio-economic disadvantage, but that it can also create the conditions for markets that undermine social capital? (Putnam ch 19 and 22 and Geoff Mulgan’s description of the predatory and productive nature of capitalism might be helpful).
  3. How do protracted social conflict and  collective violence affect social capital and markets?


In our online discussion, we’ll discuss the three self-assessment questions.