Social Capital

The advancement of social capital concept can be traced back to the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries(Portes, 1998). The idea that involvement and participation in groups can have positive consequences for the individual and the community was raised by scholars, such as Tocqueville, Durkheim, Weber, Locke and Marx (Portes, 1998). Durkheim and Marx emphasized group life as a solution to social instability and self-destruction. The term “social capital” has been first coined by Hanifan in 1916(Huysman & Wulf, 2004). He defined the social capital as an instrumental to goodwill, fellowship, sympathy, and social interaction among the individuals and groups within a social unit. The concept of social capital, therefore, was more focused on the positive consequences of sociability and ignoring the less attractive features(Portes, 1998). However, their research on social capital concept was not systematic and did not attract wide attention of the scholars.

The contemporary proponents of social capital, such as Bourdieu, Coleman and Putnam, pull the attentions of the researchers to conduct a systematic research (Portes, 1998; Yang, et al., 2009). Scholars, who derived the concepts from academia into the wider media (Yang, et al., 2009), defined the social capital as “features of social organization such as networks, norms, and social trust that facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefits” (Putnam, 2000). The studies of social capital can be categorized into two general sections based on level of analysis (Portes, 1998). Studies of Bourdieu, Coleman, and Burt that focused on individual (human capital) or small groups as the unit of analysis can be denoted as individual social capital, where they examine the benefits accruing to individuals from their relationships with others. On the other hand, those who extended the concept of social capital from individual assets to a community or national feature can be referred to as collective social capital, considering social capital as both individuals’ social networks and their moral attitudes, or social norms, which contribute to the common good of a community or even a nation(Yang, et al., 2009). The World Bank has categorized Social Capital into six dimensions, such as Groups and Networks, Trust and Solidarity, Collective Action and Cooperation, Information and Communication, Social Cohesion and Inclusion, and Empowerment and Political Action(World_Bank, 2006).

There is a need to investigate not only the positive consequences but also negative consequences introduced by the social capital perspective, as argued by Portes: “The research literature on social capital strongly emphasizes its positive consequences. Indeed it is our sociological bias to see good things emerging out of sociability; bad things are more commonly associated with the behavior of homo economics (economic human). However, the same mechanisms appropriable by individuals and groups as social capital can have other, less desirable consequences(Portes, 1998)”. Negative consequences are related to several issues, such as restrictions imposed on actors who do not belong to the network, lacking perception of environmental changes outside the network, negative social dynamics within the network and downward leveling norms, dependency on central actors and their loyalty towards the network, restrictions on autonomy and individuality resulting from demands for conformity, irrational economic behavior due to the feeling of solidarity towards partners in the network, and irrational economic behavior due to personal aversion(Huysman & Wulf, 2004).

Bridging, bonding, and linking social capital:
Social capital can be conceptualized into different forms, such as bridging, bonding and linking social capital (Cote & Healy, 2001; Putnam, 2000; Woolcook, 2001). The notion of bridging social capital is a relation among distant friends, associates and colleagues, civil rights movements, and ecumenical religious organizations, for example. Conversely, bonding social capital is a relation amongst homogenous groups such as family members, close friends, ethnic fraternal organizations, and religion based groups, for example. The linking social capital refers to relations between individuals and groups in different social strata in a hierarchy where power, social status and wealth are accessed by different groups (Cote & Healy, 2001). The concept of linking social capital is extended to include the capacity to leverage resources, ideas and information from formal institutions beyond the community(Woolcook, 2001).

Bonding and bridging social capital have resonance with the ideas of “strong ties” and “weak ties” respectively (Granovetter, 1973). For instance, weak-ties are loose connections between individuals who may provide useful information or new perspectives for each other, without emotional support. Tightly-knit ties are bonding social capital between individuals in emotionally close relationships, such as family and close friends. Bonding social capital is good for maintaining the existing relations. However, strong bonding social capital may sometime have adverse impact and serve to exclude and create a context for the growth of reactionary ideology. The bridging social capital is crucial for extending social networks, and it could be an important resource in facilitating mobility opportunities.

ICT and Social Capital:
Despite abundance of research in social capital from social, political, economic and organization scientist, the attention from the side of IS research lacks far behind (Huysman & Wulf, 2004). However, the interdisciplinary nature of IS research and growth in networks within and between organizations makes research into the relationship between ICT and social capital even more important. Social capital in relation to ICT could be categorized at the individual level which is known as connecting and enabling social capital (Yang, et al., 2009), examining the impacts of ICT on individual’s social networks and the possible benefits generated by such networks. The collective level is aiming to identify the role of ICT in social capital building in communities. This paper is focused on the collective level study; it explores how ICT facilitate remote communities to build their social capital.

Research shows that ICTs facilitate the building of social capital through increasing flows of information(Adam & Urquhart, 2009). A number of anecdotes advocate that ICT facilitate to create and maintain bridging, bonding and linking social capital. Some research has been done, studying the role of ICT and its impact on social capital. For instance, the impact of ICT on individual social capital has been studied, examining the impact of online social networking sites (SNS) on formation and maintenance of social capital (Ellison, et al., 2007). Focusing on both the maintenance of existing social ties and the formation of new connections, they identified a positive relationship between certain kinds of SNS use and the maintenance and creation of social capital. Such studies illustrated the impact of ICT on social capital and vice versa (Frank, et al., 2004; Shah, et al., 2005; Simpson, 2005). Studies show that ICT facilitate interactions among community participants that helped to generate and maintain the trust, acceptance, and alignment necessary for successful cooperation (Syrjånen & Kuuti, 2004). A case study on Iranian NGO shows how computer based centers facilitate to build e-community and extend the community networking through improved transparency and participation (Rohde, 2004).

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