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SOCIAL CAPITAL, OCCUPATIONAL
STRUCTURE AND STRATIFICATION
Last week: focus on the loss/survival/modification of communitarian relationships. Personal
networks VS individualization thesis.
Another stream of studies that investigate the importance of social relation if the study of
social capital: interest in measuring the advantages, and sometimes the disadvantages, that
social capital provides
Classic authors: Bourdieu, Coleman, Putnam
The theory of social capital assumes a link between the micro level of individual experience
and the macro level of institutional organization (Field 2003). Focus on to the micro texture
of social interactions
Pierre Bourdieu (1930-2002)
French sociologist, anthropologist, and philosopher.
In his view, social capital is an individual asset that can be strategically converted into other
forms of capitals, namely economic and cultural.
It specifically consists in “the sum of the resources, actual or virtual, that accrues to an
individual or group by virtue of possessing a durable network of more or less institutionalised
relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition” (Bourdieu 1992: 119).
MAIN ELEMENTS: CONNECTIONS AND RESOURCES
- the importance of having a famous surname recognised by upper classes as a mark of
- the affiliation to some elitist associations, like golf clubs or not for profit foundations.
Combined with economic and cultural capital it is used by élites to mark symbolic boundaries
of class distinction.
Implicit in Bourdieu definition there is a conflicting view of society, where different social
groups struggle against each other to define boundaries and mark segregations. Social capital
reveals the dynamics of power relations in social life.
Historical roots of the theory of conflict : Marx, Weber, Simmel, Chicago School, Frankfurt
The idea of network is suggested, in terms of the establishment of durable relationships with
influential others, but it is used by Bourdieu in a metaphorical way, as he does not adopt any
structural measurement of these relationships.
“The volume of the social capital possessed by a given agent thus depends on the size of the
network of connections he can effectively mobilize and the volume of the capital
(economic, cultural or symbolic) possessed in his own right by each of those to whom he is
connected” (Bourdieu 1986: 249).
However, somewhere else he takes distances from social network analysis by criticizing its
focus on concrete relationships. Social network analysis is accused to neglect the
underlying forces (objective relations) which are considered the source of such concrete
In Bourdieu’s view, a theoretical description of social organization can be only achieved by
abstracting from the individual features (in terms of combinations of capitals required to
occupy a structural position) to a macro perspective where those features are weighted
against each other.
By observing the theoretical structure of relations between positions social scientists can
identify the “trans-historical invariants, or sets of relations between structures that persist
within a clearly circumscribed but relatively long historical period” (Bourdieu 1992: 78)
James Coleman (1926-1995)
American sociologist, theorist and empirical
researcher, based chiefly at the University of Chicago
Coleman defines social capital as the by-product of relationships and measures it according to
“Social capital *…+ is not a single entity but a variety of different entities having two
characteristics in common: they all consist of some aspects of social structure, and they
facilitate certain actions of individuals who are within the structure. *…+ social capital is
productive, making possible the achievement of certain ends that would not be attainable in
its absence” (Coleman 1990: 302).
Coleman evaluates social relationships as means to establish reciprocal commitment and to
favour the emergence of collective norms, shared values and mutual trust.
VS theory of conflict and within the tradition of functionalism, which views societies as
systems which parts depend on each other and function together toward equilibrium.
Historical roots: Durkheim, Parsons, Merton
These positive assets are better achieved when people relate to each other in closed
networks, and counterbalance the competitive utilitarian nature of human behaviour.
Social capital is the theoretical instrument that allows explaining collaborative behaviours
within the framework of rational choice theory, otherwise limited by the instrumental and
egoistic view of human actions.
Individuals interact with others to gain personal advantages in most of their formal
relationships; in primary groups instead, like family or close friends, they develop
collaborative behaviours which are the unintentional by-product of closed networks and
Again, social networks and ties are not structurally measured, but they are only used
metaphorically: primary groups like family or friends are expected to be structured in highly
cohesive networks, and relationships are supposed to be strong, but they are not effectively
measured in terms of density or strength.
Robert David Putnam (1941-)
Political scientist at the Harvard University
Putnam’s idea of social capital bears some similarities to the one
of Coleman’s in that both authors see it as emerging from the associative life.
But while in Coleman’s view social capital lies exclusively in strong, reciprocal and intimate
relationships, Putnam enlarge this view by looking at several loci of interactions, from
informal groups like family and friends, to the formal participation to associations, where
individuals have the opportunity of relating to strangers.
He distinguishes between
- Bonding social capital, that emerges from relationships to similar alters. Examples of
bonding social capital include ethnic fraternal organizations, church-based women’s
reading groups, and fashionable country clubs
- Bridging social capital, which connects to people across diverse social cleavages.
Examples include civil rights movements, many youth service groups, and ecumenical
religious organizations (Putnam 2000: 22).
The role of bonding and bridging ties is to favour the emergence of trust and collective
norms within primary groups as well as across different groups, which then improve the
efficiency of society.
By looking at the overall distribution of these different types of relationships in the
US, Putnam pessimistically concludes that social capital is declining, and forecast negative
consequences for the endurance of the social fabric.
Putnam measures social capital by using 14 different indicators, from participation to
associations, to newspaper readers and voting behaviours.
1. If these indicators were all measuring social capital, they should be correlated. Putnam:
although the measures are not always correlated, all of them, across several
datasets, have been declining since the 60s, indicating that if we may not be able to
measure social capital directly, we can still observe the effects of its decline.
2. The distinction between bonding and bridging capital, based on the differentiation of
people they connect, is vague: the assumption that youth service groups include people
from cleavage more diverse that women’s reading groups is not justified.
3. Similarly to Bourdieu and Coleman, Putnam uses the concept of network in a
metaphorical way, without providing any structural measurement of the
density, closeness, durability and robustness of bonding and bridging ties.
THE NETWORK PERSPECTIVE
The resource approach in the study of social capital focuses on the returns that individuals
obtain through their relationships to others. The work of Bourdieu, Coleman and Putnam can
be read in those terms, as the authors investigate the collective assets that social groups can
count on and that is provided by their personal connections.
But as Lin (1999) highlights, such authors focus on the advantages that social capital provides
to collectivities, being them social classes for Bourdieu, communities for Coleman, and civic
society for Putnam.
In network studies instead, the attention is on the individuals: social capital is not vaguely
measured via multiple and aggregate indicators, but it is operationalized in terms of the
effective ties that people interlace, and the potential access to resources that these ties
Lin and Dumin (1986): Position generator, a data collection tool designed by to specifically
examine access to occupations through social ties. The instrument looks like a normal survey
questionnaire: from a list of 20 occupations, respondents are asked to identify whether any of
their relatives, friends, or acquaintances had such occupations.
The theoretical framework out of which the position generator is developed bares many
resemblances with Bourdieu’s theory, insomuch as it assumes a pyramidal and hierarchical
social structure, where the higher the position in the structure, the fewer the occupants. But
while in Bourdieu positions in the social structure are defined in terms of the combinations of
capitals required to occupy them, the position generator operationalize them as in
It also assumes that weak ties are important for low status people, while strong ties are better
for high status people, because the latter, being already at the top of the pyramid, cannot
establish high upward reaching ties.
Van der Gaag and Snijders (2003): Resource generator
Similar to the position generator, the resource generator measures the potential access to
social resources instead of their effective mobilization, and their distribution across a
population; but unlike the position generator resource generator investigates how social
capital concretely help people to attain their goals, and which part of it is responsible of which
It assumes that social capital is a multiplex concept, similarly to Putnam. But Putnam suggests
that because of its multiplex nature, social capital can only be indirectly observed by the
common tendency of its indicators to collectively increase or decline. In the resource
generator instead the empirical measurement of social capital is obtained by correlating the
measured items. Implicit in this aggregation is that “positive correlations between resource
items in some group of items indicate that individuals who access one of these items also
have a high probability of accessing other items from that group”
Eg: in the Netherlands four distinctive domains: prestige and education related social capital,
entrepreneurial social capital, skills social capital, and personal support social capital.
Lin (1999): relationships between embedded resources in social networks and socioeconomic
Status attainment can be understood as a process by which individuals mobilize and invest
resources for returns in socioeconomic standings. Socioeconomic standings refer to valued
resources attached to occupied positions.
These resources can be classified into two types:
• Personal resources possessed by the individual who can use and dispose them with
freedom and without much concern for compensation.
• Social resources are resources accessible through one's direct and indirect ties. The access
to and use of these resources are temporary and borrowed. For example, a friend's
occupational or authority position. The friend may use his/her position or network to help
ego to find a job. These resources are "borrowed" and useful to achieve ego's certain
goal, but they remain the property of the friend or his/her friends.
Image of the macro-social structure consisting of positions ranked according to certain
normatively valued resources such as wealth, status, and power. This structure has a
pyramidal shape in terms of accessibility and control of such resources: The higher the
position, the fewer the occupants; and the higher the position, the better the view it has of
the structure (especially down below).
(a) the social resources proposition: social resources (e.g., resources accessed in social
networks) exert effect on the outcome of an instrumental action (e.g., attained status)
(b) The strength of position proposition: social resources, in turn, are affected by the original
position of ego (as represented by parental resources or previous resources)
(c) the strength of ties proposition: that social resources are also affected by the use of
weaker rather than stronger ties
Convergence of social resources theory and social capital theory: it focuses on the
instrumental utility of resources.
Research on the relationships between social resources and status attainment examines two
Access to social capital-resources accessed in ego's general social networks. In this
process, human capital (education, experiences), initial positions (parental or prior job
statuses), and ego's social ties (e.g., extensity of ties) are hypothesized to determine the
extent of resources ego can access through such connections (network resources).
Measured by name generators, position generators and resource generators (see before)
Mobilization of social capital in the process of status attainment. The use of social contact
and the resources provided by the contact in the job-search process. It is hypothesized that
contact status, along with education and initial positions, will exert a significant and
important effect on attained statuses of the job obtained. Strength of ties may
be measured either with a perceived strength (e.g., intimacy of relationship) or
a role category (e.g., kin, friends, and acquaintances).
Mobilized social capital
Mark Granovetter (1974): interviewed 282 professional and managerial men in
Newton, Massachusetts. The data suggested that those who used interpersonal channels
seemed to land more satisfactory and better (e.g., higher income) jobs. Theory of weak ties:
weaker ties tend to form bridges that link individuals to other social circles for information
not likely to be available in their own circles, and such information should be useful to the
Lin and his associates (Lin et al 1981, Lin et al 1981): Data from a representative
community sample in metropolitan Albany, New York, of more than 400 employed males.
The study confirmed that contact status exerted effects on attained status, beyond and after
accounting for parental status and education effects.
It also confirmed that contact status was affected positively by father's status and
negatively by the strength of ties between ego and contact.
Ensel (1979) extended the investigation to both men and women in a study of employed
adults in the state of New York. While confirming that contact status significantly affected
attained status, he found that male seekers were much more likely to reach higher-status
contacts than were females. Further, women were more likely to use female contacts in job
searches while males overwhelmingly used male contacts. When women did use male
contacts, their disadvantage in reaching higher-status contacts as compared to men was
Studies replicated all across the world
A major extension of the research paradigm has examined the propositions in different
political economies, such as state socialism.
Next step: examine accessed and mobilized social capital in a single study.
To what extent accessed social capital facilitates and mobilizes social capital: that is, whether
having more accessed social capital increases the likelihood of mobilizing better social
capitalNot all persons accessed with rich social capital are expected to take advantage or be
able to mobilize social capital for the purpose of obtaining better socioeconomic status. An
element of action and choice should also be significant.
The East Germany study (Volker & Flap 1996) measured both accessed and mobilized social
It was found that the highest occupation prestige accessed in the position generator
methodology was significantly and positively related to the status of the contact person
used in the 1989 job search.
Smith S. S. (2005) “Don’t put my name on it”: Social Capital Activation and Job‐Finding
Assistance among the Black Urban Poor.
American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 111, No. 1, pp. 1-57
Social isolation from mainstream ties and institutions is the basis upon which the black urban
poor are presumed to lack social capital that facilitates job finding
it is argued that absent access to personal
Recent evidence suggests, however, that their social isolation has been exaggerated. These
studies provide convincing evidence that the networks of the black urban poor are
larger, more diverse and wide ranging, and much less detached from the mainstream
than conventional wisdom indicates
If social isolation has been overestimated, what is the source of the black urban poor’s social
Qualitative research suggests that even when connected to ties who can provide job
information and influence, the black urban poor often have difficulty mobilizing these ties for
In-depth interviews and survey data of 105 low-income African-Americans from one
Those in possession of job information and influence overwhelmingly approached jobfinding
assistance with great skepticism and distrust. Over 80% of respondents in the sample
expressed concern that job seekers in their networks were too unmotivated to accept
assistance, required great expenditures of time and emotional energy, or acted too
irresponsibly on the job, thereby jeopardizing contacts’ own reputations in the eyes of
employers and negatively affecting their already-tenuous labor market prospects.
Findings indicate that social capital deficiencies of the black urban poor may have less to do
with deficiencies in access to mainstream ties than previously thought.
Instead, the inefficaciousness of job referral networks appears to have more to do with
functional deficiencies—the disinclination of potential job contacts to assist when given
the opportunity to do so, not because they lack information or the ability to influence hires,
but because they perceive pervasive untrustworthiness among their job-seeking ties and
choose not to assist.
MULTILEVEL FRAMEWORK OF SOCIAL CAPITAL
Reputation: social capital activation is at least in part facilitated by attributes of the individuals
involved in the potential exchange. Specifically, given competing alternatives—
whether or not to assist and with whom to do so—reputation is critical for determining action
I have a little cousin. She’s 15 or 16 years old, and when I was working for the university—you know, they
have the students that do work, a couple of hours for lunch and a couple of hours for dinner—and I know
she’s a good worker, so I told her that they were hiring, and I talked to my supervisor, and he told me to tell
her to come in, and she filled out the application, and she started working that day. She was working at [a
fastfood chain], but she had been at [the fast-food chain] for a long time, so I knew that she would
work, especially by her being young. I knew she would go to work every day, and she gets upset when she
can’t be on time, because her mom’s got problems. So, I told him about her, because I knew she was
somebody who was going to be there.
Status: Social capital activation is likely also contingent on the status of both job contacts
and job seekers. According to Gould, status is “the prestige accorded to individuals because
of the abstract positions they occupy rather than because of immediately observable
behavior” Whereas reputation is a signal of quality and an indication of future behavior that
is based largely on prior actions and behaviors, status is a signal of quality and an indication
of future behavior that is based largely on the positions that occupants hold.
Terrance Blackburn, a 22-year-old high school graduate, refuses to vouch for job seekers after getting
burned by several referrals, a pattern that ruined his reputation in the eyes of his employer. When
justifying why he would not help a previous referral again, he explained, “Because I got a bad reputation
from that guy. You know, my manager said, ‘You bringing me all these people and they don’t want to
work.’ So, no, I wouldn’t stick my neck out there. I’m going to get my head chopped off”
Strength of tie: Independent of the status and reputations that individuals have developed
outside of the context of the relationship, trust and trustworthiness can develop between
potential exchange partners in such a way that facilitates instrumental aid
I helped [my best friend] get a job through [a health care center] I used to work. She was not too familiar
with more technical medical things, far as personal life care. Like she is not comfortable with bathing a
person’s private areas and things of that nature, so they try to get her things that didn’t require that. But
at times some of her assignments required that she bathe this person or clean their ostomy bags, and
things of that nature. She’ll call me. For example, we are going to go out for the evening or whatever, and
she had to do a client, and she told me who it was, and I already done that client, and I knew what this
entailed. So, what I did, I said, “I will meet you over there, and I will give her a bath and shower, you can
cook and we’ll be out of there in half the time.” I helped in that manner.
Properties of the Network: Social Closure
In addition to properties of the individual and the dyad, social capital activation is also
theorized to be affected by properties of the network. Specifically, Coleman (1988, 1990)
proposed that actors are not likely to activate social capital unless embedded in networks
characterized by social closure. Ebeddedness in networks characterized by social closure
provides actors with community-backed assurances that potential exchange partners will
honor obligations or face appropriate sanctions, such as shunning or social exclusion.
Sally Lowe, a 24-year-old high school dropout and single mother of a toddler, was very concerned about
job seekers’ reputations, especially after having been burned by a previous referral, the sister of her
son’s father. After this experience, she reported, “I’m still going to
help people, [but] I’ll get into your background a little more and all that. Just talk, openly talk to them,
and open the conversation, you know. Talk about myself, and hey, if you got something similar to it,
open your mouth and let me know. Let me know what’s going on with you, because I’d rather know if
you’re my friend, or you’re my buddy, I’d rather know how your life was and how your life is now, than to
be trying to go and guess, you know.
What this pattern indicates is that contacts are largely determining the trustworthiness of
others in isolation, to a great extent, outside of the context of a vibrant or intricate
information network. What rarely showed up in these data were references to knowing or
determining others’ reputations by chatting, gossiping, or sharing information with others in
their network or community. Instead, communication most often occurred
within the dyad.
Properties of the Community: Concentrated Disadvantage
Social capital activation is also conditioned upon structural properties of
communities, specifically the community’s SES, the extent of its ethnic
heterogeneity, and the amount of residential mobility into and out of its borders. All
three structural factors are theorized to affect both the density of network relations—
the extent to which networks can be characterized as closed—and the links between
local institutions within communities.
Don’t forget the Non-Assessed Essay Plan:
You must submit a (typewritten) non-assessed essay plan of
maximum 2 pages, outlining what your key argument will be and
how you intend to structure it, as well as the theorists you intend to
discuss, and an indication of the readings you will base this essay on.
This essay plan must be handed in during the lecture on 25th
February 2014 (week 5, 2 weeks time).
Essays’ topics are in the course outline
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