Developing Social Capital’s Dimensions

Originally posted : Tuesday, 14th May 2018 by Christopher Spratt, Univeristy of Bristol, United Kingdom, on

In our previous posts we have gone into detail on social capital in a broad manner and its implications on workplace development, but as of yet we haven’t gone into detail on the forms that social capital is widely accepted as being broken into. It is an intuitive notion that not all social ties result in the same benefits. For example, one would expect different things from a family member to a work colleague. Therefore, we can then break down different forms social capital in terms of the types of people who it results from, given they will indeed have different results. Two of the most common forms have then been Bonding Social Capital and Bridging Social Capital, which first emerged in Gittell and Vidal’s work [1].

At its simplest the distinction between these two types is that Bonding results from connections between similar individuals and Bridging between those who are diverse. The benefits that Bonding capital results in are typically viewed in the form of the support that allows us to maintain our position, whereas for bridging, it is linked more to the advancement of one’s position. In a way, we can consider this pair as capturing the intuitions implicit in the strong and weak ties which we had discussed previously but removed the assumption that those who are closely connected are necessarily wholly similar.

Those previous attempts at developing computational models for social capital also worked along these lines, however, where they differed greatly was in their interpretations of similarity and diversity –something which really is key to one’s definition of Bonding and Bridging Capital. The first set of works by Smith et al. [2, 3] based their diversity and similarity measures on the shared content tags of blogs, taking them as some characterisation of those who wrote them. This of course is a methodology that doesn’t translate well outside of the blogospheres they took as their focus, where information such as tags aren’t readily available. Beyond that, even were the challenge of obtaining content meta data addressed, given that any benefits outside one’s immediate neighbours are ignored, their structural perspective on social capital can be viewed as quite limited.

On the other hand, Subbian et al. [4] took a wholly structural, weak tie theory [5] based approach towards similarity and diversity. They proposed a two-stage technique where firstly the total social capital in a social network is calculated from the benefits resulting from the shortest paths between all pairs of nodes in that network, and then this value is fairly allocated to nodes based on the basis of the frequency that they can be found on the shortest paths between individuals. Beyond the lack of use of characteristic-based information, we do believe that there can be more done to develop the structural aspects of social capital. There are more complex structural dynamics in a social network than density alone, for example, the important role that information brokers between groups of individuals have to play as highlighted in [6].

What we are proposing in DEVELOP is a new model of social capital that we believe goes some way to bridging this gap between content-based and structural-based similarity and diversity measures, that of using community membership to characterise individuals. Communities make for vital structures in a network, whereby individuals sharing some set of characteristics form dense pockets of interconnection, therefore enabling us to not only use an individual’s membership as a manner of characterising them but also gaining some insight into how they structurally relate with the other nodes in the graph. We intend to provide further insight into the workings of our Community-Based Social Capital Model in a number of forthcoming publications.


[1] Ross J. Gittell and Avis. Vidal. Community organizing : building social capital as a development strategy. Sage Publications, 1998. 1

[2] Matthew S. Smith. Social capital in online communities. In Proceeding of the 2nd PhD workshop on Information and knowledge management — PIKM ’08, page 17, New York, New York, USA, 2008. ACM Press.

[3] M. Smith, C. Giraud-Carrier, and N. Purser. Implicit affinity networks and social capital. Information Technology and Management, 10(2–3):123–134, 9 2009.

[4] Karthik Subbian, Dhruv Sharma, Zhen Wen, and Jaideep Srivastava. Finding influencers in networks using social capital. Social Network Analysis and Mining, 4(1):219, 12 2014.

[5] Mark Granovetter. The Strength of Weak Ties: A Network Theory Revisited. Source: Sociological Theory, 1:201–233, 1983.

[6] Ronald S. Burt. The Network Structure Of Social Capital. Research in Organizational Behavior, 22:345–423, 1 2000.