Building Social Capital
While definitions of social capital vary, in health and behavior research, the term has been defined as “the sum of durable, trustworthy, reciprocal, and resource-rich network connections that are used as an asset to empower a society and its members” (Chen, Stanton, Gong, Fang, & Li, 2008, p. 306). In other words, the social capital of an individual is their accumulated positive network connections.
Many scholars consider a durable and valuable social network to be the core element of social capital. For instance, Bourdieu (1985) described social capital as the actual or potential resources linked to the possession of a durable network. Similarly, Putnam (2000) stated that the core element of social capital is a valuable and durable social network characterized by two primary components: 1) positive relationships that provide companionship, emotional support, information, and a sense of belonging, and 2) involvement in organizations and communities that present opportunities for people to bond, achieve joint accomplishments, and articulate their demands and desires.
In the same way that financial capital can be considered a form of wealth that increases with investment and depletes if not periodically reviewed, so too can social capital (Fukuyama, 1995; Putnam, 1993). To invest in one’s social capital, an individual must interact with others through work or play, share personal information, visit each other, join social organizations, and participate in social events. In other words, having a social network is not enough; rather, the creation and maintenance of social capital require deliberate attention and investment.
This tool was designed to help clients expand their social capital by addressing its four main components, namely the relationship quantity (the number of connections), strength (the level of intimacy and support), intensity (the amount of investment), and density (the degree of interconnections among one’s social contacts).
Step 1: Explain social capital and the four dimensions of high-quality relationships
What is social capital?
Social capital refers to the benefits that you gain from your connection with others. If your social capital is high, the people in your social network can offer benefits, such as providing support in difficult times, helping you stay relaxed, and assist you in achieving your goals, among others.
Before you can enjoy the benefits of a strong and long-lasting social network, social capital must first be developed through the four building blocks of high-quality relationships, namely the quantity, strength, intensity, and density of social connections.
Step 2: List the most important people in your social network
Think of the most important people in your social network. These can be “virtual” online connections and real-life connections. The main thing to remember is that these are the people you consider important enough to be part of your social network. List them.
Now that we have introduced the idea of social capital, let’s consider your social capital. In the following steps, we address each of the four elements that you should consider to improve your social capital.
Step 4: Analyzing relationship strength
The strength of social connections is the extent to which the people in your network provide you with support, affection, and a sense of closeness. People with strong social bonds tend to spend more time together, and they are more likely to help others in their network.
The following questions ask about the strength of your social connections. Please answer them as honestly as possible; there are no right or wrong answers. As you complete the questions, think about the extent to which your relationships offer affection, a sense of togetherness, and support.
Consider the people you listed in step 2.
Step 5: Analyzing relationship intensity
The intensity of social connections refers to the frequency with which you and other members of your network interact. You may find that you spend more time with people who offer little in return while committing less time to those you value the most. When this happens, your connections can become weakened.
The following questions are related to the intensity of your social connections. Please answer as honestly as possible; there are no right or wrong answers. As you complete the questions, think about the people in your network with whom you feel the greatest connection.
1. Who are the people in your network with whom you spend the most time?
2a. Are there people in your network with whom you currently do not spend a lot of time but with whom you would like to spend more time?
2b. If so, what do you consider to be a reason for not spending enough time with them?
2c. What could you do to spend more time with them?
3a. Are there people in your network with whom you currently spend a lot of time but with whom you would consider spending less time?
3b. If so, what do you consider to be a reason for spending less time with them?
3c. What could you do to spend less time with them?
1. On a scale of 1 to 10 (where 1 means that none of your social connections know or interact with each other and 10 means that all of your social connections know or interact with each other), how would you rate your network? In other words, how strong is the “glue” in your social network?
2a. Would you like the people in your network to be more connected so that they would know each other better?
2b. If so, what could be the benefits of the people in your network being more connected with each other?
3. What could you do to increase the connection among your network members (for example, you could organize events and invite people from different groups, look for members with the same interests, or invite a friend to a yoga class that you are already taking with another friend)?
Step 7: Full evaluation
Looking back at all the four elements: How would you rate your social capital?