Dark Side of Social Capital

The concept of social capital has merely been accounted as positive since it “makes us smarter, healthier, safer, richer, and better able to govern a just and stable democracy (Putnam 2000: 290). Those who reckon only the bright side of social capital, omit its downsides. This paper focuses on the dark side of social capital, and more precisely tries to answer the question: “In which measure does the dark side of social capital affect civil society? ” In order to answer my research question, I will start by defining social capital, keeping in mind that there is no clear consensus in conceptualizing it.

Furthermore, I will have a closer look to the backwards of social capital. Even if the components of social capital are beneficial for the individuals or groups, if misused, they can bring disorders in the social order. Throughout the end of the essay I will try to exemplify these disorders with empirical studies taken from the literature. Nevertheless, by providing the reader with various pragmatic findings I aim to prove whether the dark side of social capital has an effect on the general public or not.

To conclude with, I will express my opinion upon the existing measurements of the harmful side of social capital and I will give a negative or positive answer to the main question of this paper. Social Capital as a concept Social capital is a concept that has generated various interpretations. Coleman (1990) emphasizes the functional aspect of social capital, as it facilitates actions among people, which will eventually lead to the achievement of their interests. In his opinion, trust makes possible human relationships, which are reduced to obligations and expectations.

Social capital involves the idea of reciprocity, which is highlighted by the question: “Why do rational actors create obligations” (Coleman 1990:309). His explanation sounds like this: when a person does a favor, the costs are low and he expects to be repaid at a moment when his benefit will be high and the costs for the other part will be low. This exchange, which creates inter-human relations, requires repetition (Coleman 1990). From a similar point of view, “social capital refers to features of social organization such as networks, norms, and social trust that facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit” (Putnam 1995a: 67).

Networks are created by ties- weak and strong. “The strength of a tie is a [… ] combination of the amount of time, the emotional intensity, the intimacy (mutual confiding), and the reciprocal services which characterize the tie”. (Granovetter 1973: 1361). Moreover, bridges are unique connections between two persons within a group and the term “local” refers to the “shortest path” between the two subjects. Therefore, the conclusion that “only weak ties may be local bridges” is drawn (Granovetter 1973: 1365). Nevertheless, these ties require “time and similarity” (p. 362) and they are responsible for information diffusion, especially the weak ones, as the stronger ties limit the interaction circle. Similarities within a group of friends or relatives create bonds, whereas bridging refers to relations between people to whom one is not very familiar. Bonding facilitates reciprocity and mobilizing solidarity, while bridging ease information diffusion (Putnam 2000). The differentiation of these two notions leads us to understanding the possible disadvantages of networking, as we may see later.

According to Van Deth (2003), a clear distinction between the individual and societal levels of social capital should be made. At an individual level, the concept refers to the ties of which every person can dispose and from which one receives private gains. At the societal level, it refers to network of ties between people that link the society, bringing mutual benefit. (Van Deth 2003) Therefore, social capital could be explained as the social networks between people, based on trust, which is “a unilateral transfer of control” (Coleman 1990).

Touching upon social trust, we distinguish two types- generalized and particularized trust. Generalized trust encourages people to get involved in community matters and on the contrary, particularized trust determines people to disengage- “particularized trust works to counter the effects of generalized trust” (Uslaner 1999: 129). Even if various definitions have been given, the concept of social capital still remains open to discussions and interpretations. Backwards of social capital Looking at the most pregnant definitions of social capital, we tend to think that it is totally benefic.

Its components make it a positive concept, but the purposes for which it is used can reveal a darker side. Granovetter (1985) brought the idea that social structures can bring benefits but also constraints to people’s behavior. Social networks require costs- time, similarities and also obligations-, which can sometimes interfere in attaining self-interest (Granovetter 1973, Gargiulio and Benassi 2000). Reciprocity may transform into an obligation, as it “is more than repayment of the last favor received”.

It keeps subjects related even after one of them lost its social value (Gargiulio and Benassi 2000). Fukuyama (1995) talks about a special feature of Japanese culture which “makes it very easy for one person to incur a reciprocal obligation to another to maintain this obligation over extended periods of time” (p. 205). Nevertheless, the high levels of trust in Japan influence positively national performance. Networks can also be used to obtain individual benefit, which in the long run might cause disorders in a group, an organization or even at the societal level.

If one has the possibility to do a favor for a colleague, a friend or family member because his position permits him, he will expect the recognition of that person, who will have to reward the one who helped him at that certain moment or in the future. A vicious cycle of obligations and reciprocal “help”, which constantly develops will eventually cause corruption and nepotism. The “dirty” bond created between these two persons will be relatively strong as they somehow become alleys, even if trust has nothing to do with this kind of relations.

Nevertheless, as individuals tend to form networks involving members from their social group and interact with similar people, social inequalities may appear (Lin 2000). In most measurements, trust is positively correlated to economic growth and generally with wealth, but from the two types of trust I discussed in the previous subchapter, particularized trust has its drawbacks. It involves less risk, therefore, in my opinion, it is important in the formative years in order to form the basis on which generalized trust will be built.

However, if it not transforms into generalized trust, it can cause exclusion. According to Portes and Landolt (1996), this kind of social trust within a group can “serve as a basis for excluding others who are not in the group”. Ties ease the information diffusion, but they also facilitate spreading detrimental ideas and values within a closed group. Groups as militia, clans, terrorist movements, gangs or even religious cults may be characterized by social capital as members share trust, cooperate and are even capable of making sacrifices for the group.

However, followers can be hostile to the community and therefore cause civic disorders (Uslaner 1999, Portes and Landolt 1996). Social capital is based on cooperation, which can very well enhance the emergence of conspiracies as we will see later in this paper (Baker and Faulkner 1993). Furthermore, inside a closed group, one’s dissent from the general will may have repercussions for the member. Support for some members of an organization (close friends or family) can put pressure on a member.

Extending to the business level, support for members of the group can lead to a scarcity in resources. Therefore, a misuse of social capital can somehow restrict freedom and put constraints on a group’s members. Consequently, misusing social capital generates its dark side which has repercussions for the society, as we will see in the following paragraph. The negative effects of social capital on civil society As Adler and Kwon (2000) state “social capital sometimes can be profoundly dysfunctional and counter-productive” (p. 106).

However, how much does the dark side of social capital affect civil society and how its effects can be measured are some questions on which not many scholars harped. An interesting research is provided by Gabbay and Zuckerman (1998), who “demonstrate that corporate research and development (R&D) scientists generally have greater expectations of future mobility when their work relations exhibit low contact density” (p. 191). They claim that in organizations where a high flow of information is needed, if more “brokerage” is involved, innovation and creativity will be chained.

To prove their hypothesis, they first rely on three theoretical frameworks-contingency and resource dependency theory, technological information communication and structural holes theory. Practically, scientific researchers in 223 R;D laboratories of 29 major American corporations in 8 industries are subjected to a survey conducted in 1985-1986. The survey pointed out features about the scientists’ “experiences and orientation to work”. Moreover, the researchers included “a social network battery, generating rich data on the structure of work relations among unit scientists” (p. 00). Questions were trying to point out the frequency on which people interacted for work purposes, the scientists’ contact density or measurements of network autocorrelation (p. 203). However, in their conclusion the authors admit that people achieve success if they interact, cooperate and negotiate with people they “meet along the way” (p. 214). Cooperation is another characteristic of social capital which can turn into a negative aspect if it is misused. As stated before, it can lead to conspiracies and illegal networks.

Unethical behavior is a social phenomenon as one’s actions can have harmful effects on others’ wellbeing, opportunity and even safety. Moreover, the prospects and restraints met in social networks, combined with personal characteristics of an individual can somehow explain disreputable actions inside organizations. (Brass, Butterfield and Skaggs 1998). Granovetter’s weak and strong ties influence again the conditions in which unethical behavior can emerge in civic relationships. More precisely, the stronger a tie is and the more frequently people cooperate, the occasions to behave illicitly enhance.

Nevertheless, the punishment for immoral actions is higher in stronger relations than in weaker ones as it may lead to breaking the tie. (Brass, Butterfield & Skaggs 1998) Even if research on conspiracies as a negative outcome of social capital inside organizations is not very consistent, Baker & Faulkner (1993) make available a research on three known conspiracies in the heavy electrical equipment industry. Their findings show that the illegal networks are motivated by “the need to maximize concealment, rather than the need to maximize efficiency” (p. 3).

However, a common dilemma among conspirators is that of building communication networks that maximize concealment as well as efficiency or just resuming to concealment. As organizations are based on dependency relationships, which may hinder their activities, managers try to reduce these dependencies by using cooperation between competing units as a strategy. Nevertheless these strategies often raise doubts and disbelief. Based on secondary data, the research reconstructs the communication networks involved in three major conspiracies (switchgear, transformers, and turbines).

This model forecasts the possible outcome (guilt or innocence), punishments, and fines. These are seen as “functions of personal centrality in the illegal network, network structure, management level and company size” (p. 2). Moreover, it is highlighted that the structure of illegal networks affects highly visible outcomes when referring to the individual level. Rephrasing Freeman (1979), the authors prove that personal centrality can be measured in different ways.

Its degree “refers to the number of direct contacts a person has and is customarily interpreted as an index of communication activity” (p. 11) and it is important because it denotes a person’s vulnerability, as it is calculated as the number of people who observed the author involved in price-fixing activities. Furthermore, it is measured (even if not accounting for direct witnessing) by taking into consideration its betweenness, denoting the degree of bridging an actor is involve into and closeness, understood as “the sum of shortest paths to all other actors” (p. 1).

The authors expected that the sentence and fine would be proportionally related to the company size, the rank of the conspirator, the structure of the network and the personal centrality. Their analysis was based on 36 guilty parties. Overall, network centralization had not a great impact on the harshness of sentence or fine as they did not differ considerably among the two types of conspiracies. For top executives, however, decentralization increased the severity of sentences and fines, but it also offered protection.

Therefore, closer involvement increases vulnerability. As a general conclusion, centralization was seen as the unique way to handle a high-information conspiracy because “face-to-face interaction is required to make complex decisions in secret” (p. 21). I have resorted to this study as it demonstrates how networks, as component of social capital, facilitate illicit actions and it also differentiates between negative outcomes according to the types of relationships among organization members.

Browning, Feinberg and Dietz (2000) tested a different perception of urban crime which stresses the tensions between social networks and social cohesion (understood as trust and solidarity), both sources of social capital. The authors suggest that conventional social organizations inhibit, but at the same time facilitate neighborhood crime. They bring to our attention the fact that “criminal elements acquire social resources through integrating into mainstream social networks” (p. 11). They consider three source of social capital in order to prove their perspective: reciprocated exchanges, bounded solidarity and enforceable trust.

Reciprocate exchanges lead to obligations between subjects; bounded solidarity expresses philanthropic feelings but only towards similar members of a closed group and enforceable trust assures a donor member that he/she will be usually repaid by another member. Accounting for Portes (1998), the author shows that bounded solidarity and enforceable trust lead to social control within neighborhoods. In relation to criminality, “the very density of ties and frequency of exchange ” (p. 13) may lead to an increase in social capital for “offenders”. The authors create a model tested in different neighborhoods from Chicago.

The model is based on various hypotheses and it also takes into account a possible competition between forms of social capital- networks and social cohesion. They combined 1990 decennial census information with data from the 1994-95 Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods Community Survey. Their dependent measures are: a measure of perceived neighborhood violence, a measure of the perceived presence of illicit drugs in the neighborhood, a measure of self-reported violent victimization, and official data on neighborhood homicide rates (1994-95) (p. 7) and as independent measures they took a factor analysis of 10 variables using various aspects of structural disadvantage (p. 18).

Measures of violence and drug consume were correlated with characteristics of social capital and cultural variables. When testing their hypotheses, the authors encountered measurement problems which were an impediment in coming to a clear and concise answer. Concerning negative effects of networks, “models of the four criminal outcomes suggest relatively weak main [… effects [… ] when considered without a control for social cohesion”(p. 46). However, the only positive effect of networks highlights their twofold function in “inhibiting and facilitating neighborhood crime” (p. 46). By taking into account these three different models I tried to emphasize the practical approach concerning the dark side of social capital and the way it affects the society. It is clear to me that there is a negative part of social capital shaped by the misuse of its functions and components.

Nonetheless, I could not provide clear measurements to show an important negative effect of these backwards such that they hinder the general beneficial nature of social capital. Conclusion The aim of this essay was to answer the question: “In which measure does the dark side of social capital affect civil society? ” In order to come to a response, I started with discussing various definitions of social capital, showing the complexity of the concept. Further on, I focused on the downsides of social capital.

I touched upon the misuse of its functions which can turn networks, trust, cooperation and reciprocity into backwards. In the following paragraph I tried to support my research question with three researches conducted by Gabbay and Zuckerman (1998), Baker ; Faulkner (1993) and Browning, Dietz and Feinberg (2000). In the end, I could not show a negative impact of these downwards that can hamper society’s development. Although I did not have a positive answer to my question, this does not mean that the dark side of this concept can be omitted.