Placing social capital

Mohan, G. and Mohan, J. (2002). Placing social capital. Progress in Human Geography, 26(2) pp. 191–210.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1191/0309132502ph364ra

Abstract

This paper reviews the contribution that the concept of social capital might make to geography, and the contribution geography might make to the analysis of social capital. We begin by summarizing the conceptual origins and dimensions of social capital, in the process of
which we distinguish it from several other social properties (human and cultural capital; social networks). We then summarize key criticisms of the concept, especially those levelled at the work of Robert Putnam. The core of the paper is a discussion of the issue of whether there might be a geography of social capital. We consider links between geographical debates and the
concept of social capital, and we assess the difficulties of deriving spatially disaggregated measures of social capital. We illustrate this discussion with reference to literature on three sets of issues: the question of ‘institutional tissue’ and its effects on regional development; the understanding of health inequalities; and the analysis of comparative government performance. In
conclusion, we argue that the popularity of the concept reflects a combination of academic and political developments, notably the search for ostensibly ‘costless’ policies of redistribution on the part of centrist governments. We therefore conclude with a discussion of the practical applications of the concept in different contexts.

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