The Rise and Routinization of Social Capital, 1988-2008

Michael Woolcock

World Bank - Development Research Group (DECRG); Harvard University - Kennedy School of Government

June 2010

Annual Review of Political Science, Vol. 13, pp. 469-487, 2010

Social capital has not merely risen as a social scientific term in the scholarly literature; it has become routinized into everyday conversation and policy discourse across an extraordinarily diverse set of disciplines and substantive domains in countries around the world. It currently enjoys citation counts some 100 times larger than it did just 20 years ago and its popularity continues apace, despite numerous trenchant criticisms. Some of the reasons for the rise and routinization of social capital are explored, especially as they pertain to issues of primary concern to political science, namely collective action, economic development, and democratic governance (issues made especially salient by Putnam 1993 ). While ongoing debate is to be welcomed and rigor from individual scholars required, social capital must continue to do double duty: providing for diverse audiences a simple and intuitively appealing way of highlighting the intrinsic and instrumental importance of social relationships, while also yielding at the appropriate time to more precise terms appropriate for particular specialist audiences. Social capital is another 'essentially contested concept'? ( Gallie 1956 ) whose utility to social science (and beyond) rests less on its capacity to forge an inherently elusive scholarly or policy consensus on complex issues than its capacity to facilitate constructive dialogue about agreements and disagreements between groups who would otherwise rarely (if ever) interact.

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Date posted: October 14, 2010  

Suggested Citation

Woolcock, Michael, The Rise and Routinization of Social Capital, 1988-2008 (June 2010). Annual Review of Political Science, Vol. 13, pp. 469-487, 2010. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1691287 or http://dx.doi.org/10.1146/annurev.polisci.031108.094151

Contact Information

Michael Woolcock (Contact Author)
World Bank - Development Research Group (DECRG) ( email )
1818 H. Street, N.W.
Mailstop MC3-306
Washington, DC 20433
United States
202-473-9258 (Phone)
HOME PAGE: http://econ.worldbank.org/staff/mwoolcock
Harvard University - Kennedy School of Government ( email )
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-495-0911 (Phone)
HOME PAGE: http://ksgfaculty.harvard.edu/michael_woolcock
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