Locating community social capital: a study of social networks and community action

Agnitsch, Kerry
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With the continued devolution of power and resources from state- and federal-centered to locality-centered institutions, rural places are increasingly left to depend on their own resources to survive. As such, the importance of a community's ability to acquire and mobilize resources to accomplish various goals is of central importance to their future. The purpose of this research was to examine the relationship between community social capital and a community's capacity to act. Social capital is based on the premise that social relationships are a resource for individuals or groups---that is, socially well-connected individuals or groups are better able to mobilize other resources to achieve desired outcomes. While a popular and widely utilized concept in current research, the social capital concept often suffers from a lack of theoretical and empirical clarity. In this research, two theories-social resources theory and regime theory---were utilized as guiding frameworks to "locate" the sets of relationships serving as bonding and bridging forms of community social capital and show how each impacts voluntary citizen participation and the successful completion of community projects. Data for the study came from face-to-face interviews with 116 participants in local community projects in two rural Iowa communities. Bonding community social capital was found to positively affect voluntary citizen participation in local projects, while bridging social capital was found to have a potential role in facilitating community capacity to mobilize needed resources for the successful completion of local projects. In addition, social network analysis was employed to analyze the structural features of networks serving as bridging community social capital in the two communities. Measures of network density, centralization, concentration of centrality, and the presence or absence of cliques were used to assess features of networks deemed likely to facilitate successful community action. Strengths and weaknesses were identified in each network. Results of the network analyses suggested that direct analysis of social networks reveals complexities in social capital that traditional measures often overlook. The results inform recommendations for community development policy and future research.