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Book Quotes - Bowling Alone - Bridging and Bonding - With Comments!

Posted Oct 03 2008 12:52pm

Important distinctions Robert Putnam brings up in Bowling Alone are the various types of social capital that exist. He notes, for example, that not all forms of social capital are healthy (it was social capital, in part, that facilitated Timothy McVeigh’s Oklahoma City bombing). Here is a quote from page 22 that discusses one very important distinction, between social capital that bridges versus social capital that bonds:

"Of all the dimensions along which forms of social capital vary, perhaps most important is the distinction between bridging (or inclusive) and bonding (or exclusive). Some forms of social capital are, by choice or necessity, inward looking and tend to reinforce exclusive identities and homogenous groups. Examples of bonding social capital include ethnic fraternal organizations, church-based women’s reading groups, and fashionable country clubs. Other networks are outward looking and encompass people across diverse social cleavages. Examples of bridging social capital include the civil rights movement, many youth service groups, and ecumenical religious organizations.

Bonding social capital is good for undergirding specific reciprocity and mobilizing solidarity. Dense networks in ethnic enclaves, for example, provide crucial social and psychological support for less fortunate members of their community, while furnishing start-up financing, markets, and reliable labor for local entrepreneurs. Bridging networks, by contrast, are better for linkage to external assets and for information diffusion. Economic sociologist Mark Granovetter has pointed out that when seeking jobs - or political allies - the “weak” ties that link me to distant acquaintances who move in different circles from mine are actually more valuable than the “strong” ties that link me to relatives and intimate friends whose sociological niche is very like my own. Bonding social capital is, as Xavier de Souza Briggs put it, good for “getting by,” but bridging social capital is crucial for “getting ahead.”

From an individual perspective (as opposed to a sociological one), I believe it is important to examine where the person currently stands in terms of their overall social capital, and to also consider the individual’s overall interpersonal strengths and weaknesses. If, for example, one is a therapist working with a client who suffers from depression, an improvement in the client’s level of social capital will be a goal of treatment. However, one must consider how to go about aiding the client in facilitating this change. People suffering from depression also often have difficulties with anxiety, as well as difficulties with interpersonal interactions. Prior to even encouraging a client to develop social capital out in “the real world,” some practice and role play may be necessary in session in order to improve skills and confidence, as well as lower anxiety.

Once a client is ready to tackle social interact, my guess is that bonding relationships would initially be the easier route to encourage. The bridging relationships obviously have their importance, but in terms of working with individuals who have had difficulties with interpersonal relationships in general, the safer route to go would be the bonding interactions. As those get easier, the client can be encouraged to continue to branch out.

I would be remiss if I did not note that another effective way to prepare an individual for increasing their social capital, should their social skills be underdeveloped, would be to refer them for group therapy (as opposed to, or in addition to, individual therapy). While initially difficult, group therapy allows for rapid development of social skills, eventually beyond what most people have.

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