Current academic interest in social capital is robust and extensive, ranging across dozens of disciplines from economics to geography to medicine.1 The Web of Science Core Collection (WoS) contains fifty-seven million academic papers, books, conference proceedings, and citations across the social and natural sciences. Within that repository, social capital is well-represented, with more than 9,164 records as searched on November 1, 2014. Navigating this body of research will support scholars, policy-makers, and community leaders who blend research and practice to understand more clearly what social capital is and how it works. The approach is not exhaustive but is substantially illustrative of how widely the social capital concept is invoked. A current review of the Web of Science sources reflects more than 14,000 sources from the repository of 100 million items. Interest in social capital is significant and growing.
It is clear that the civic landscape is highly complex. Social capital across dozens of disciplines, scholars, countries, institutions, and timescales reflects this complexity. While the intricate nature of these phenomena may be daunting, pursuit of insight can yield important gains and provide a degree of humility in our various pursuits.
This whitepaper provides a large-data-set overview of the extensive landscape of published academic work on social capital. The growing body of research on this topic is complex and of interest to many disciplines, and in what follows I will thematically review the breadth of that research.
A demonstration of the finer-grained approaches within this wide literature is undertaken by examining four important categories of social capital: trust, measurement, spatial dynamics, and social isolation. The paper concludes with five observations about social capital scholarship: (1) sociology and business/economics are core social capital disciplines; (2) the most prolific social capital authors work primarily in health sciences; (3) the United States is a central player in social capital research; (4) academic articles rather than books are the dominant forum for exchange with methodological studies being an important sub-class; and (5) academic publishing in social capital has grown significantly in the last ten years despite uneven adoption at policy levels.
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NAVIGATING SOCIAL CAPITAL SCHOLARSHIP
A META-REVIEW OF 9,164 WEB OF SCIENCE SOURCES ON SOCIAL CAPITAL
AREAS OF CONSIDERABLE SCHOLARLY activity that involve dozens of disciplines require more than cursory or narrowly focused reviews of select literature. When thousands of sources are involved, they form a primary data source in their own right, including the possibility of analyzing authorship, citations, abstract content, dates, countries, and institutional patterns. Social capital remains an exploratory social theme with no single disciplinary home. Exploratory work within and between these multiple disciplines is critical to ongoing fruitful inquiry. Textual, citation, and thematic analysis presented here can provide supporting orientation for practical and theoretical research development.
EARLY YEARS OF SOCIAL CAPITAL SCHOLARSHIP
Prior to 1993, it is possible to trace a paper-to-paper linkage of key works on social capital and to consider their various themes and ideas. This identified range (table 1) (Ostrom and Ahn 2003) represents a 153-year span of time from the early use of social capital found in Democracy in America (Tocqueville 2001) through to Making Democracy Work (Putnam, Leonardi, and Nanetti 1994). The following is not a comprehensive review of all uses or related uses of social capital but is instead a review of significant growth in social capital interest. Durkheim is an example of a late nineteenth-century use of social capital in a discussion of the conditions of suicide (Chen et al. 2009). In the second half of the twentieth century there was an increase in the number of academic works on social capital, but it was a pivotal paper on human and social capital in the late 1980s helped to accelerate scholarly interest (Coleman 1988). (See TABLE 1.)