Unravelling social capital: Disentangling a concept for Social Work

Hawkins, R. L. & Maurer, K.
British Journal of Social Work, 42(2), 353 – 370.

Over several decades, social capital has gained intellectual currency as a means to understand the dynamics of individual and community resources. While prevalent in other disciplines, social capital, however, has been used less often in social work to inform practice or policy development. In this paper, we argue that social capital is an efficacious construct for integrating the separate aspects of social networks and support so as to analyse the by-product of social relationships in the field of social work. We draw distinctions between social capital and conceptualisations of social networks and support and explore the concepts of social capital and present the usefulness of the concept as an analytical and theoretical model for micro and macro practice. We purpose that understanding the role of social capital can help social workers connect individuals to resources, but that it can also be used as part of established practice models. We conclude that essential to using social capital is the understanding that the concept (i) is different and distinct from social networks and social support, (ii) has both positive and negative elements and (iii) operates at the individual, community and institutional levels and can be relevant in all social work settings.

Wagner Faculty