Discerning differences in social capital: The significance of interpersonal network and neighborhood association structure on citizen participation
Scholars, such as Alexis de Tocqueville, have long pointed out that the key to American democracy was an involved citizenry. More recently, we have come to understand that "social capital" can ease the costs of that participation. Using survey data from South Bend and Indianapolis, Indiana, I show that variations in the structure of both networks and associations shape their impact on political participation, civic activities, or even "exiting" from the neighborhood. In particular, focusing on two dimensions of the network---social space and geographic space---I am able to show that the geographic concentration of the network is an important resource for supporting local activities, such as participation in neighborhood associations. Ties stretching across social space, on the other hand, are more supportive of traditional measures of political participation---such as campaigning. By the same logic, the impact of neighborhood associations is also shaped by their structure. Associations with strong leadership and coercive powers, for example, are able to provide public services that discourage exit from the neighborhood. Nor do these associations exist in isolation from other forms of social capital. Certain configurations of interpersonal networks may enable the monitoring of reticent association leadership, while, on the other hand, carefully designed associations may stimulate the flow of information lacking in the local networks.
Such a structural approach to social capital, I argue, avoids many of the tautologies that have plagued the concept, leaving us with a tool for both embedding individuals into a social context while acknowledging their ability to influence that context through their design decisions. Should it reach its potential, social capital promises a central role in the creation of a second generation of rationality models.