Human social organizations and group behaviors are the backbone of human civilizations (Olson, 2012). We have evolved to need social interactions and communities both to survive and thrive (New Scientist, 2021). Despite this, there was no systematically and professionally organized global community, at least until the establishment of International Social Capital Association (ISCA) in 2022, dedicated to enhancing the science and applications of social capital – a conceptual domain that studies complex human interactions and relationships, and the results thereof. This article explores some of the key discussions around the significance of social capital in the context of ISCA. We welcome engagement and conversation with our readers to build the global knowledge base and community network that we have started.
The significance of social capital lies in the fact that it combines a number of important sociological processes like social norms and interactions, social cohesion, integration, trust and collective work (Coleman, 1988; Woolcock and Narayan, 2000; Putnam, 2001; Requena, 2003). Rothstein (2003) affirms this position by stating that the strength of social capital theory is the combination of the macro-sociological historical structures with micro-level causal mechanisms, meaning that the combination of the environmental context and the individual level variables determine the type and quality of social capital.
Social capital is derived from social networks in which relationships are developed, mediated, and influenced by various personal characteristics and dynamic environmental forces (Bourdieu, 1984; De Carolis et al., 2009). From basic survival through actualization of human ambitions and desires, social capital plays an important role (OECD, 2001; Sawhill, 2020). This is because we, as humans, are social beings and we need to connect and be supported by others (e.g., parents, family members, friends, colleagues) to survive and grow from birth. We also actualize our ambitions and desires with the help of other fellow human beings. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (c.f. S McLeod, 2007) requires other people in every step. How well we successfully and effectively achieve those steps depends on, among other things, how we interact with others and the quality of human relationships we maintain.
To understand how such relationships are developed, maintained, and how they can contribute to producing value for different areas of human activity within the dynamic environment we live in, requires systematic research on social capital. Consequently, different academic disciplines have some component of it dedicated to human behavior, relationships, and decision-making. Furthermore, there are some distinct and mature fields of study – such as psychology, human sociology, anthropology, and political science, that are dedicated to understanding human behaviors, relationships and individual and group work. And some that are relatively new, for example, behavioral economics, that are working to understand the psychological and economic mechanisms behind different aspects of human behavior and decision making.
With emerging challenges related to economic downturn, poverty, inequality, rapid technological advances, and environmental concerns, we are at the verge of needing more effective human networks to develop valuable social capital for the betterment of the world. This is where ISCA becomes relevant: ISCA, an international non-profit member-based association, was founded in 2021 with the goal to advance research and application of the social capital concept for the benefit of all. We aim to revisit, draw, synthesize, and share existing and emerging knowledge from researchers and practitioners alike from diverse academic fields. Moreover, we aim to regularly organize events to facilitate collaboration between like-minded people who want to learn, promote, or put into practice social capital as a powerful tool to solve societal problems and for creating value for human life.
We invite everyone interested to participate and share ideas and knowledge on social capital through ISCA’s multiple platforms – social media, publications, webinars, and conferences. Within a short period from its inception, ISCA’s membership is growing. The ISCA community includes academics, researchers, practitioners, students, and community leaders across the globe, aiming to build a robust community that collaborates in various ways to advance the research and learning of social capital. While inviting new members to join this growing community, we encourage all members to take this opportunity to build their own networks and collaborate with one another to advance the field of social capital.