Measuring social capital in Cape Town: providing a more nuanced perspective of trust and networks

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Centre for Social Science Research

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University of Cape Town

This paper provides a critique of the dominant approach to the study of social capital in political science. Social capital is widely studied in terms of only two variables: general interpersonal trust and formal associational activism. This paper argues that social capital is a multidimensional concept. The measurement of social capital therefore requires a wider range of variables, especially ones that tap into neighbourliness and kin-based networks of association. Trust, especially, is a situational concept, and needs to be analysed in a more nuanced manner. In the South African city of Cape Town, the level of general interpersonal trust is low, but trust and networks between neighbours are relatively strong. Factor and reliability analyses are used to examine the validity, reliability and independence of different measures of social capital. The application of a multi-dimensional concept of social capital to exploratory data from Cape Town shows that ‘bonding’ forms of social capital appear more widespread than ‘bridging’ forms. This important nuance would not be evident if the standard two-variable approach to social capital was used.