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Social Capital and Information Science Research (SIGs IFP, SI, CRIT, HFIS)

Catherine A. Johnson, Douglas Raber, Paul T. Jaeger and Kate Williams

(Submission #25)


The concept of social capital has become a popular area of research in many social science fields, including public policy, political science, economics, community development, sociology, anthropology, and education. Increasingly, it has been used as the conceptual framework for research in the area of information studies including such topics as knowledge integration (Bhandar, Pan & Tan, 2007), knowledge sharing (Huysman & Wulf, 2006), access to information by the homeless (Hersberger, 2003), community informatics (Williams and Durrance, in press), and information seeking behavior (Johnson, in press).The concept has an ideological foundation in the theories of Pierre Bourdieu (1980), with two divergent approaches to its study emerging during the last two decades: one focusing on social capital as a collective asset and the other regarding it as an individual asset. The main proponent of the first approach is political scientist Robert Putnam who defines social capital as inhering in the “dense networks of social interaction” which foster “sturdy norms of generalized reciprocity and encourage the emergence of social trust” (Putnam, 1995, p. 66). Social network analysts, on the other hand, view social capital as resources to which individuals have access through their social relationships. Nan Lin, who is the main proponent of this approach, defines social capital as “resources embedded in a social structure which are accessed and/or mobilized in purposive actions” (Lin, 2001a, p. 12). While the concept of social capital may be operationalized differently depending on the point of view of the researcher, its value to information science research is in providing a framework within which to understand the relationship between social structure and information access.

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