Assessing the role of social capital in the community development field
Kim, Hyoung Yong
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A multi-level and dimensional approach to social capital is applied for this study. This approach is particularly suitable for addressing the conceptual issues of social capital because it is a differentiated phenomenon that varies in its levels and components. The present study is thus the first empirical test of the three competing models of social capital that can be applied to the field of community development. In a multi-level framework, 1) the effect of individual-level social capital (bonding, bridging, and linking) on community development action is tested (network dynamic model), 2) it is examined whether neighborhood-level social cohesion has an independent effect on residents’ community development action (collective efficacy model), and 3) cross-level interaction tests the hypothesis that neighborhood-level social cohesion accounts for the way in which individual-level social capital are related to community development action (synergy model). In addition, the mediation and moderation models specify the associations. The empirical model of the study is thus designed to increase the explanatory power of each of social capital construct, using hierarchical linear and nonlinear models. The results generally support the network dynamic and collective efficacy hypotheses, concluding that both individual-level social capital and neighborhood-level social cohesion are significant predictors of the outcome, but there are substantial differences in the magnitude of the effect. Specifically, bridging and linking types of social capital produce stronger effects on residents’ community development action than any other variables, and the effect of neighborhood-level social cohesion is small and partially mediated by individual-level bonding capital. Also, neighborhood-level social cohesion does not explain the extent to which individual-level social capital exerts influence on its outcome. The research findings imply several lessons for social work. The key features of social capital are social relationships accruing to individuals rather than communities. While bonding networks have beneficial effects on the organization of the poor, strategies that extend the boundary of networks and cultivate institutional involvement are more critical to creating opportunities of resource mobilization. Given the findings of this study, the author suggests some ways of promoting community development through investment in social capital. In particular, social workers’ awareness of bridging and linking capital is very important to the success of their intervention. Social workers thus need to take a leadership role in efforts to expand diverse social connections.