Ideational social capital and the civic culture: Extricating Putnam's legacy from the social capital debates

Social Epistemology 23 (2):125 – 144 (2009)
Abstract
Robert Putnam's work was a double-edged sword for social capital scholars. It brought unprecedented attention to the research agenda but also created conceptual confusion. Many scholars have tried to disentangle Coleman's concept of social capital from what some described as Putnam's “fuzzy psychological notion” of civic culture values. Despite the rigour of these efforts, Putnam's influence remains, because scholars and policy makers are drawn to the benefits his work promised. This article takes a different tack, and seeks to extricate Putnam's early ideas from the social capital debates by offering an alternate theorization of his original findings. It returns to Making Democracy Work and argues that Putnam mis-stepped when he took the rational choice route and invoked Coleman's concept of social capital. It takes an ideational approach to explaining civic culture. The resulting “ideational social capital” suggests a different research agenda, which just might deliver on Putnam's early promise
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