The objective of the course is to get an appetite for sociology as scientific discipline by studying the concept of social capital, its sources and its consequences. In this course, students are first of all introduced to the social capital concept, its main sub-dimensions of social networks and social trust, and how the concept fits the study of social cohesion by showing how social capital works. Secondly, a particular emphasis in this course lies on the critical reading of the sources of social capital, i.e. what explains why some (people or societies) have more social capital than others. Even though the list of sources is endless, a selection is made to understand the mechanisms undergirding social capital-formation. The literature is selected in such a way that it offers a wide variety of research approaches within quantitative methodology.
Upon completion of this course, students are able to (1) critically reflect upon and articulate informed opinions about the concept of social capital; (2) describe why social capital is a vital component in the study of social cohesion; (3) identify the main sources of social capital and the mechanisms that undergird them; (4) understand the (nuanced) consequences of social capital; (5) develop analytical research strategies tailored on sound research puzzles involving social capital.
Without any doubt, one of the key questions within sociology concerns social cohesion: What keeps society together? By the end of the 20th century, the study into social cohesion has become more accessible and as well popularized by a focus on social capital, i.e. the structural (involvement in voluntary associations or social networks) and cultural (norms of trust and reciprocity) dimensions of social organization that facilitate social cooperation. The focus on these aspects of society made social cohesion more tangible and measurable. The aim of this course is to provide in a thorough introduction into the social capital concept, and provide in a theoretical and empirical framework that allows for the study of the sources and consequences of social capital.
In the introduction and the first two sessions of the course, we set the stage by reviewing why there has been such a strong emphasis on social capital in the last decades, as well do we review the key components of social capital, namely networks (its structural dimension) and social trust (its cultural dimension). Using these conceptual building blocks, the mechanisms of how social capital leads to positive outcomes are identified. In the subsequent sessions, some of the principle sources of social capital are being discussed, namely time (which responds to the question whether social capital is in decline), technological innovation (the relationship between online and offline participation), political institutions (whether associations are important for democracy or vice versa), socioeconomic inequality (if large income disparities thwart the ability to trust others), ethnocultural diversity (if diversity brings out the turtle in all of us), and last but not least the influence of biology.
The outline of the sessions is as follows:
A more elaborate outline will be distributed in the syllabus before the first lecture.
- Social capital and its relevance for SBS
- Social networks
- Social trust
- How does it work?
- The influence of time (?)
- Offline and online participation
- The role of political institutions
- Social capital in an equal playing field
- Diversity and the turtle
- Biological sources of social capital
Type of instructions
Paper (50%), portfolio (50%)
Type of exams
A series of research articles and excerpts from books (cf. syllabus).