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Robert Putman, a renowned Harvard University professor, in his book Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy published in 1995 makes a concerted argument of how governments can only grow their economies by tapping in the enormous potential of their social capital. In this study, he did a lot of comparisons of regional governments in Italy and why some of them developed faster than others, yet all of them are endowed with almost equal resources. His conclusion was that governments that developed faster were those that leveraged on the social capital of their citizens.
He defines social capital as the complex networks and norms of engaging society in a beneficial way. It is this concept which he refers to as ‘civic engagement.
According to him, when there is the increased frequency on engaging people in the communities, there will be increased trust built by members to one another. As a consequence, therefore, social interactions and projects will be spurred drastically and as a result, things like trading activating, money borrowing and lending among others will also increase.
Importantly, democratic institutions will sprout and flourish in such a community built on mutual trust and understanding due to shared values and principles. This is what he refers to as the ‘horizontal’ system of governance which ensures that there are safe spaces for civil societies to operate.
Putman has for a long feared that social capital was in a decline in the United States for the past over half-century. This was as a result of increasing technological development which led to few people joining national organizations and few people having time committed to social issues such as charities, community groups among others.
At that time, he blamed this drastic social concentration to watching the TV. His research found that every minute spent on watching TV reduced the time spent on social events/organizations. With the advent of the internet which revolutionized the technology industry, Putnam became even increasingly worried about the decline of social capital.
The Internet brought with its communication and interactive sites such as Skype, video conferencing, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Wikipedia among others. Instead of reversing his fears of social capital, all these new technologies worsened and exaggerated his fears primarily because they are more compelling and addictive than TV. New technologies have caused Americans to become more socially isolated in regards to the social capital since many people have become less committed to social welfare and being members of civic groups (Putnam 225). Despite arguments by some social scientists that technology has created the viable platform for social capital for the millennials who are tech-savvy, Putman fears that those digital platforms and forums are limiting in their scope.
Social capital has broadly been defined as the network of relationships that exist in a community and that enable for an effective functioning of that community. So as to allow for better cooperation and mutual facilitation in among the many groups in the community, the relationships in a social capital allow for shared norms and values. It is because of these shared values and norms that allows members of that network or community to possess a sense of common identity. Members there trust each other and are always ready to cooperate with others to achieve the shared vision and agenda of the group. As Robert Putman posted, having a greater social endowment in the country increases democratic practices which as a result means that there is a proper government which is functional and effective in serving and protecting the interests of the members.
This part of the essay will use a case study of Nigeria, as a case study in discussing several social capital aspects that face the country and how it can improve on them. The Federal Republic of Nigeria is a middle-income country in Sub-Saharan continent experiences a number of challenges as a result of a clear deficit in social capital. The government of the country has for some time now struggled in solving these challenges but unfortunately, it has failed since it does not tap into the power of social capital, which primarily should be the fabric of its operations. Some of the challenges that the country faces a direct paucity of social capital include increased corruption rates, religious intolerance, skyrocketing unemployment as well as crimes and social vices.
Corruption is so much a problem in Nigeria that the country has been ranked as one of the most corrupt in the region. The vice is largely driven and propagated by those who wield political power in the country or by those with strong political networks that protect them from investigation and prosecution according to the country’s constitution and laws. A lot of cash from the Nigerian economy has been squandered as a result of untamed corrupt dealings. Research surveys have found that the vice of corruption and financial imprudence has majorly permeated in the Nigerian society because of a lack of moral values and norms which are shared by all Nigerians. Lack of such common values and norms among the community is a clear indication of social capital paucity since people are not united by commonly shared values in regards financial management both public and private.
Such financial misuse often a time leads to lack of development since much resources are pilfered by private individuals without any trickledown effect hence draining critical resources from developmental programs such as infrastructure fund, healthcare fund and social welfare development among other programs. Religious intolerance in Nigeria is as a result of different religions in the country and differences in religious interpretations. The problem has been persistent since the country acquired her independence in the 1960s spitting the North against the Southern regions of the country. This religious divisiveness and almost rendered the country to become in cohesive and difficult to govern due to the bad blood that has since existed between the two region. There lacks a formidable mutual trust between the two regions hence no social capital that the government can leverage on to spur development.
To relieve the above problems caused by a deficit in social capital, Nigeria can leverage on embracing civic, professional and social groups which in turn promote social capital development. For instance, the formation of an Inter-religious national union might be important in dealing with the religious schism that has long existed in the country (Newton 206). The union can act as a civil society that will be tasked with bringing together the different factions from the two religious ends so that they can find common grounds for their perceived differences. An increased membership into this type of a religious organization will enhance democracy in that people will be able to air out their differences without any fear of religious reprehension as it has been known to happen.
Social community groups can be very helpful in creating awareness of the dangers and the negative repercussions of corruption to the welfare of other community members. The community groups can also come up with common standard ethics and values that can be ingrained to the members of the community through public education and engagement. Therefore, community groups will be striving to create social capital since people will be bound by common norms and shared values.
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