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Interaction enables people to build communities, to commit themselves to each other, and to knit the social fabric. The concept of social capital contends that building or rebuilding community and trust requires face-to-face encounters. However, there can also be a significant downside. Social capital is defined by its function. The three thinkers that most commentators highlight in terms of developing a theoretical appreciation of social capital are Pierre Bourdieu, James Coleman and Robert Putnam.
Bourdieu wrote from within a broadly Marxist framework. He began by distinguishing between three forms of capital: economic, cultural and social. In other words, he argued that those living in marginalized communities or who were members of the working class could also benefit from its possession. It is interesting to compare Coleman’s and Bourdieu’s contributions to thinking about social capital. Coleman’s view is more nuanced in that he discerns the value of connections for all actors, individual and collective, privileged and disadvantaged. Robert Putnam’s ability to draw upon a wide range of theory, to synthesize and write for a wider audience, and to catch the public mood in the United States would have been enough to encourage a wider embrace of the notion of social capital.