Joining the dots

Abstract and part of the introduction of the paper, this seems to reflect Anna’s observations as depressing as they might be; (Ferragina 2016)

The Rise and Fall of Social Capital: Requiem for a Theory?

Emanuele Ferragina and and and Alessandro Arrig


We distinguish between social capital theory and social capital political discourse in order to reflect upon their relation with one another and neoliberalism. We claim this analytical distinction is useful to understand the existence of a feedback effect between theory and political discourse.During the 1990s, the connection between social capital theory and neoliberalism has been transposed from academia to political discourse, thus contributing to popularise social capital within the public sphere. Over time, however, rising economic inequalities (exacerbated by the recent economic crises) have demonstrated that the neoliberal political agenda is incompatible with the aim to generate social capital. Focusing on the critical case of Britain, we argue that the rapid demise of the Big Society idea might signal a corresponding decline of social capital theory within academia.


social capital, neoliberalism, Third Way, Big Society

Accepted: 2 November 2015


The connection between social capital and neoliberalism is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it has greatly contributed to the popularisation of the social capital concept,while neoliberalism gained political prominence during the 1990s. The existence of this link has transformed social capital from a fancy academic theory into an important ingredient of new political discourses. On the other hand, this connection may well be the cause of social capital theoretical demise. This draws from the fact that, in a period characterised by economic crisis and preceded by decades of rising economic inequality, the policy aim to bolster social capital is incompatible with the neoliberal political agenda. On this basis, we theorise the existence of ‘a feedback effect’ from theory to political discourse (from Putnam’s theory to New Labour) and then back from political discourse to theory (from the demise of the big society idea to the requiem of social capital theory). It is important to note that when we talk about this ‘requiem for a theory’, we refer specifically to the potential demise of *Robert Putnam’s notion of social capital.

(*Putnam’s concept of social capital has three components: moral obligations and norms, social values (especially trust) and social networks, especially voluntary associations)

Is there any end to this?

It can be stated that Laissez faire classical economic Adam Smith theory ended in 1945, Keynesianism 1973 and Neoliberalism 2008 ( just observations by historical and economic theorists).

Initially struggled with the concept of 2008, but with further explanation and discussion I get the point. Since 2008 we have been in a twilight zone, not really having a direction having lost faith in the original concept, but also not having an alternative, thus The Big Society, Brexit, Boris Johnson’s ‘boosterism’, Liz Truss and Trussanomics and our present PM Sunak who (as of the time of writing) at present hasn’t presented an economic policy and thus we are just left guessing.

So what replaces neoliberalism? Or do we just evolve within a tattered framework and ‘make do and mend’?

For an answer (for me at least) and as it has been constantly for the past 5 years is the Nordic Model (Hillson 2008).

Not perfect, but run by humans, for humans with all the flux that humans create, but preserving the hard gained crown jewels that have worked since the 1930’s. In this case a mix of Welfarism and highly regulated Capitalism in their right respective, efficient and gainful position for the whole of society.

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