Archive for December, 2011

Happy Hitchcock

Sunday, December 25th, 2011

Knowledge, Information, Wisdom

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

“Knowledge is conscious use of information; ‘wisdom’ means choosing one’s behaviour on the basis of knowledge and shared values, in order to enhance the well-being of all, and the awareness that personal actions have social consequences.” (p. 407)

Blasi, P. (2006). The European University: Towards a Wisdom-Based Society. Higher Education in Europe, 31(4).

Image: Craig Fineburg | Occupy Philadelphia (2011)

The Commodity Fetishism of Social Capital

Monday, December 12th, 2011

Reading the introduction to Ben Fine’s Theories of Social Capital, I was struck by how much it resonated with my own emerging suspicion of how original concepts of social capital have been transformed by reductionist (and predominantly neoliberal) interpretations, that seem to disregard the complexities and nuances of formative work on the subject. As Fine suggests, they expand on Bourdieu’s relatively narrow definition with a fraction of his depth of understanding. The ‘peculiar relationship’ with neoliberalism and rational choice in particular, represents a ‘generalised commodity fetishism’ of social capital.

The literature on social capital thrived in the 1990’s, representing a radical increase in the scope, definition and application of social capital across the disciplines. According to Fine, these largely exploitational interpretations have degraded, rather than contributed to, the literature. As such, social capital has become an attractive motif for ‘hacademics’ and policy makers at the expense of rigorous academic arguments. In response, social scientists offer limited critique or choose to ignore social capital altogether.

It is right that ideas, concepts and theories are open to development and reinterpretation in interdisciplinary contexts, and Fine’s arguments may seem elitist. But he believes social capital has become a parasite that has ‘reduced and distorted’ the rich traditions of the social sciences. This has resulted in the adoption of social capital as a leading explanatory factor of social, cultural and economic factors at the expense of other (and more convincing) determinants.

In the new conceptual chaos of social capital, the nature of its relationship with other forms of capital is rarely defined. There is often a presumed transference between components and effects of different forms of capital; “rounding up the symbolic and the cultural into the social” (p.4). In addition, the relationship between social capital and capitalism itself is frequently ‘glossed over’.

Most pertinent to the studying of the social web – and the apparent readiness of researchers to invoke the work of Robert D Putnam in particular – is the necessity to question the idea of social capital as:

“self-help raised to the level of the collective. However good or bad things might be, they could be better if people interacted more, trusted one another, and cooperated. Social capital offers the golden opportunity of improving the status quo without challenging it. Everything from educational outcomes through crime prevention to better psychological health can be improved if neighbours and communities would only pull together and trust and interact with one another.” (p.4)

Such convenient and consensual interpretations of collective empowerment through participation and collaboration often fail to acknowledge the corrupting forces of what Fine describes as the ‘dark side’ of social capital.

It appears that Fine’s book represents an important critical reading of the social capital literature, which I hope to have a chance to explore beyond the Introduction in the near future.


Fine, B. (2010). Theories of Social Capital: Researchers Behaving Badly. London: Pluto Press.