Social capital and health: the problematic roles of social networks and social surveys

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Abbott, S. (2009)
  • Publisher: The Australian Sociological Association
  • Subject: RA0421

Social capital, social networks, social support and health have all been linked, both theoretically and empirically. However, the relationships between them are far from clear. Surveys of social capital and health often use measures of social networks and social support in order to measure social capital, and this is problematic for two reasons. First, theoretical assumptions about social networks and social support being part of social capital are contestable. Second, the measures used inadequately reflect the complexity and ambivalence of social relationships, often assuming that all social ties and contacts are of similarly value, are mutually reinforcing, and, in some studies, are based on neighbourhoods. All these assumptions should be questioned. Progress in our understanding requires more qualitative research and improved choice of indicators in surveys; social network analysis may be a useful source of methodological and empirical insight.
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