Social Capital Theory is a prominent concept in sociology that analyzes the significance of social networks and connections in promoting social cohesion and facilitating collective action. The theory provides insights into how relationships and social structures can be beneficial for individuals and communities alike.

But who developed this influential theory that has become a buzzword in contemporary social science? Let’s find out.

What is Social Capital Theory?

Before delving into the origins of Social Capital Theory, let’s first understand what it represents. The concept of social capital refers to the resources available to individuals or groups through their social networks, such as trust, norms, and reciprocity. These resources can be used to achieve common goals, solve problems, or create value.

Social Capital Theory argues that the strength of these networks and connections affects individual outcomes and societal well-being. Strong networks with high levels of trust and reciprocity can lead to positive outcomes such as economic development, political stability, and collective problem-solving.

Who Developed Social Capital Theory?

While the concept of social capital has been around for centuries, it wasn’t until the late 20th century that it gained significant attention from scholars. There are several notable figures who contributed to its development:

James Coleman

James Coleman was an American sociologist who is widely regarded as one of the founders of modern Social Capital Theory. In his seminal work “Foundations of Social Theory,” published in 1990, Coleman introduced the concept of social capital as a key factor in determining individual behavior and societal outcomes.

According to Coleman, “social capital is defined by its function” – it represents the resources available through social connections that facilitate collective action. He argued that these resources are crucial for achieving common goals in society, from economic development to political stability.

Pierre Bourdieu

Pierre Bourdieu was a French sociologist who also made significant contributions to Social Capital Theory. In his book “The Forms of Capital,” published in 1986, Bourdieu introduced the concept of social capital as one of three types of capital, alongside economic and cultural capital.

Bourdieu argued that social capital represents the resources available to individuals through their social networks, such as information, support, and connections. He also emphasized the role of power and inequality in shaping access to these resources.

Robert Putnam

Robert Putnam is an American political scientist who popularized Social Capital Theory in his book “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community,” published in 2000. Putnam argued that social capital was declining in America due to a variety of factors such as urbanization, technology, and political polarization.

Putnam’s work sparked a renewed interest in Social Capital Theory and led to numerous studies on the topic. He also suggested that high levels of social capital could have positive effects on democracy, health, and education.


Social Capital Theory has become an increasingly important concept in sociology and other social sciences. While there are several figures who contributed to its development, James Coleman, Pierre Bourdieu, and Robert Putnam are among the most influential. Their work has helped us understand how social connections can promote collective action and societal well-being.