Community and Social Capital: What Is the Difference?



The ideas of community and social capital have received much attention in the last decade, but are plagued by a multitude of conceptualizations, definitions, and operationalizations. This confusion is problematic for both researchers and policymakers trying to use these concepts. While numerous efforts have been made to clarify “social capital” and “community,” too often the two are simply conflated. This paper attempts to distinguish between them by looking at the various ways they are related in concrete examples. Drawn largely from the literature, five examples are offered that together describe the complex interactions of place-based communities and social capital networks. These examples also demonstrate distinctions between community and social capital with regard to boundaries, the qualities of social relations and trust in each, instrumentality, the consequences of one for the other, and issues related to multiple communities in a single place. It is hoped that these distinctions will inform the ongoing efforts to develop unique and useful conceptualizations of these two terms.