Does Social Capital Drive Disaster Resilience?

The link between social capital and disaster resilience is increasingly accepted. In “Building Resilience: Social Capital in Post-Disaster Recover,” Daniel Aldrich draws on both qualitative and quantitative evidence to demonstrate that “social resources, at least as much as material ones, prove to be the foundation for re-silience and recovery.” His case studies suggest that social capital is more important for disaster resilience than physical and financial capital, and more im-portant than conventional explanations.

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Aldrich argues that social capital catalyzes increased “participation among networked members; providing information and knowledge to individuals in the group; and creating trustworthiness.” The author goes so far as using “the phrases social capital and social networks nearly interchangeably.” He finds that “higher levels of social capital work together more effectively to guide resources to where they are needed.” Surveys confirm that “after disasters, most survivors see social connections and community as critical for their recovery.” To this end, “deeper reservoirs of social capital serve as informal insurance and mutual assistance for survivors,” helping them “overcome collective action constraints.”

Capacity for self-organization is thus intimately related to resilience since “social capital can overcome obstacles to collective action that often prevent groups from accomplishing their goals.” In other words, “higher levels of social capital reduce transaction costs, increase the probability of collective action, and make cooperation among individuals more likely.” Social capital is therefore “an asset, a functioning propensity for mutually beneficial collective action […].”

In contrast, communities exhibiting “less resilience fail to mobilize collectively and often must wait for recover guidance and assistance […].”  This implies that vulnerable populations are not solely characterized in terms of age, income, etc., but in terms of “their lack of connections and embeddedness in social networks.” Put differently, “the most effective—and perhaps least expensive—way to mitigate disasters is to create stronger bonds between individuals in vulnerable populations.”

Social Capital

The author brings conceptual clarity to the notion of social capital when he unpacks the term into Bonding Capital, Bridging Capital and Linking Capital. The figure above explains how these differ but relate to each other. The way this relates and applies to digital humanitarian response is explored in this blog post.

9 responses to “Does Social Capital Drive Disaster Resilience?

  1. another excellent illuminating post, patrick. much appreciation from here.

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  3. For people in the disaster response world, I think (hope?) this has always been common knowledge. For example in the US it’s often local churches and neighborhoods in the lead, checking on people, sharing resources, managing local distribution spots etc. FEMA and the big orgs don’t have the local social capital to do those things well, so they focus on other things like grant and loan administration and bigger contracting – disaster-specific resources or expertise that communities are less likely to have on their own. This complement is a good thing, in my mind.

    I wonder if the pressure to ‘professionalize’ the humanitarian sector has contributed to people unconsciously putting more emphasis/value on institutions/NGOs/’official’ channels and the resources they bring as opposed to current and potential social networks. Working with a young NGO without a pre-existing organizational presence in the countries where we responded (abroad and in the US), my assessment/program design process was as much about identifying those local ambassadors and bridges, be they community individuals or groups, along with more standard NGO assessments. Funders aren’t much interested in social capital in proposals or in results though – success is tied to data, facts, and figures.

    The notion of social network connectedness as an indicator of vulnerability is a very interesting one. Being able to assign some kind of visible measurement to it would bring it back into the consciousness of planners and do-ers, aid workers and the public alike.

  4. Many thanks, David and Stefanie. A thousand apologies for my delay in replying. End of year deadlines got me distracted but I’m slowly starting to catch up on blogging and comments.

    @Stefanie, many thanks for sharing your thoughts. I think your point about professionalization is very interesting. I would certainly want to read a study on this. Thanks again for sharing.

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