Social Capital: A Conceptual History

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Taking its departure from current debates over social capital, this article presents new textual findings in a backward-revealing conceptual history. In particular, it analyzes the texts and contexts of Lyda J. Hanifan who was rediscovered by Robert Putnam as having (allegedly first) used the term; it offers discoveries of earlier uses of the term and concept - most notably by John Dewey - thereby introducing critical pragmatism as another tradition of social capital; and it recovers features of the critique of political economy in the nineteenth century - from Bellamy to Marshall to Sidgwick to Marx - that assessed "capital from the social point of view," especially cooperative associations. While it ends with Marx's use of "social capital," Dewey is its central figure. The article concludes by returning to the present and offering work, sympathy, civic education, and a critical stance as emergent themes from this conceptual history that might enrich current debates.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6-33
Number of pages28
JournalPolitical Theory
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2004


  • Conceptual history
  • Dewey
  • Hanifan
  • Pragmatism
  • Social capital

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science


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