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In this section I will discuss the way in which social capital is compatible with diversity. As I mentioned in part 2, in the social capital literature there is a distinction between micro and macro social capital on the one hand, and between bridging and bonding social capital on the other. The topic of this post is bridging social capital.

Throughout these posts I have assumed that there is only one model of diversity, what we might call micro-level or inter-personal diversity. But since the world has always been diverse, and high levels of social capital have existed in the past, and still do persist in many places around the world, it shows that social capital is compatible with diversity. The question should be what kind of diversity is compatible with social capital. Start by considering that every kind of diversity is also a kind of homogeny. For example, if every street containing one-hundred houses contained representatives of one-hundred different cultures, in one sense this would be diverse, but in another sense it would be entirely homogenous in that every street would be like every other street. A diverse street could be a homogenous collection of streets; diversity is always relative to a reference class. But there is another type of diversity, intercultural diversity. Whereas interpersonal diversity is disruptive to social capital (as discussed in part 2), intercultural social capital is compatible with social capital of a different kind: what Putnam calls bridging social capital.

Bridging social capital is what exists between groups and allows them to cooperate to promote shared interests. To understand how the social capital that exists within groups is different from the social capital that exists between groups, it is important to first understand what these groups are. Millikan writes: “Many kinds of interest to social scientists, such as ethnic, social, economic, and vocational groups are historical kinds” (2000: 22). As might be expected from their name, historical kinds are constituted not by some essential properties or essence, but by the possession of certain shared historical relations between members (2000: 23). A common such historical relation is that one item is copied or reproduced from another (as discussed in part 1); behaviors, language, customs, traditions and the like are copied from person to person through family and cultural traditions, and through education. Similar to the way genes are copied across generations, these behaviors and ideas are copied into new generations and will promote historical continuity.


For example, school teachers, doctors, and fathers form historical kinds when these groups are studied as limited to particular historical cultural contexts. Members of these groups are likely to act similarly in certain ways and to have attitudes in common as a result of similar training handed down from person to person (reproduction or copying), as a result of custom (more copying), as a result either of natural human dispositions or social pressures to conform to role models (copying again) and/or as a result of legal practices (2000: 22).


A second historical relation between members is a shared environment which sees to it through natural and cultural selection that features and practices that do not provide a benefit to the individual will not get passed on. Cultures existing in the polar region, or a dessert, or a rain forest, or a city, or in proximity to other cultures will have persisting factors that will need to be dealt with by behavioral and cultural adaptations by successive generations.   Thus the stability of natural and social environmental conditions will contribute to the stability of the group over time. These factors will contribute to the stability, or “homeostasis,” of the group over time.

The final factor that promotes the stability of social groups are the stabilizing cooperative conventions discussed in part 2. Take as an example the Normal conditions for visual perception of color. If one is in abNormal conditions for color perception, say, it is too dark, or there are colored lights instead of sunlight, and one is unable to judge accurately an object’s color, the solution is to bring the object into Normal conditions, to bring it outdoors, for example, and look at it under the sun. Millikan writes “One knows how, physically, to maneuver oneself into conditions [N]ormal for making accurate perceptual judgments of a given kind” (2000: 103). Either by instinct or experience people are quite good at bringing about Normal conditions in order to ensure successful functioning of their visual or linguistic or other teleological mechanisms. When trying to see something, we bring objects into Normal conditions for visual perception, when trying to hear a sound we might turn our head in order to sense from which direction the sound is coming, or move closer to the sound, and so on.

Similar to these cases, people naturally will seek out conditions that are Normal for the interpersonal stabilizing functions of language, appearance, customs, morals, tastes, and other stabilizing functions. We naturally attune ourselves to one another to enjoy the benefits of successful interpersonal coordination. We need to do so if we are going to succeed in communicating and in other day-to-day interactions that require coordination and cooperation amongst members of a community in the performance of stabilizing functions. In the case of coordinating behaviors such as the American convention of driving on the right hand side of the road, the stabilization keeps the cooperating partners behaving in conventional ways; in the case communication, the benefit afforded by stabilizing proper functions serves to keep producers producing in historically Normal ways, and consumers consuming in historically Normal ways.

Just as the stability of biological species results from the maintenance of compatibilities in the gene pool, the need for Normal inter-personal coordination is what keeps words meaning the same things over time, or keeps traditions alive, or keeps moral practices in existence. Without the forces of cultural homeostasis cultures and social groups would be unable to persist (or exist) and there would be no cultures or cultural diversity. In the United States, drivers must coordinate with one another such that Normally people drive on the right, people shake hands when greeting rather than, say, bowing to one another, we start work at 9 a.m., we have standards for dress, we use dollars for currency, etc. These and innumerable other historical co-adaptations are what create, constitutes, and maintains a culture; they are the bonds that hold a culture together. And just as homeostasis preserves the diversity of biological species, this process of cultural homeostasis is what preserves cultures and cultural diversity; it keeps cultures in existence and stable over time and safe from dispersal. But notice that if the argument of the second section of this article is correct, interpersonal stabilizing proper functions that contribute to cultural homeostasis just is bonding social capital. Thus is explained the grounds of the often-invoked metaphor that bonding social capital is the “sociological superglue” that keeps groups together (Putnam 2000: 23).


Historical kinds can be more of less “rough” depending on the regularity of the causative factors between copies, and by the number of commonalities that go together (2000: 26). For example, like biological species, cultures and other social groups have stability through time. They are not as stable as species, and in many places the speed of cultural change seems blindingly fast, but many features of a culture do persist through time. Not too much emphasis should be given to the “stasis” in homeostasis. The world is always changing through environmental changes, technical innovations, new scientific understanding, and communication, and this prevents true stasis. Nevertheless, all of these things also have a resistance to change due to the forces of homeostasis. Americans still predominantly speak English, celebrate Christmas, drive on the right, conduct elections, and so on. Despite the radical changes that have occurred, these features have remained constant over the decades and centuries. None of these traits are universal, but neither is it the case that all swans are white, all birds fly, or all hearts pump blood. Nevertheless, the social sciences that study these kinds can persist in doing empirical studies on these groups that result in justified yet fallible inductions concerning these categories because these real historical relations promote the possession of commonalities between members. If there were no such forces there would be no possibility of the social sciences for there would be no forces promoting likeness among members resulting in social groups. “If social groups were not real, there could be no gain in empirical studies concerning them, for example, studies of the attitudes of American doctors towards herbal medicines, and so forth” (2000: 22).

Too much diversity on an interpersonal level destroys social capital by introducing the too frequent abNormal conditions and thus disrupting the process of cultural homeostasis. Were the process of cultural homeostasis to somehow break down either by members ceasing to produce the Normal coordinating behaviors for that culture–perhaps they adopt the behaviors of another culture as in the case of cultural imperialism or invasion, or perhaps the members of the culture are widely dispersed by a hostile outside force–the culture would cease to exist and the world’s cultural diversity lessened. Thus micro-level interpersonal cultural diversity, if carried to an ultimate extent, undermines itself by disrupting the forces of cultural homeostasis that make the existence of cultures possible in the first place.

Fortunately, the forces of cultural homeostasis as constituted by stabilizing proper functions are so fundamental to the ability of people to get by in the world, the necessity for co-adaptation so strong, that people will seek out Normal conditions, as we have seen, and cultures will generally remain safe from dispersal unless acted upon by an outside force. People will either adapt to the prevalent language and customs of a place, and thereby integrate, or they will seek out those with whom they are already adapted and congregate. But there is no irrational bigotry or prejudice involved in seeking out those with whom one can coordinate and communicate Normally. These vices themselves destroy social capital by preventing the successful performance of the stabilizing function of the indicative mood, and so result in one not benefiting by acquiring new knowledge, or lead to the malfunctioning of the imperative mood by preventing one from doing what is in their best interest because one blindly refuses to believe or do what is said by someone against whom one is prejudiced. But preferring the presence of those one can expect to communicate and coordinate with successfully is not irrational or a vice. The reasons for avoiding meaning decay are the same as those for having language, culture, and communication in the first place, namely the benefits that accrue to the functioning of language and culture. It is part of the job of social science to study the factors that foster or impede the reception of these benefits by preventing the assimilation into a given history.

With this understanding of the forces that keep historical kinds together, we can proceed to discuss the interactions that exist between historical kinds through bridging social capital. As indicated previously, the difference between bonding and bridging social capital is in the kinds of things that are related: individuals within an historical kind in the former, and between historical kinds, or between individuals belonging to different historical kinds, in the latter. But the nature of social capital as stabilizing proper function is the same for both.

This present account explains why “bridging social capital is intrinsically less likely to develop automatically than bonding social capital” (Putnam 2003: 279). Stabilizing functions come to exist because the parties have a common interest. In the case of groups with a function, such as the promotion of a specific political, or social, or economic goal, if there is no common interest between groups, there would be no need for a stabilizing function to bridge them. On the other hand, different groups or cultures might have common interests, such as trade, or a common antagonist, and so derive a set of diplomatic (bridging) conventions in the pursuit of this common goal, only to return to their respective kinds afterwards, or, as in the case of organizations such as NATO, continue to exist as a loose homeostatic group of groups itself. Bridging social capital is more likely to exist between sub-groups of a larger group where there are already many shared conventions–language, or values, for example–than where there are few or no shared conventions. But even here diversity would destroy bridging social capital if it prevents the adoption of common standards and conventions by which the groups can cooperate.

In conclusion, since social capital is possible within a culture to the extent that the coordination of stabilizing functions proceed Normally, and cultural diversity is possible in the sense of a diversity of cultures each maintained through the cultural homeostasis that is produced by bonding social capital, they are compatible as long as cultural homeostasis is allowed to persist and not disrupted by too frequent abNormal conditions. The promotion of diversity should not become mere neikophilia—love of breaking the bonds that bring a people together–for it is by these bonds that cultures can exist and persist, and that individuals can enjoy the benefits of cooperation that social capital bestows.


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