What is Coleman’s Social Capital the Name of? A Critique of a Not Very Social Capital

Anwar Tlili, Mohamed Obsiye

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


Coleman’s concept of social capital has acquired an eminent place within various regions of the current sociological imagination as well as policy discourses. Yet, it is, as this paper argues, founded on some very questionable premises, and made up of components that do not hang together in a coherent and productive way and that, more importantly, work to displace and obscure structures of power, inequality and discrimination. This paper starts by attempting a reconstruction and assessment of the problem – theoretical and empirical – that Coleman’s social capital sought to respond to. Then we critically examines the sociological thrust of social capital to show how Coleman’s formulation of the concept is caught up in some irreconcilable tensions, some conceptual blurriness and silences around structures of inequality and the ways in which these structures casually mediate many aspects of what Coleman gathers under the name of social capital. We also argue that social capital betrays some idyllic vision of a harmonious, organically integrated communal life, and seeks to re-inscribe a mix of communitarian, culturalist and familial axioms within a normative vision for suburban milieus where social capital features as a marker of territory. On the other hand, it will be argued that the concept of social capital is stuck in a number of logical problems, to do mainly with its causality and normativity, which carries some significant ideological implications that will be unpacked.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-24
Number of pages24
JournalCritical Sociology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2013


  • Social Capital, Coleman, Relations, Inequality, Power, Normativity, Functionalism, Suburban Territory


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