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Jackman and Miller: Social capital and politics

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Jackman and Miller. 1998. Social capital and politics. Annual Review of Political Science 1: 75-93.

In Brief

"This review evaluates the most recent studies of social capital in political science and argues that they have strayed considerably from the original treatment of social capital, which casts it as endogenous. Recent treatments have recast social capital as a feature of political culture and thereby treat values as exogenous. These two approaches emanate from incompatible premises and have fundamentally different implications. Thus, efforts to combine the two approaches are rendered unproductive by inevitable inconsistencies of internal logic. Moreover, empirical tests of the exogenous social capital approach are deficient: They are selective in their use of data and employ ad hoc procedures at crucial junctures. We therefore urge a return to the treatment of social capital as endogenous."

The authors presnet a damning indictment of Putnam, Fukuyama, Inglehart, and others. Social capital is best viewed endogenously (a result of existing institutions, like in the "law merchant" article and others) rather than exogenously (as a product of political culture, as Putnam and Inglehart view it). Social capital is not so much a feature of culture (and thus exogenous and stable) so much as it is created by conditions and institutions (and thus endogenous). Putnam's studies and other studies in the political culture study of social capital are plagued by serious methodological flaws that Jackman and Miller outline carefully.

Jackman and Miller leave one question unanswered, however: what explains the variations in governmental performance in Italy's regions if they all had similar institutions? Perhaps they have an answer, but they could have strengthened their paper if they had sought to replace Putnam's explanation rather than just destroy it.