Reconsidering the Effects of Bonding Social Capital:
A Closer Look at Black Civil Society Institutions in
Brian D. Mc Kenzie
Published online: 7 July 2007
Ó Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2007
Abstract Few studies consider how Putnam’s bridging and bonding social capital
arguments apply to voluntary associations within American minority group com-
munities. Consequently, I examine African-American civic groups to explore Put-
nam’s claims about the potential negative political effects of bonding social capital.
In contrast to the bonding social capital thesis, I argue that black communal asso-
ciations encourage African-Americans to be involved in a variety of mainstream
civic and political activities that reach beyond their own group interests. Using the
1993–1994 National Black Politics Study I demonstrate that although black orga-
nizations are predominantly composed of African-Americans and work to advance
their interests, these goals are not pursued at the expense of connecting blacks to
others in the general polity.
Keywords Bonding social capital Á Civil society Á Black political behavior
In the last 10 years or so numerous scholars have written about the importance of
social capital. Within the political science community, Robert Putnam (1993, 1995,
2000) is credited for popularizing the use of social capital models to explain trends
in American civic and political life.
According to Putnam (2000, 19), ‘‘social
capital refers to connections among individuals-social networks and the norms of
reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them.’’ Recently, debates about the
B. D. Mc Kenzie (&)
Department of Political Science, Texas A&M University, 2010 Allen Building, 4348 TAMU,
College Station, TX 77843-4348, USA
Putnam (2000, 19–20) notes a number of scholars are credited for developing this concept. In
particular, Coleman (1988, S98) maintains, ‘‘Social capital inheres in the structure of relations between
actors.’’ His work examines interactions among individuals in various social settings to understand how
individuals work together, exchange information and adhere to group norms.
Polit Behav (2008) 30:25–45