Crisis as a Source of Social Capital

Adaptation and Formation of Social Capital during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Originally published in Cosmos and Taxis

In Democracy in America, Tocqueville famously discussed the propensity of Americans to form voluntary associations and engage in self-governance to overcome collective challenges. The “science of association” has proven to be important, especially when communities are confronted with crises like natural disasters. Not surprisingly, the scholarship on community responses to crises has tended to emphasize how community members deploy their social capital to respond effectively to crises. This literature, however, has not yet emphasized the potential of crises to be a “source” of social capital. After a crisis, community members do not only tap their existing networks for aid but also deepen existing relationships and develop new connections. Moreover, they adapt existing associations to serve new functions and form new associations to meet collective needs. They also reinforce or reinterpret collective narratives that help overcome collective action problems. Using data from the COVID-19 crisis, this paper explores how a crisis can be a “source” of social capital.

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