IndexPart IPart II

Social Solidarity versus “Social Capital” [draft in progress]

III. Social Solidarity

The term “social capital” arises in the context of discussions of public policy in relation to poor neighbourhoods and regions. The very posing of this issue already incorporates a number of implicit assumptions.

Firstly, taking it as given that some problem of justice exists, it is still undetermined whether the problem is correctly understood as one of poverty, that is to say one of distribution, rather than a problem of politics, and which is cause and which effect.

Secondly, the posing of the issue as one of public policy slides over the question of whether the issue is properly the responsibility of public policy or that of the people of the neighbourhood itself, or some other subject, either singly or dialogically.

Thirdly, the designation of a geographical entity as the victim either presupposes that the people living there are the subjects of a claim as residents, or conversely objectifies a construct of public policy which may cut across existing relevant subjectivity.

Fourthly, if “social capital” is to be a solution, as we have seen, this leaves open which of 4 or 5 definitions of “social capital” ought to be the basis of public policy.

I am going to leave aside the issues involved in whole nations which suffer from poverty and underdevelopment, and concentrate for the moment on neighbourhoods and regions whose borders are indeterminate and whose citizens may have freedom of movement into and out of the relevant area. Whole countries, with defined borders and governments, pose the same range of problems, but in different form and emphasis.

It would be a mistake to adopt an “essentialist” attitude towards distressed neighbourhoods. That is to say, to presuppose that there is something inherent in a neighbourhood which makes the people in it poor and lacking in social solidarity.

A neighbourhood is made poor by some combination of social arrangements. In some cases poor people go there to live and leave when their position improves and they get the chance to live elsewhere (“neighbourhood sorting”); in other cases, cultural and political processes and events have consigned to economic stagnation a whole area of the country together with the people with their “roots” in the region (“place effects”).

In the former case, what may appear to be a “poor area” might more accurately be described in some ways as a temporary haven or “halfway house” for people who are poor, until such time as their situation improves. To the extent that this is the case, improving conditions in a poor area could actually have a negative impact on the people who use it (“gentrification”); they would have to find somewhere else where rents were low and short-term accommodation available.

But in either case, everyone needs to live in an area where there is trust; no problem can be solved unless people sharing the same patch of ground extend a basic degree of solidarity and trust to one another, including strangers. Even people who are only living in an area temporarily need hosts and rely on the self-determination of those who regard themselves as permanent residents.

With some qualification, it is possible to define the resolution of injustice affecting people living in a neighbourhood or region as the achievement of self-determination. The qualifications have to do with the fact that the concept of self-determination only makes sense if a group of people define themselves as “custodians” of the neighbourhood. Otherwise, people may commit themselves to other projects, not related to residency, which directly or indirectly contribute to resolution of injustices affecting people living in an area. The responsibility of those who want to do something to help is just that: to help. Only the efforts of groups of people defining themselves around projects which directly or indirectly contribute to the resolution of injustices affecting people living, working or passing through the area can build social solidarity.

I focus on the question of “injustice” rather than “poverty” or “need,” because neither the form of the injustice nor the nature of the remedy can be presumed.

Hiring people to do the job is not effective. Professionals hired to do a job can do the job perfectly well, but they cannot generate social solidarity as a by-product of the work that they do. But this does not prevent money and hired labour being put at the disposal of people who do what they are doing out of commitment.

This turns the usual relationship upside down; voluntary work is usually based on volunteers supporting full-time, paid organisers. I am not suggesting that public money should just be handed over to voluntary organisations, but simply to recognise the benefit that can flow from utilising opportunities to strengthen local initiatives, rather than attaching volunteers to a paid bureaucracy.

For example, areas with run-down, dilapidated infrastructure are always going to find it very difficult to overcome stigmatisation as a depressed area. The job of outside central authorities to redistribute funds, so that a poor area can have the same leafy streets and quality services as a wealthy area, requires bringing political pressure to bear; so does forcing road authorities to pay respect to the needs of residents and limiting pollution and noise from factories. The action of vocal NIMBY groups can contribute to overcoming poverty just as well as charity shops, and they help a neighbourhood become a “Thing.”

In short, the needs of people living in an area, not only in terms of survival, but in terms of overcoming the injustices affecting them because of where they live, ought not to be prejudged from outside. My thesis is that the principal need of a community is to attain self-determination, and a principal need of any individual is to be an active part of some collective(s) through which they can exercise their self-determination.

The conclusion from the review of “social capital” theories is that Jane Jacobs has identified the crucial entities that people living in a neighbourhood need, only that it is misnamed as “social capital.” She called it “self-government;” I will call it “self-determination.” This does mean “control over events of interest to others” (James Coleman’s concept), but while for Coleman the question of subjectivity is presupposed, for me subjectivity is the very heart of the question. It does mean that governments and others interested in development of an area need a much wider focus which includes the informal social networks relevant to an area as a central focus of strategy, but it also means straightforward issues of distribution. Insofar as “social capital” theories are a cover under which regions may be denied investment in infrastructure or local government resources at a level which other regions enjoy, then this is absolutely unacceptable.

Being born on the wrong side of the tracks is much like being born black, female or homosexual. In themselves, there’s nothing wrong with being black, female or homosexual, or all three, far from it, and nor is there anything wrong with being born in the Western suburbs of Sydney, Newcastle or Soweto.

The problem is two-fold. In the first place, it is the social structures which stigmatise such categories and assign them to roles on the bottom of the heap; in the second place, it is the political-economic structures which ensure that there is always someone the bottom of the heap.

As is well-known, the injustices which originate from the class structure of society and from the status order of society (gender division of labour, racial discrimination, despised sexualities) have proved extremely difficult and complex to resolve, even independently of their “mapping” onto the geographical domain. They have also been the subject of a vast literature of social theory, moral philosophy and political science, independently of any consideration of spatial differentiation of groups. And yet, the spatial differentiation of the same groups would not seem to pose problems of an entirely different order. It is certainly no easier to change one’s skin-colour or gender than to move house.

Let us briefly review some of the issues which have come out of debates outside of the domain of regional development, which are relevant to the issues of injustices exercised against people on the wrong side of the tracks.

Redistribution

Poverty by no means exhausts the nature of the lot of someone who, lacking the means of their own labour must sell their labour on the market, and thereby open themselves to exploitation. It is difficult to see how the working class could make any progress towards emancipation other than by combining together for the purpose of increasing wages and improving working conditions, even while remaining wage-workers.

Historically, the wages struggle has involved combining together people whose conditions of life place them in mutual competition with each other, who otherwise only combine under the direction of their employer. Nevertheless, a powerful workers movement developed in Europe and America in the nineteenth century and brought about a vast improvement in the conditions of life of the proletariat.

This success in redistribution began with “mutual aid” orchestrated by trade union activists and the First International. Its founding principle was “solidarity.” The efforts of workers to get better wages and conditions have never ceased to be met with cries that their claims were unfair and unsustainable, but this has of course turned out to be untrue.

It makes sense then, that just demands on the part of people living in a depressed region for money, infrastructure, industrial plant, environmental benefits and so on, ought to be taken seriously and acceded to. If 50 large businesses were moved from central Sydney to Newcastle, and if funding for Sydney roads and parks were diverted to improving the infrastructure in Newcastle, can anyone doubt that life in Newcastle would improve and that the rate of unemployment there would go down, despite all the problems of shortages of appropriate skills, etc., etc.?

Now the working class only achieved the gains that it did achieve by combining and above all by creating solidarity between otherwise atomised individuals. Any suggestion that Newcastle doesn’t need investment and infrastructure, but “social capital,” should be treated with contempt.

Thus, to rectify maldistribution, a neighbourhood must develop a social movement which is capable of bringing pressure to bear. Otherwise, attempts by agencies to correct maldistribution of resources will more likely be defeated by the efforts of those who benefit from the existing distribution of resources.

Recognition

Class-oppression does not exhaust the means by which people are subjected to poverty and other kinds of injustice. Women and Gays are found evenly across all social classes, and yet suffer injustice, economic insecurity and dependency, and are stigmatised and abused by reason of their gender or sexuality. It is the same with those who are born on the wrong side of the tracks.

Affirmative strategies have a place therefore: “celebrating femininity,” “gay pride,” or “black is beautiful” have their geographical counterparts in “Tidy Towns” across the world. However, it must be said that these strategies have some serious problems and as a strategy for regional development they are no less problematic. This kind of affirmative strategy is useful possibly for “consciousness raising,” for the initial gathering of people together, mutually affirming their pride in where they are, its inherent values, and building up the determination to do something about the injustices they face.

However, all sorts of measures aimed at improving a location can have negative effects if the underlying causes are not addressed. For example, all manner of “targeted welfare” crushes subjectivity and exacerbates stigmatisation, and since it does not address the underlying cause, creates a bottomless pit which only further stigmatises the recipients.

Further, measures to improve infrastructure and so on, any measures at all which improve an area, run the risk of simply driving out the former residents and, through a process of “gentrification,” handing it over to new people moving in. (“Slum clearance” would be the greatest disaster which could befall a poor community, robbing them of what little they did have.)

Thus, the issue is always the welfare of the people themselves, not their location. If people have the power to control their own lives, then they might choose to stay, improve the area they live in and build a community there, rather than move out.

Making an area somewhere to be proud of goes much further than improving infrastructure; it involves the struggle for recognition of the social groups living there.

Deconstruction

Let’s make a metaphor with the issue of women living in a location in the division of labour as unpaid child-carers; think of “women’s work” as a neighbourhood, and women as people living there, some by choice, some against their will. What options are available to women in this space?

One option is increased child benefits for stay-at-home mothers, thus making life better in the ghetto, a measure welcomed and immediately benefiting people stuck there. It also has the effect of marginally enhancing the status of child-carers, but it is hardly likely to enhance the attractiveness of being a stay-at-home parent sufficiently to encourage men to give up their paid work and become househusbands. It actually emphasises a woman’s role as unpaid child-carer, trapping her in that role, since it is a disincentive to going out to get paid work, stigmatises the mother as a welfare recipient and relieves the male of responsibility for contributing to the upbringing of his own children. This is the kind of affirmative strategy which has immediate appeal but fails to solve the problem, and correspond to all those kinds of public policy strategies that are based around providing services to “areas of special need.” Good and necessary up to a point, but unable to resolve the underlying problems.

Another strategy is to commercialise child-care, thus moving the job into the market and giving women the choice of doing the same work for a wage, or doing a different job while their own kids are cared for in a childcare centre. This is probably more effective in giving women a choice, but it runs into a couple of problems. So long as child-care is stigmatised as “women’s work,” then it remains low-paid and women move out of their homes into low-paid jobs doing “women’s work.” There is no way out of this trap until the gender division of labour is broken down. Once women are recognised capable of the same kind of work as men, then women can command wages equal to their male partners and make working for a wage worth putting the kids into child-care. Meanwhile, with child-care no longer stigmatised as “women’s work” she is more likely to be left a fair share of domestic duties and child-care centres are treated as seriously as other service. In other words, the “location” — “women’s work” — has to be deconstructed altogether, and “woman” no longer a socially constructed location.

What this corresponds to in the geographical analog, is that the boundaries of the neighbourhood have to be broken down. That is to say any kind of person might want to live there, and living there is always a matter of choice. The neighbourhood is dissociated from the kind of people who live there.

However, childrearing is an important social function. It ought not to be an occupation which is denigrated and no-one should be forced to go into the professional by reason of their gender, but whoever is there needs to do the job well. If women choose not to be child-raisers, then that has to be a matter of choice, not because they have to go out to work and “can’t afford children.” If we want the next generation to be raised well, then social arrangements have to be made to make it a worthwhile profession.

Likewise, dealing with the social problems in a poor area is a vital social task for the whole country. Some people live in a neighbourhood only because they can’t afford to live anywhere else. If improvements force people to move out, then everyone has a problem. Someone has to take on the role of custodians of the neighbourhood, and it has to be made a worthwhile and honourable profession worth sticking around for.

Now, just as I would question that commercialisation of child-care can ever provide the full range of things that children need, I also question whether paid social workers and security guards can provide everything that a neighbourhood needs. Like kids, streets need love, even if from amateurs. And it’s everyone’s problem.

Making “women’s work” everyone’s responsibility, means getting men to take on that work and that generally means a fight for those stuck with “women’s work” not so much to change themselves or get better recognition for what they do (these too) but to get other people to accept their responsibility.

Society at large is free-riding on the backs of people living in “poor neighbourhoods” who are bearing the brunt’s of society’s problems, problems arising from inequality, from social change, from immigration and even just raising the next generation of workers. A big part of what these people need to do is to spread the pain and get the wider community to start picking up their share of responsibility for these problems.

Subjectivity again

The contradiction is this. The working class and women had to constitute themselves as a subject for the purposes of abolishing themselves as social constructs. Both began as atomised sets of people Despite being as atomised as it is possible to be, women had to constitute themselves as a subject in order, eventually, to deconstruct gender as an ordering principle in society, beyond defending their special needs biologically tied to their feminine physiology. A complex task. Let us see how this pans out when translated back into turf.

In order to solve any of its problems, the people of a neighbourhood have to constitute themselves as a subject; their aim is above all though to deconstruct their borders, to reconstruct the neighbourhood in terms of what is essentially distinctive about it, give its current residents the option to live somewhere else if they want to, and make it attractive enough to make others want to move in, without making it too expensive for its present occupants to have to leave. On top of that, they have to bring together a group of people who like the area for what it really is and are prepared to put themselves out to defend its interests.

None of this can detract however from the warning that a construct of public policy is not necessarily a “neighbourhood,” and if by neighbourhood I mean a Thing (to use Jane Jacob’s expression), then there may be no such thing around at all. Social movements are not constituted objectively. Women suffered under patriarchy for thousands of years before the modern women’s movement appeared. A slum can remain a slum for many generations, and unless it has a stable population it is likely to remain a slum, because the people living there are only there because they don’t have any better option. The last thing they are going to do is identify themselves with a slum.

Consequently, any sign of the slightest tendency to take care of a neighbourhood or region or speak for it, or for someone to try to mark it with their own cultural symbols, needs to be paid attention to. Any pocket of stable population needs to be allowed to feel at home. For the rest, it is far better to deal with the poverty and give people a chance to move out.

Welfare, Rights and Solidarity

One of the issues to be resolved in developing policies to benefit regions and neighbourhoods afflicted by poverty and atomisation is the attitude to be taken towards the notion of ‘welfare’. Giving people something for nothing, it is said, creates a ‘culture of dependency’.

This is a neo-liberal myth. The problem is never dependency (something which never worries wealthy capitalists and self-funded retirees, who are utterly dependent on productive workers for their income), but of subordination.

Nevertheless, if your intention is not to subordinate someone (or a group of people), but to help them achieve self-determination, then the important distinction is the subjectivity supported by the act of giving aid.

The Neo-liberal myth is that making aid conditional upon the recipient working for it, ensures that the recipient will enjoy self-esteem as a result of “earning” the aid themself, and that because aid is thereby made conditional, undeserving people will not receive it until they knuckle down and fulfil the conditions, and thus avoiding the ‘culture of dependency’.

If this means providing jobs, then there is no argument from any quarter is there? However, if the work is meaningless, done by welfare recipients as a compulsory duty, then the recipient may be helping themself, but they are not contributing to society, and they do so not by their own will, but according to that of “donor.” Neo-liberal rhetoric about forcing people to contribute to the community before receiving aid, sounds great, but usually ignores what it is that is preventing the claimant from contributing. There can be no pretence of contractual reciprocity between a welfare claimant and the state, even if the claimant is a whole region. Neo-liberal ideology rests on psychologistic caricatures like the “dole bludger.” Where we are dealing with whole regions, then such constructions are obviously untenable. Regions are not poor because they are as selfish as neo-liberal theorists. They are made poor, and made powerless. The only point is that assistance needs to be given in a way that does not produce subordination, but strengthens the subjectivity of the recipient. This means that aid must be given in solidarity.

There are a whole range of problems which are born by individuals and groups, which are only born by those people by force of circumstances or a feeling of social responsibility: combating street crime, raising children, making up for deficits in provision of health and education facilities, or advocating for neighbourhood issues, for example. Anyone who takes on those problems should be given solidarity, not just as a volunteer helper, but as a professional, and above all, it should be ensured that they succeed.

In particular, if people demand infrastructure or other measures of “redistribution” for their place, then acceding to the request is not just “welfare,” but a measure which supports the subjectivity which made the claim. If the claim is just, it should be acceded to.

Development

It was pointed out above, that the focus on subjectivity points to a contradiction: a place which initially lacks subjectivity must be assisted in gaining it, so as take control of its own fate; but once having gained self-determination, the ultimate objective is to abolish itself as a “needy” place. This means that in the course of development quite different tasks must present themselves.

1. Gaining subjectivity

To start with, there is a place where a lot of people suffering injustice are concentrated. The “place” may be in great measure a construct of external processes, inclusive of “neighbourhood sorting” mechanisms which have made the place a haven for poor people, but one which also exacerbates the effects of poverty by compounding them with lack of access to helpful contacts, poor infrastructure, a bad reputation and all the negative effects of being surrounded by other poor people. It may also be the result of historical processes, such as the concentration of certain kinds of industry which has fostered a supporting demography, but when the industry declines, has left the area high and dry. Here, the former vitality of the area may leave behind a strong subjectivity, but one which is severely injured by the removal of its raison d'Ítre.

The task here is to identify, encourage and assist what elements of subjectivity exist, and it is likely that outside help will be needed. An element of “celebrating” the virtues of the place, reasons for being proud to belong to it, will be present in this stage — otherwise, why would people participate?

The next stage is the strengthening of this new subject, under conditions where individuals have to be encouraged to identify themselves with it. So, it is necessary for the new local subjectivity to assist individuals in solving problems. Only self-confident and competent individuals can manage the expression of neighbourhood subjectivity; they have to be found, strengthened and given good reason to lend their talent to resolving the neighbourhood’s problems. That is, they need solidarity; but in their relation to people facing difficulties, their relation may be more of a “welfare” role, since it is precisely the objective at this stage to strengthen the giving subject, i.e., the “local committee.” On the other hand, outside help needs to subordinate itself to this “local committee,” giving solidarity not welfare.

This phase of development of a neighbourhood is a self-related phase, and the objective is only that neighbourhood representatives can attain self-sufficiency; that is to say, to be able to do enough for the people in the area to justify their existence. Achieving stability of population is a target here.

2. Relation to Other

Once having justified its existence, and established reasons for being proud of who they are, a new subjectivity must turn to others to rectify injustice. This first stage will be to demand aid, redistribution of needed resources that they have hitherto been denied. The skills they will develop at this stage will be the skills of advocacy as much as anything, skills already developed at an individual and local level in the first stage, but now turned to external, large corporate bodies, to advocate on behalf of their area. Here pride in the area passes over to outrage at the injustices affecting the area.

This phase necessarily poses the effective utilisation of aid which is won. Managing new infrastructure and working in new jobs, develops new skills. Thus a new transformation of the subject must take place. To a certain extent this not only prepares people to work anywhere, it will also demand the importation of new skills. Thus mobility of population starts to become an objective.

3. Deconstruction

From promoting the special values of the place, the issue gradually becomes the possibility of any of its individuals being able to move into any other place where they can do even better, and the place becoming just like any other, that is to say, not in need of any “special” treatment, but able to offer the same range of things any area can offer. Having been successful in reconstructing themselves, a town will want to expand its borders and become a real player in a larger entity.

Conclusion

I have not here developed a theory for tackling poverty. What I have proposed is this: rather than being conceived of as a deficit in resources, poverty should be conceived of as a deficit in subjectivity, i.e., in collective self-consciousness. Rather than being conceived of as a problem of economics, poverty should be conceived of as a problem of politics.

Thus, instead of trying to extend economics into social policy by conceiving of the social relations in a group of people as an embryonic form of economic resource or wealth, we should rather extend the politics of social movements into economics by conceiving of the resources of a group of people as an embryonic form of social movement.

The body of theory for this task is relatively well-established. I contend though that the concepts set out in part one of this work is the most appropriate starting point for a social theory capable of informing the struggle to eliminate poverty.

A Postscript

That is my conclusion, but what do we make of (1) the body of empirical data showing that measurement of social capital a lŠ Robert Putnam is a predictor of the capacity of a group of people to overcome adversity? (2) If “building social capital” is an effective approach to helping a community overcome poverty and marginalisation, why does it not remain a valid approach to social policy? (3) Is it not possible that “social capital” could be inserted into a group of people in order to assist them in overcoming poverty, without such a group of people developing any collective self-consciousness? (4) Is not “social capital” already a sufficiently clear concept that it is better to refine the measurement of “social capital” rather than “changing horses in midstream,” so to speak, and adopting a new concept?

I would respond to these questions by asking the reader whether they would not accept from the outset that there is broad consensus that “social capital” is a problematic and unclear concept, and that so long as it is widely recognised that “social capital” is composed of both “good” and “bad” “social capital,” then any proposal for “building” it is on shaky ground.

If my thesis holds up, that the capacity of an arbitrary group of people to overcome adversity is dependent on their capacity to develop social solidarity, and ultimately a “collective self-consciousness,” then it clearly follows that this will be reflected in measurements of “social capital.” In the event of there being a multiplicity of such collectivities then no “collective self-consciousness” would result only because it existed in such abundance at a finer grain.

A major difference resulting from a change in conception is that my proposal immediately suggests practical approaches to rectifying the problem of poverty in any given instance. On the other hand, it seems fairly unclear exactly what is involved in “building social capital.”

In the case of the projects reported by Tony Vinson in his recent report “Community Adversity Resilience” the project workers seem to have gone about their task as if they were charged with building a social movement. That is, it appears more like they utilised a concept of “collective self-consciousness” to guide their work and not a concept of “social capital.”

A concept which tells us how to bring a thing into being is surely superior to a concept of a metaphysical entity underlying a set of measurements.

I understand a thing if I know how to bring it into being out of its conditions.

Postscript 2: Can measurement of “social capital” be improved then?

Given that Robert Putnam has a 92% correlation of his SQ index with the answer to “Can most people be trusted?” it is difficult to see how the measurement of what he is measuring could be improved. But is “sociability” the best gauge of the capacity of an arbitrary population to take control of its own destiny?

The current OECD recommendation for definition of “social capital” is “networks, together with shared norms, values and understandings which facilitate cooperation within or among groups.” The question is whether we can recommend a further determination of this definition to facilitate measurement of the capacity of a group of people to form the kinds of subjectivity which can deal with social change threatening their economic viability as a group.

There are two halves to this definition: “networks, shared norms, values and understandings” which may or may not facilitate the second half of the definition, “cooperation within or among groups.”

I think the important thing to recognise is that “shared norms, values and understandings” are phenomena which are less and less likely to be found across groups other than homogeneous ethnic groups in modern, urban societies. This means two things.

Firstly, if the OECD definition reflects empirical experience, that the existence of these entities facilitates an effective response to change, then practical intervention should be focussed on those groupings where such “shared norms, values and understandings” exist, i.e., in various communities of value.

Secondly however, it means that we must increasingly look towards those social relations which facilitate cooperation within or among groups which use networks, but do not depend on the existence of “shared norms, values and understandings.” This issue was one of the focuses of my book For Ethical Politics.

Concretely, this is a question which needs to be tackled with empirical research. However, there are two kinds of social behaviour that I would look to. In the first place, there are measures of compliance with norms of reciprocity in interactions in the kind of “thin ethos” characteristic of modernity. For example, frequency of non-compliance with road laws, tax evasion, vandalism, and so forth.

In the second place, I would look to measures which one would expect to illicit a positive response from only a small fraction of a population, that crucial minority that will actually set up the first “local committee,” and I would deliberatively measure to determine the existence of that small minority.

The difficulty with determining the existence of such a group is that it is not only necessary that they should be prepared to take an organising initiative, but that the same people are trusted by others in the population. If there are 50 activists in a neighbourhood, but all of them are despised by everyone else, then this is nothing to be welcomed. Consequently, I think the number of people within the population who have been elected to office of some kind should be considered as an important datum.

A further point. “Shared norms, values and understandings” may exist within communities of value, (the so-called “thick ethos” characteristic of religious communities, employees of the same company, and so on) but such an ethos is well-known to have the potential to prove a barrier to combining with other communities of value. This is the problem of the need for a “balance” between “bridging” and “bonding” “social capital,” that is, the degree to which a community is marked by boundaries of difference within itself. A community which is divided between two traditionally hostile religious groupings may or may not prove resilient, but this will depend in some measure on how the leaderships of the two communities are prepared to work together and the extent to which the behaviour of the shepherds may guide that of their flock. I would say impossible to determine by “objective” measurement, but resolvable only by subjective intervention.

Further. A group which is not internally divided, but has sharp boundaries around itself it likely to face challenges in overcoming its isolation from the outside world which it has to “lobby.” This involves the problem of the so-called “radius of association.”

It seems to me that the idea of summing a number of factors into a quantity, all parts of which contribute equally to a total “social capital” is not sustainable. There is no reason to go this way. It is better to measure separate factors and not attempt to sum them, even if this undermines the production of neat tables of data. Information is for using, and information about the specific characteristics of an area is more useful than a “score.”

Membership of “thick” ethnic or religious groups tells us a lot in terms of the best methods of approach to assisting a community overcome challenges, and suggests definite practical steps. It should not be “added” to, for example, compliance with traffic laws or participation in national political life.

Having visited the home of a stranger in another city within the past 12 months, for example, would give a measure of radius of association. A measure of “radius of association” gives specific practical information about challenges facing a community and should not be added to frequency of church attendance, for example.

Broadly speaking I think it would be far more useful to have a series of data like this about an area in need of assistance than a total score.