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Social Capital in Crime, Corruption and Conflict



Social capital can prevent crime and violence

Crime and violence can impair social capital

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Suggested reading on Social Capital in Crime and Violence

Society pays a high cost for crime, violence, corruption and conflict. According to Moser and Holland (1997), in addition to costs to society’s health and economy, crime and violence have direct costs to social capital including:
  • disaffection and migration of the urban middle class;
  • reduced access to social services;
  • dysfunctional families; and
  • an overall climate of fear that replaces the spirit of cooperation and participation in community life.

In their recent work in Jamaica, Moser and Holland (1997) underscore the importance of the "violence-poverty-social institution nexus…the relationship between poverty and violence is mediated positively or negatively through social institutions, ranging from the family to informal local associations such as sports clubs and dance halls to formal organizations such as the church, schools, and police."

Social Capital Can Prevent Crime and Violence

Shared values and norms can reduce or keep low the level of community violence. People who have informal relations with their neighbors can look out for each other and ‘police’ their neighborhoods. In addition, inter-family social capital provides support networks for family members overwhelmed by such stressors as poverty and unemployment. This support can help to reduce drug abuse and domestic violence – potential roots to patterns of violent behavior.

Social Capital as a Short-Term Substitute for State Action

"Informal justice systems have developed within poor communities as a response to the lack of law and order." (Moser and Holland 1997)

  • In Dakar, Senegal, where people live in very close quarters with few locks or alarms, social capital is a crucial security system. It is not uncommon to witness a parading mass of cheering people who have apprehended a thief. In some cases they will beat him or her before turning the culprit over to the authorities.

Crime and Violence Can Impair Social Capital

"Gang war restricted mobility for social interaction. This in turn eroded space for community association. In Jamaica, dance halls, youth clubs and sports facilities no longer functioned because of the levels of violence." (Moser and Holland 1997)

This is doubly costly to society given that youth clubs are not only a place for young people to spend time but it is also a special opportunity for them to learn and practice social capital, reciprocity and shared values. In this case, violence and ebbing social cohesion spiral downward.

Social Capital, Violence and Infrastructure

According to Moser and Holland (1997), "violence can prevent the installation or maintenance of infrastructure, which in turn exacerbated crime and "war" and eroded community-level cohesion. Lack of infrastructure or its inadequate maintenance as a direct consequence of violence could indirectly increase fear and mistrust and reduce community space for association."

  • In Maka Walk, Jamaica, local gang members broke street lamps to facilitate robbing people at night. As a result, neighbors report that they do not go out as often at night which impacts their social relations (Moser and Holland 1997).

If telephones were more widely available – which they could be if government service people were not afraid to enter certain sections of Jamaican cities – then people could enhance their communication and their feeling of security through telephone connections to friends and authorities.

  • Telephone workers were stoned by youth while they were laying phone lines in Maya Walk; as a result, the telecommunications project was never completed. (Moser and Holland 1997)

Anti-Civic Social Capital can Impede Civic Social Capital

Community-based organizations which threaten the status quo of violence and crime are frequently forced out of operation by Mafia and gang leaders who are reaping the benefits of the current system.


Rubio (1997) discusses ‘perverse’ social capital as the trust and reciprocity among members in anti-social activities such as corruption and terrorism. He explains that perverse social capital breaks down efficiency within society, rather than enhancing it by stimulating rent-seeking activities (e.g. corruption) and criminal behaviors which furthermore contribute to the strengthening of organizations which perpetuate this situation.

  • Omestad (1997) refers to the corrupt practices of the government of Kenya as " a private income-generation apparatus for the ruling party." Addressing corruption is especially important in poverty reduction because like inflation, corruption hits poor people the hardest because they do not have the money to pay off authorities to get the services they need.


Conflict is the struggle over scarce resources arising over competing goals between two or more parties (Soley 1996). Conflict is not a problem in itself when it is properly managed, but when management fails violence can ensue. Institutional mechanisms for conflict management include rule of law, treaties, negotiations, voting and authority figures. These are many of the institutions which constitute the broadest level of social capital – the institutions which facilitate civic engagement, reduce transaction costs and minimize risks.

Ethnicity and religion are tools that nationalists can use to galvanize support for violent conflicts between groups, which frequently have little to do with religion and more to do with power (Powers 1996).

  • In the former Yugoslavia some nationalists use religion to form cohesiveness with their own groups and divisions between their group and other groups. Researchers have been led to believe that the motivation is nationalistic rather than religious because religious leaders of all three of the warring factions have spoken out against human rights abuses and in favor of religious and ethnic diversity (Powers 1996). Yet the fighting continues.

These types of campaigns can be devastating and inefficient for society as a whole but they offer increased power and other benefits for those who may win.

Social Capital Topics:
 Crime & violence Information technology
 Economics & trade Poverty and economic development
 Education Rural development
 Environment Urban development
 Finance Water supply & sanitation
 Health, nutrition & population 

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