1. Social capital, at its core, is about turning social connections into money. A classic example is someone going to Harvard and making the connections there to get jobs after graduation, or find funding for your business, etc. Wikipedia says L.J. Hanifan was the person who coined this term.
2. This kind of social capital continues to exist, and this kind of old boys club rich white dude getting jobs and $ from daddy (or uncle) is the most problematic type of social capital. However, there are also ways that social capital can affect the ways we interact in less privileged milieus, which I will broadly call the “left internet,” for lack of a better term. In my life this tends to look like fat, femme, queer, and disability “communities.”
3. Social capital, like many other kinds of privileges, is easier to attain if you already have other privileges, especially if you are white, have class privilege, are traditionally attractive, etc. And like other privileges, us white folks will also be able to leverage our social capital in ways that People of Color and other marginalized folks won’t be able to.
4. Social capital is similar to, but distinct from, popularity. While popularity is – like social capital – about people knowing who you are, social capital is about being able to transform that knowledge into action, such as attending your event, donating to your gofundme, twitter followers, or clicking on your article (ahem…).
5. Social capital in marginalized communities can actually be awesome because it allows some of us (keyword “some”) to get resources that we otherwise wouldn’t be able to get. I want to be very clear that there is absolutely nothing wrong with (for example) a queer person reaching their goal on a gofundme. The problem is that a lot of folks still don’t have their basic healthcare needs met and may not be able to get the crowdfunding to get their medical needs met in our abysmal U.S. health system.
6. I don’t know whether it is just because I am usually too sick to leave the house, or the popularity of the internet, or a little bit of both, but social media has transformed the way that social capital works in my “communities.” I know I’m not the only one that may be scared to critique a problematic thing that someone with a shit ton of “followers” has done because we know that there will inevitably be a pile on, whether what we said is legitimate or not. I know that I am called out less than I should be the more public my work becomes.
7. I know that by the mere fact of being able to put these words in front of more eyes by getting whatever website publishes it to publish it gives me greater social capital. I know that if my life depended on it I would be able to get more crowdfunding than I would have been able to a couple years ago (though other privileged aspects of my life, including my whiteness, have so far insulated me from having this need.) Though I know admitting to having social capital feels a lot like admitting to being traditionally attractive and it just sets people up to tell you how unlikeable and ugly you are. (Maybe those are just my fears?) It also is legitimately difficult to gauge one’s own level of social capital.
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8. If you post a crowdfunding ask and you have no followers to share it, does it make a sound? (I keep focusing on crowdfunding because it is relatively immediate and visible – these dynamics are at play in lots of ways though.)
9. Social capital doesn’t necessarily involve money, it can also look like care and attention. Or even just the ability to have your message travel further. It can mean that every project you do is able to be more and more successful because you have built in ways to get the word out. A huge way that social capital works is more opportunities for both sexual and non-sexual relationships.
10. What we are able to give each other is peanuts compared to what capitalism takes away from us and puts in the hands of the people at the top, so I want to say again that this is not about it being shitty that some of us have work that people connect to or have lots of friends who are willing (and able) to help us when we need it.
11. What I want us to think about is how social capital affects our relationships with each other. I want us to think about what work do we value and what work do we undervalue? We can never overvalue each other, but I do fear that we undervalue people who do less public work like caretaking and emotional work.
12. What I’m asking is that we are thoughtful about valuing those of us whose work isn’t the kind that connects with a lot of people at once, like music or art or writing. Many people acquire social capital through hard work and talent and I also don’t want to take anything away from them, because that’s fucking awesome. But I also encourage us to try to shift some of our focus to people who have only had a few shares of their fundraiser in the last week, and to give a second thought to supporting folks who may have less of a public profile and helping to do our best to make sure their/our monetary and non-material needs are met as well.
[Feature Image: A photo of a person standing outside. They have long dark hair and they are laughing with their mouth open and their eyes closed and their head tossed back. Source: Isabel Salas]