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Farr, J. (2004). Social Capital. A Conceptual History


Taking its departure from current debates over social capital, this article presents new textual findings in a backward-revealing conceptual history. In particular, it analyzes the texts and contexts of Lyda J. Hanifan who was rediscovered by Robert Putnam as having (allegedly first) used the term; it offers discoveries of earlier uses of the term and concept—most notably by John Dewey—thereby introducing critical pragmatism as another tradition of social capital; and it recovers features of the critique of political economy in the nineteenth century—from Bellamy to Marshall to Sidgwick to Marx—that assessed “capital from the social point of view, ” especially cooperative associations. While it ends with Marx’s use of “social capital, ” Dewey is its central figure. The article concludes by returning to the present and offering work, sympathy, civic education, and a critical stance as emergent themes from this conceptual history that might enrich current debates.

Related readings

Fine, B. (2007). Eleven Hypotheses on the Conceptual History of Social Capital. A Response to James Farr. Political Theory 35 (1), 47-53.

Farr, J. (2007). In Search of Social Capital. A Reply to Ben Fine. Political Theory 35 (1), 54-61.


Farr, James

James Farr teaches political theory and the history of political thought with special emphasis on early modern and American political thought, democratic theory and citizen education, and the history and philosophy of social science. He conducts research in these areas, as well, having published...

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