Social rights and social capital: Welfare and co-operation in complex global society

Roger Patulny, University of New South Wales


Social rights are important and popular, but the socially inclusive activities they mandate carry a financial cost. They are thus supported by welfare, and undermined by threats such as commodification, stratification and familialisation identified by Gøsta Esping Andersen. Welfare should thus support social interaction, and with it social capital. I examine the theoretical relationship between welfare and social rights via the study of social capital. Social capital is a useful but contested concept, with ongoing confusion over indicators and (negative) outcomes. However, I argue that the bonding/bridging distinction offers a good way past these problems. Bonding and bridging incorporate two types of networks and two types of trust. Bonding is more exclusive and based upon rational familiarity, while bridging is more inclusive and based upon norms of civility. I suggest that norms of trust inherent to bridging social capital are supported by universal welfare regimes, whilst rational familiarity-based trust inherent to bonding social capital must play substitute when welfare regimes encourage individual and familial reliance instead. I argue that a shift from bridging to bonding and a loss in social rights is taking place, as welfare is rendered more punitive, stigmatised, and individualised within liberal welfare countries like Australia.

Roger Patulny <> is a Research Scholar at the Social Policy Research Centre. He is currently completing his PhD thesis on the subject of examining social capital, time and welfare regimes.

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