In the past two decades, social capital in its various forms and contexts has emerged as one of the most salient concepts in social sciences. While much excitement has been generated, divergent views, perspectives, and expectations have also raised the serious question: is it fad or does it have enduring qualities that will herald a new intellectual enterprise? The purpose of this chapter is to review social capital as discussed in the literature, identify controversies and debates, consider some critical issues, and propose conceptual and research strategies for building a theory.
Browse by title
Nan Lin and Yanjie Bian
This article argues that structural segmentation is a universal phenomenon in all complex societies and across political economies. Each political economy uses specific criteria in delineating segments of its economic and work organizations. Furthermore, it is argued that segmentation identification constitutes a critical destination status for individuals engaged in the status-attainment process.
Edited by Ronald S. Burt, Yanjie Bian, Lijun Song and Nan Lin
There are moments in the order of things during which scholarly thinking takes a turn. What was a productive way of looking at things is put aside in transition to something new. The transition is occasionally based on solid evidence, sometimes an escape from boredom, perhaps too often it is a group of scholars hoping to find identity by institutionalizing new words. Whatever the reason for it, the transition puts a spotlight on individual character. The conservative hangs onto the old, peeled away eventually at death’s door. The faddish jumps on the new, nervously eyeing the horizon for the next something new. Thankfully there are also people - in some circles known as entrepreneurs, or creatives, or network brokers - for whom transition is an opportunity to mix bits of the old and new to better understand the world.
After I successfully defended my dissertation, my committee members congratulated me. One of them said, “Nan, you should feel good. This is probably the high point of your knowledge!” I was shocked because I was impatient to finish the dissertation so that I could move on to a number of projects. I felt that there was so much more to be learned, and I was eager to learn it. His remarks taught me a great lesson: while respecting and learning from senior scholars and authorities, never accept their wisdom in their entirety. For the next five decades I followed this lesson and continued to benefit from it. In this reminiscent chapter, I recount some of the highlights of my lifelong learning and share this pleasure with the readers.
Ronald S. Burt
Nan Lin’s work on social capital is a significant, unique contribution. My purpose here is to explain that statement by looking at the work in historical context. Figure 2.1 is an index for much of the story to be told. The horizontal axis is time, beginning in 1975 when Nan Lin was at the State University of New York at Albany (now the University of Albany), through his 1990 move to Duke University, and on to 2010.
A social network is a structure of social relationships linking actors, directly and indirectly (Lin et al. 1981b, 1981c; Mitchell 1969). Among various levels of complex social structures, social networks serve as a crucial mediating layer (Bian 1997; Burt 1992; Cook and Whitmeyer 1992; Lin 1990, 2001a; Song 2013b; Song and Pettis 2018). Traced back to the classic sociological work by Durkheim, Simmel, and Tönnies, the social network perspective has empowered researchers to identify various network properties and theorize and analyze their causes and consequences for thirteen decades. Among other network-based factors, the concept of social support has been given voluminous research attention especially for its diverse roles for health for more than four decades (for reviews see Barrera 2000; Berkman et al. 2000; Song et al. 2011; Thoits 2011; Turner and Brown 2010; Turner and Turner 2013; Uchino 2009; Umberson and Montez 2010). It has been claimed to be one possible fundamental social determinant of health (Link and Phelan 1995).
The sociological imagination we all have learned from C. Wright Mills (1959) situates an individual biography in the historical process of a larger social context. In this chapter, I describe the post-1978 history in which sociology in China came to its rebirth and sociological research of Chinese society rose to global significance. Within this changing, larger social context, I offer a close observation on Nan Lin’s timely and unique contributions to the reestablishment of Chinese sociology and the sociology of reform-era China. On his research contributions, I pay special attention to Chinese social stratification and Chinese social networks, the two areas of research in which Lin’s creative scholarship has had the greatest impact.
Nan Lin and Wen Xie
This paper reports ratings of occupational prestige by urban residents in Beijing, China. Using a representative sample (N = 1,632) of adults aged 20-64 and a selected group of 50 occupations, we found that their rankings are remarkably consistent with those found in other countries. Within the general patterns of rankings, however, specific differences are found, and these reflect not only the specific skills required and resources valued at a particular historical moment in development but also the social effects of recent political events.
Edited by Ronald S. Burt, Yanjie Bian, Lijun Song and Nan Lin
Nan Lin, Walter M. Ensel and John C. Vaughn
For a class of social actions such as seeking a job, the socioeconomic standings of the contact (social resources) an individual uses will probably be very important in achieving a desired result. Drawing upon data from a sample of working males aged 21-64 in the metropolitan area of Albany-Troy-Schenactady, New York, we found that the job seeker's personal resources (initially his family background, but more importantly later his educational and occupational achievements) as well as his use of weak ties affect his ability to reach a contact of high status. The contact's job status, in turn, has a strong and direct effect on the prestige of the attained job. As job experience increases, a person relies more on constructed rather than ascribed relations and the strong tie between his contact and the hiring firm becomes increasingly important.