200886 Social capital and complexity theory: The language and science of collaboration

Wednesday, November 11, 2009: 1:30 PM

Elizabeth D. Carlson, RN, PhD, MPH , Mennonite College of Nursing, Illinois State University, Normal, IL
Background: Social capital, as a research variable, has gained international popularity in public health and health disparities research. However, missing from the research is the ethnographic investigation of social interactions to refine the conceptual domains, attributes, and variables. This type of refinement would create a theoretical framework for hypothesis testing and intervention design. Therefore, the purpose of the research trajectory was to develop a more complete understanding of social capital for research purposes and practice application.

Methods: The Hybrid Model of Concept Development provided the methodological framework for the study. Participatory observation and theoretical sampling examined the facilitating or constraining influences on mutually beneficial collective action in 3 neighborhood settings.

Results: At the final level of abstraction, complexity theory provided a useful interpretive lens and a language for understanding each element in the theory. For example, understanding groups as complex adaptive systems provided an explicit distinction between the structural and cognitive domains; while trust was distinguished as the attractor in the behavioral field, the point through which all relationship trajectories eventually travel. Further, the interpretive lens resulted in a definition of social capital as an emergent cultural phenomenon. More importantly, at this level, the theory provides an explanatory framework for understanding why bifurcations in the cognitive domain significantly altered the probabilities of successful collaboration.

Conclusions: We believe the value of this theory lies in its practice and research potential to evaluate initial conditions, invest resources to address issues of trust, and self-monitor relationships to maintain successful partnerships.

Learning Objectives:
Discuss the relevance of the social capital and complexity theory for one's own practice or research.

Keywords: Community-Based Partnership, Community Capacity

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: This work was produced during my predoctoral and postdoctoral research fellowships.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.