[I]t is worth noting…that strongly cohesive neighbourhoods could be in conflict with one another and contribute to a divided and fragmented city. Equally, a society in which citizens had a strong sense of place attachment and loyalty to their respective cities could be in conflict with any sense of common national purpose, or macro-cohesion. Thus, whether society is said to face a crisis of social cohesion depends upon what spatial scale one is examining and the relative strength of the countervailing forces operating at each scale. Equally importantly, the question presupposes that cohesion is everywhere virtuous and a positive attribute, which it may not always be.
Although conceding that there is no single way of defining it, Jensen (1998) identified five dimensions of social cohesion: (1) belonging versus isolation, (2) inclusion versus exclusion, (3) participation versus noninvolvement, (4) recognition versus rejection, and (5) legitimacy versus illegitimacy. Chan et al. (2006, p. 290) defined social cohesion as “a state of affairs concerning both the vertical and the horizontal interactions among members of society as characterized by a set of attitudes and norms that includes trust, sense of belongingness and the willingness to participate and help as well as their behavioral manifestations.” Differing levels of trust within and across groups may play a role in how social ties are formed and in how social cohesion can be fostered, but it can also lead to polarization. Political tolerance and willingness to compromise are other characteristics that affect the social cohesion of groups and populations.
Social capital is a term that has been used to portray many of the elements of civic engagement and social cohesion described above as well as others having to do with the connectedness of people to others. Although the research literature on social capital has produced numerous insights into the functioning of society, it has not produced a scholarly consensus about what the term includes.1 One of the early scholars to use the term “social capital” was Hanifan (1916, pp. 130-131), who wrote about social cohesion and personal investment in the community:
I do not refer to real estate, or to personal property or to cold cash, but rather to that in life which tends to make these tangible substances count for most in the daily lives of people, namely, goodwill, fellowship, mutual sympathy and social intercourse among a group of individuals and families who make up a social unit…If he may come into contact with
1In a review of 13 articles, Dasgupta and Serageldin (2001) found that 9 of them contained “extended discussion of what social capital means…authors recognize that if they are going to use the term, then they must define how they will use it” (cited in Sobel, 2002, p. 144).