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Introducing the Paradigm of Societal Human Capabilities

Here, we define societal human capabilities ('capital') as the sum of 'individual human capabilities' or 'individual human capital' (i.e., physical and mental health, skills, knowledge, habits, personal traits, etc.), 'social capabilities' or 'social capital' (i.e., social skills, social support, political skills, and participation, etc.), and 'cultural capabilities' or 'cultural capital' (i.e., knowledge/skills/experience in sports, arts, and other cultural activities) (Table 10.2).

By and large, individual human capabilities comprise resources and capabilities that are associated with and generated by choices made and actions set by social individuals. Individual human capabilities include a person's physical and mental health, formal and informal education, general and professional knowledge, professional and technological skills and training, language skills, learning ability, creativity, adaptability, personal motivation, and other positive personal traits.

Social capabilities and cultural capabilities both represent societal factors that cannot influence or, in general, are not influenced by the immediate sphere of influence of each social individual alone – that is, by choices made and actions set by these social individuals:
Unlike human capabilities, social capabilities and cultural capabilities do not belong to or inhere in or reside in any one individual. Rather, they are part of a family, a clan, a network, a neighborhood, a community, a country. They are more public than private, more social than individual, at times more elusive than concrete for they exist and are sustained only in the relations among individuals. (Goldin and Katz, 1998: 28)

Social capabilities mainly refer to resources embedded in social networks accessed and used by actors for actions, plus the resources that are needed to access these resources (Lin, 2002: 25). It includes all sorts of political capabilities/capital, network capital, relationship capital, participation capital, trust relationships, social obligations, and social expectations (Landry et al., 2001; Gabbay, 1997).

Cultural capabilities are made up of a number of societal elements, such as traditions and customs; religious beliefs and moral codes; the culture to live a healthy life (cultural preferences regarding eating, drinking, exercise, and work); culture to study; a culture of seeking high work productivity or enduring long working hours; culture to take up entrepreneurial initiatives and risks; culture of social solidarity, cooperation, and mutual aid; culture that is rich in multicultural understanding; openness to new ideas and the outside world; and so forth.

Table 10.2 Three Elements of Societal Human Capabilities ('Societal Human Capital')

Individual Human Capabilities ('individual human capital')

Social Capabilities ('social capital')

Cultural Capabilities ('cultural capital')

• a person's physical health

• a person's mental health

• a person's spiritual health

• education

• general and professional


• technological skills

• professional skills and


• language skills

• creativity

• learning ability

• adaptability, motivation

• other positive personal traits


• integration into family and


• family and community


• frequency and quality of interpersonal contact and communication

• number of friends, strength

of personal relationships

• communication skills

• social skills, etc.

• traditions

• customs

• habits

• moral code

• filial piety

• religious believes

• arts

• culture to live a healthy life

• culture to study

• culture to save money

• industriousness

• entrepreneurial drive

• culture of solidarity

cooperation, and mutual aid

• multi-cultural understanding

• openness of society and

community, etc.

Note: See Aspalter (2004, 2007a–c, 2010), Bourdieu and Passeron (1970), Bourdieu (1973, 1983, 1984, 1986, 1997, 2002), Bourdieu and Johnson (1993); for human capital/ capabilities see England and Folbre (1997), OECD (1998a), Caputo (2002); for social capital/capabilities see Putnam (1993, 1995, 2000, 2001), Beverly and Sherraden (1997),

OECD (1998b), Collier (1998), Montgomery (2000), Mondal (2000), Landry et al. (2001);

Veenstra (2001), Woolcock (2001); Kumlin and Rothstein (2003), Chan et al. (2004), and

for cultural capital/capabilities see Greene (2001) and Georg (2004).

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