Advances in Applied Sociology
2012. Vol.2, No.2, 143-148
Published Online June 2012 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s .
Social Capital as Dehumanizing Terminology
Robert J. Taormina, Angus C. H. Kuok, Wei Wei
Psychology Department, Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities,
University of Macau, Macau (SAR), China
Received March 26th, 2012; revised Apr i l 2 5th, 2012; accepted May 9th, 2012
This paper argues that the term “social capital” is an inappropriate terminology that is unsuited for theory
or scientific empirical research. The arguments challenge the metaphor and definition by revealing the
phrase to be dehumanizing, oxymoronic, anachronistic, and demeaning, which makes it incorrect, and
even immoral, for proper use. It is also argued that the term is 1984-ish vis-à-vis Doublethink and New-
speak. It is recommended that the metaphors for “social capital” and its related term, “human capital,”
should be dropped from use. It is further recommended, for the purpose of increased clarity for theory
building and for empirical research, and to avoid using dehumanizing terminology, that it is more appro-
priate to retain the term “social networking” as the general name for the process; such that, when at-
tempting to measure related social networking concepts, researchers should specify operationally defined
variable names that are more suited to proper scientific measurement of the research domains. For exam-
ple, if “friends” are studied as helpers in a social network, that term may be used as a variable name, but
under no circumstances should one’s friends, or other people, be referred to or regarded as “capital.”
Keywords: Social Capital; Terminology; Dehumanizing; Critique; Oxymoron; Anachronism
Social Capital as Dehumanizing Terminology
An analysis of the term “social capital” reveals it to be con-
ceptually inappropriate, which makes it problematic for both
theory building and research. To permit meaningful empirical
testing, as Marx and Hillix (1973) explained, theories should
follow certain rules that allow them to be tested and verified.
One rule is that theories require an explication of their terms
(i.e., they need to be operationalized) in order to have clear and
meaningful definitions to make it possible to measure them.
The need for clear, measurable terms is necessary for the next
aspect of theory testing, i.e., to examine hypothesized (theo-
rized) relationships among the variables that are relevant to the
theory. Marx and Hillix (1973) explained that terms can be
“primitive” (e.g., can be pointed to) or defined via semantic
relationships (e.g., in pure theory). Unfortunately, the term
“social capital” has had problems with its operationalization
(see Thompson, 2009). The term also has inherent contradic-
tions, which make it vague and ambiguous, such that the phrase
“social capital” should be avoided, and should be replaced with
more accurate terminology.
The term “social capital,” as originally conceived, referred to
social networking (interaction) among individuals and families,
namely, for good will, fellowship, and sympathy among people
(Hanifan, 1916); but the inclusion of the term “capital” to refer
to this has led to serious problems with the concept. Therefore,
it must be stated at the outset that no objections are being made
to the idea that the practice of social networking could provide
considerable benefits to the people and/or groups that engage in
those activities. What is objectionable is the term “social capi-
tal” itself, which has inherent conceptual problems; and also
objectionable is how this term is being misused in the literature.
Previous authors have pointed out difficulties with the term
“social capital.” Recently, for example, Thompson (2009) iden-
tified problems with the term, particularly the difficulty with
using the phrase as a metaphor for seeking social cooperation,
which contradicts the usual connotation of capital, which, in
turn, relates to competitiveness. She demonstrates this by citing
Coleman’s (1988) explanation of “social capital,” and pointing
out that his use of the term is “undoubtedly an exploitative view
of human relationships ” (Thompson, 2009: p. 149). While Thomp-
son’s argument is accurate and well elaborated, there are further
problems, such that some additional difficulties with the term
need to be elucidated. This will be done in this paper by identi-
fying its source by means of a brief history of the term, show-
ing how the two-word phrase is an oxymoron, by demonstrat-
ing that the term is anachronistic (and politically) incorrect, and,
thereby, explaining why it is not appropriate for writers to con-
tinue using the term.
A Brief History of the Term “Social Capital”
Although the actual origin and use of the phrase “social capi-
tal” might never be uncovered, its first printed appearance was
by L. J. Hanifan (1916). Interestingly, even Hanifan was con-
cerned about misunderstanding of the phrase because he ex-
plained that he was not using the term in a materialistic sense
(e.g., of real estate, property, or cash), but, rather, was referring
to fellowship and social interaction used by individuals, fami-
lies, and groups, with the objectives of obtaining help for the
individual and of building goodwill to improve living condi-
tions for everyone in the community. This, which is what Hani-
fan intended, is a laudable and perfectly supportable idea, but
Hanifan’s need to warn his readers about the term makes it
clear that, from the very beginning of the use of this term, the
phrase has been (and remains) problematic.
The problem with placing the word “capital” in this phrase
may be understood by tracing it back to the social philosopher
and political economist, Ada m Smith (1723-179 0), whose (1776)
book, The Wealth of Nations (An Inquiry into the Nature and
Causes of the Wealth of Nations), identified major categories of
wealth, particularly, land, labor, and capital. All of these types
of wealth take various forms. Land, for example, can be farm
land used for any kind of agriculture, which, in turn, can
produce wealth. Labor, according to Smith, is the effort that
one makes to produce something that other people want and,
thus, can be sold, which also produces wealth. The term “capi-
tal” referred to personal property and money, both of which
also take various forms. While money can be in cash or stocks,
it is capital as personal property that particularly raises
problems with the use of the term “social capital.”
Personal property is usually (today) conceived as any material
thing that one owns or possesses, such as clothes, automobiles,
computers, etc. But in the 1700s, the time Adam Smith was
writing, slaves were considered the personal property of the
individual who owned those human beings that were held as
slaves. This was because slavery had always existed in human
history, and for centuries, particularly from the 16th to the 19th
Centuries, the trade in slaves between Africa and North and
South America was a very profitable business (see, e.g., An-
drews & Fenton 2001). The slave traders made a great deal of
money by capturing and kidnapping people, transporting them
to distant locations where they could be sold, and selling them
to wealthy individuals such as land owners; and the land
owners who bought the slaves then had relatively free labor
(apart from the expense of feeding the slaves) to work their
lands for the production of agricultural products that were sold
for profit. The more slaves an individual owned the more land
that could be worked, and the more profit that could be made.
Hence, the more slaves one possessed, the wealthier that person
was considered to be.
Thus, since “capital” refers to objects that are merely forms
of materialistic wealth, it is certain that Hanifan (1916) was, as
he said, using the term “social capital” in a figurative sense, i.e.,
metaphorically only (namely, as a linguistic device to stress the
ideas presented in his thesis). Unfortunately, the term he intro-
duced has been used indiscriminately by subsequent writers,
and, sadly, is increasingly being used by today’s writers as if
the two terms represent no contradiction in ideas. The brief
history given above, however, clearly indicates that the joining
of the two terms, i.e., of “social” and “capital,” has been proble-
matic since its inception. Hence, the term is actually an oxy-
moron (an idea that is explained in a later section of this paper).
Problems with, and Previous Critiques on, the
Use of the Term “Social Capital”
Beginning with Hanifan’s (1916) introduction of the phrase
“social capital” into the literature, which initiated conceptual
and theoretical problems with the term, there have been addi-
tional problems that have taken various forms. The first and
most obvious problem is with the definition. Some authors have
already mentioned this weakness, as explained in an extensive
discussion by Quibria (2003), who traced the problem to an
early characterization of the term, i.e., “Colemans [1988] work
has opened up the way for a whole plethora of new definitions
that often emphasize different and contradictory aspects of so-
cial capital” (p. 23).
Two more difficulties are directly related to the definitional
problem with the phrase, i.e., the vagueness of the concept, and
the trouble with measuring it. In reference to the term, Mar-
kusen (1999) suggested it was a “fuzzy concept,” especially in
industrial and regional studies. Durlauf (1999) was more pre-
cise in saying the term led to “conceptual ambiguity,” which he
related to the definitional problem. A further, more elaborate
discussion of the vagueness of the term was offered by Smith
and Kulynych (2002), who stated that “social capital brings
together contradictory ideas, ignores the history and context of
those ideas, and makes evaluative or normative theorizing dif-
ficult” (p. 152). The other problem, namely, measuring the con-
cept, has also been discussed by previous writers. Durlauf
(2002), for example, thought the concept was poorly measured,
and Quibria (2003) stated that “the concept has remained
largely amorphous and lacks the clarity and precision required
to be used for rigorous empirical work” (p. 34).
One reason the term lacks precision is because some authors,
following Bourdieu (1986) and Coleman (1988) who stressed
the capitalistic aspects of the term, tried to extend the metaphor
to larger entities (i.e., to a higher level of analysis than the indi-
vidual). For example, some writers tried to apply social and/or
human capital to the economic gains of organizations (Brooks
& Nafukho 2006), or to entire nations (Fukuyama 1995).
Thus, the term “social capital” has become a “catch-all”
phrase because so many writers wish to apply the term to their
different fields. In business studies in particular, the attempt to
use this concept presented (albeit inappropriately) yet another
opportunity to assess capitalistic (economic and/or financial)
gain. This motivated an inordinate number of papers to use the
term, as evidenced by over 15,000 articles (found in a search of
the ABI/INFORM business database) that used “social capital”
in their abstracts. As one example of the inappropriateness of
using the term, one social networking study used the term
“capital” to refer to measures such as interpersonal trust, voting
(in elections), and attending religious services (Iyer, Kitson, &
Toh, 2005). Similarly, another study that tried to measure (hu-
man) “capital” did so with one test of “personality” and another
of “cognitive ability,” i.e., basic math skills (Ployhart, Van
Iddekinge, & Mackenzie, 2011). In other words, business wri-
ters today find the label of “social capital” to be so exciting that
they attempt to use any number of variables to try to measure it,
which only serves to further confound the concept.
Such approaches are problematic in three ways. First, stress-
ing the materialistic aspects of the concept contradicts the
original humanitarian intent (as Hanifan, 1916, noted). Second,
broadening the concept without limits on what it was intended
to be contributes to making the term even vaguer. That is, when
more and more applications are attached to a single concept, the
original meaning of the concept becomes increasingly obscure.
The third way in which expanding an idea to additional
realms of study creates problems for defining a concept is by
exponentially increasing the number of variables that might be
used to represent what “social capital” is supposed to be. This
does not mean that the concept of social networking cannot be
studied in other research disciplines. But when researchers in
different fields try to measure a term that is ambiguous because
of its metaphorical label, the idea loses its meaning. That is,
each field of study already has numerous field-relevant va-
riables (which may be numbered in the hundreds), and when a
concept is projected to a different field of study, the variables
that already exist and that had been previously labeled, defined,
and researched in that field come to be regarded as elements of
the concept that is being projected onto that field. This confuses
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s.
not only the original concept, but confounds the variables in the
other fields of study. Thus, adding variables to represent and
assess a concept that is already vague tends to create more
confusion for the concept; as Quibria (2003: p. 25, footnote)
noted (citing Fischer, 2001) “the concept is expanding in all
directions like a swamp in bad weather.”
Adding to the problems with the term “social capital” is that
it has become a research “fad,” i.e., a popular concept to study.
To understand this, consider how the popularity of this in-
app r opria te terminology para llel s the introduction of a ne w , br a n d -
name product, such as “designer jeans.” Everyone wants to
wear them, so they are worn indiscriminately, even though they
do not fit! Brand-name products are bought by many people
mainly because those products are popular and “in fashion.”
Thus, just as people think that wearing designer jeans will get
them noticed, even though the clothes often do not fit; in a
similar way, it seems that researchers today believe that if they
also use the term “social capital” it will increase the chances of
their papers being published, even if the concepts do not fit.
Consequently, the various problems with the term proliferate in
proportion to its popularity and increased use.
In response to these difficulties, some writers have acknow-
ledged the definitional problem and attempted to redefine the
term, but did not try to rename it. That approach, however, is
inadequate (and futile) because retaining the terminology—
while only changing the definition—does not solve the inherent
oxymoronic nature of the metaphoric phrase (see below). Other,
more insightful writers have concluded that the term is so
problematic that it should be dropped from usage (Bowles &
Gintis, 2002), or that both the metaphor and the term should be
completely abandoned (Arrow, 2000).
The Term “Social Capital” as an Oxymoron
An oxymoron is a phrase that combines opposite terms, i.e.,
a pair of opposed or markedly contradictory terms” (Oxford
English Dictionary n.d.),” which, in rhetoric, is often used to
emphasize a contradiction. The way it is being used in the li-
terature today, however, is apparently only to link two words
that are taken at face value for their common usage (not for
their rhetorical effect), and without concern for their inherent
contradiction. Yet, when the phrase “social capital” is examined
in regard to the actual meaning of its two elemental terms, its
oxymoronic nature readily becomes apparent. The first term,
“social,” is an adjective that refers to groups of people, i.e.,
con sisting or composed of people associated together for friendl y
interaction or companionship” (Oxford English Dictionary n.d.).
The word “social” is widely used with the idea of involving
interpersonal interaction. Sociological theory has suggested that
people react to things according to the meanings those things
have for them, and emphasized that “the meanings of such
things is derived from, or arises out of, the social interaction
that one has with ones fellows” (Blumer, 1969: p. 2). Also, ac-
cording to the Oxford English Dictionary (n.d.), “social” relates
to activities in which people meet each other for pleasure in
times of leisure. It also means living together in groups, and
involves interactions between two or more individuals. In addi-
tion, the noun form of “social” means a gathering of people,
including ones organized by the members of a particular club or
group. Essentially, then, the term “social” refers to interactions
among people, especially in groups, and often with the aim of
having pleasure or enjoyment.
The term “capital,” on the other hand, is widely used in busi-
ness and economics to refer to money and property, especially
cash and other assets, which include inventory, supplies, equip-
ment, land, buildings, and stocks, etc., that a person or a busi-
ness possesses (see The Legal Dictionary, n.d.). It should be
noted that all the examples referred to in the definition are ma-
terial things, vis-à-vis immaterial things (e.g., emotions) that
are involved in social interactions. Furthermore, Thompson
(2009) explained that the word “capital” conveys a sense of
competitiveness, such that “it involves rivalries, taking advan-
tage of weaknesses, and being threatened by ones fellows in
the business, it is the antithesis of social cohesion” (p. 148) and
that this is antithetical to the meaning of the term “social.”
Therefore, the term “social capital” is actually an oxymoron
because it joins the concept of engaging in “social” interactions,
i.e., people coming together for pleasurable purposes (not ne-
cessarily for materialistic ends), with the word “capital,” which
refers to people competing with each other for the explicit pur-
pose of gaining money or some other material advantage over
others. More critically, use of the term “capital” for this pur-
pose, and especially when the intended meaning of the term
“social capital” is for “using” other people to increase one’s
own self gain, verges on reducing people to mere “tools,” just
as slaves were used by their masters for the purpose of gaining
economic benefits for the masters, and then the slaves were put
aside or discarded once they had served the master’s purpose.
The Term “Social Capital” as an Anachronism
It should be remembered that the idea of “capital,” as it is
used today, evolved from the work by Adam Smith, who lived
in the 18th Century, when slavery was regularly practiced in
many parts of the world (the USA did not abolish slavery until
1865). To economists of the 18th Century, slavery was a form
of capital, and slave owners could measure their wealth in
terms of the number of slaves they owned; just as people in
agrarian societies measure wealth in terms of the number of
cattle they own (Doran, Low, & Kemp, 1979).
Furthermore, it should also be realized that the phrase “social
capital” originated in 1916, when slavery still existed in many
countries of the world (see Miers, 2003). If it seems excessive
to link the idea of slavery to the term “social capital,” one
merely needs to understand that when the concept is used for
the purpose of competitive financial advantage, as Coleman
(1988) and some other authors applied it; then it can readily be
seen that the actor is “using” other people, which reduces those
other people to mere “tools,” and thereby dehumanizes them.
If the slavery comparison seems to be an extreme idea there
is yet another, related reason that the term is anachronistic,
namely, self-gain at the cost of other people. Specifically, in the
Coleman (1988) sense of using others for the intent of gaining
advantages over other people, the “using” of people is an
anachronistic idea. That is, in the past, the exploitation of other
people was not only common practice, but, according to Karl
Marx (1867), was characteristic of capitalism, which he at-
tacked for this reason. In more recent times (even though capi-
talism is still the world’s principal economic system), the ex-
ploitation of workers, and of people in general, is regarded as
unethical (Mayer, 1988), immoral, and unacceptable to the
point that governments and other groups attempt to eradicate it
(Pines & Meyer, 2005).
Thus, slavery and the exploitation of other people are beha-
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s . 145
viors that belong to the past. Today, especially in light of the
French Revolution (ca. 1790s) that declared the importance of
liberty, equality, and fraternity (liberté, égalité, fraternité), and
since the Civil Rights Movement in the USA (ca. 1960s), peo-
ple expect to have equality in their rights and in how they
should be treated. Therefore, if the use of the term “social” is
humanistic, as Hanifan (1916) intended it to be, then a phrase
that links the concept of humanism together with the word
“capital,” which reifies the inhumane treatment of human be-
ings, must be regarded as anachronistic since the exploitation of
other people is inappropriate in modern societies. Furthermore,
since it is an oxymoron and an anachronism, the term “social
capital” is not only linguistically inappropriate or incorrect, but
it is also “politically incorrect” as well as immoral.
The Term “Social Capital” as a “Politically
Incorrect” and Immoral Term
To be “politically correct” refers to the use of language, ideas,
policies, and behaviors that avoid social offense to people’s
personal characteristics, such as age, culture, disabilities, gen-
der, race, and sexual orientation, or their beliefs, e.g., religion.
Although the term “politically correct” also has been misused
(e.g., among comedians), the definition provided here repre-
sents the original intention, i.e., of avoiding insults to people. If
this term “politically correct” is confusing to the reader (be-
cause of the way it has been distorted by inappropriate use in
the past), a clearer word may be substituted, that is, “morality.”
Thus, it is politically incorrect, or immoral, to use words that
(intentionally or even unintentionally) give offense to, insult, or
demean people.
As demonstrated earlier, the phrase “social capital” was
shown to be an oxymoron because part of the term proffers the
idea that other people can be treated as someone’s personal
asset, and the term was also revealed to be anachronistic. Thus,
based on the above definition of what is politically correct, use
of the term “social capital” is politically incorrect, or at least
morally wrong, because it advocates the idea that human beings
are “capital,” i.e., something to be used as a tool (or slave) in
order for the actor to achieve some personal gain, and that peo-
ple can be discarded when their usefulness has expired.
This utilitarian conception of “social capital” is explicit in
the way it is used by many writers today, particularly in the
business and management literature. As Bourdieu’s (1986) so-
ciological conception of the term was about utilizing social
connections for personal advantage, which is already utilitarian,
the business and management use of the term takes this ap-
proach to the extreme. That is, those authors are virtually ig-
noring the benefits that making a social network can have for
the individual, and instead stress the idea that certain charac-
teristics of a company’s employees can result in financial ad-
vantages for the organization. Sadly, the most obvious implica-
tion is that management can use, or exploit, employees prima-
rily for the purpose of making a profit for the organization.
That utilitarian approach to management encourages the
practice of considering workers to be exchangeable parts that
can be “bought and sold” (very much like slaves) and employed
(used) for as long as they are valuable (i.e., as long as their
work provides profit to the organization), and then fired (dis-
carded) when the business owners think a worker’s usefulness
(value) has expired. Thus, the wide use of the term “social capi-
tal” in business and economics is extremely demeaning to the
human race because it is actually (albeit implicitly) about a
form of human exploitation. In other words, use the term and
the concept, ipso facto, advocates human mistreatment. This is
a repulsive concept (and practice) because it dehumanizes peo-
ple, and, thus, is the epitome of being not only politically in-
correct, but of being immoral.
The Term “Social Capital” as “Doublethink”
and “Newspeak”
Beyond the several problems with the term already described
in the foregoing sections, the phrase “social capital” is also
strongly reminiscent of George Orwell’s (1949) book, Nineteen
Eighty-Four, for two reasons. First, the book portrays a man
(Winston Smith) who wants to maintain his humanness in an
environment that is designed to eliminate humanity. That is,
since the term “social” refers to humans and/or their qualities,
when writers use the term “social capital” they are functioning
in the same way that “Big Brother” did in Orwell’s book. More
specifically, Big Brother dehumanized and reduced the person
to an emotionless cog in a machine (the organization) that per-
forms work for the master (Big Brother; society); just as slaves
(capital) were treated as inhuman with their primary purpose
being only to perform work and create wealth for their masters
and for the masters’ society.
The second reason that “social capital” is reminiscent of
Nineteen Eighty-Four is that the two words in the phrase pro-
mote a kind of “Doublethink.” That is, since the two words are
contradictory in their original meanings, as noted by Thompson
(2009), the phrase requires us to simultaneously hold two
opposing ideas in mind, and to believe in them both! Perpe-
tuating such Doublethink is also reminiscent of “Newspeak,”
which is a term that reflected Orwell’s anguish regarding (go-
vernments or societies) using language to control people’s
minds. For example, in order to eliminate the word “bad” from
the language (because it had a negative connotation, which the
controllers would consider a dangerous state of mind for wor-
kers to have because they might view their controllers ne-
gatively), Big Brother created the word “ungood” to replace it.
By comparison to the Orwellian concepts, the emphasis on
the dehumanizing “capital” aspect of the phrase “social capital”
works to reverse the “social” concept that was originally em-
ployed to portray humanistic characteristics. Thus, use of the
phrase “social capital” works to eliminate the more humane
facet of the concept as if it were unnecessary, which could lead
to a reduction in both having thoughts about and being aware of
our humanity.
Recommend Renaming of the Terms “Social
Capital” and “Human Capital”
It is clear from the foregoing analyses that the term “social
capital” is very problematic. Although this paper did not ad-
dress the many difficulties with a related phrase, “human capi-
tal,” these two terms are closely linked and both present pro-
blems, not only in their vague, awkward, and inappropriate
definitions, but also with trying to measure the intended con-
cepts. Since the terms are so problematic, researchers must
consider what to do about them. Should the terms be redefined,
abandoned, or replaced?
As noted previously, there have already been several authors
who complained that the term “social capital” is vague and
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s.
difficult to measure. Unfortunately, some writers have only
suggested redefining the term, which is the equivalent of “put-
ting new wine into old bottles.” Only a few, more insightful,
authors (Arrow, 2000; Bowles & Gintis, 2002) have seen the
need to abandon the term. But because of the popularity of the
ideas underlying the concepts, it is unlikely that the terms will
be immediately and unanimously discarded. Therefore, the best
solution would be for researchers to: 1) desist from using the
metaphors, and 2) replace those phrases with terms that are
operationally grounded and more appropriate to theory build-
For the term “social capital,” first consider that it was origi-
nally used to represent the common practice of a person or
group of persons interacting with other human beings in order
to help them either individually or together to overcome pro-
blems or improve their living situation. Thus, what they are ac-
tually doing is social networking. Social networking has existed
for thousands of years in many societies (Taormina & Gao,
2010), so it involves very real human behaviors. Additionally,
there is already a broad literature on the topic of social net-
working, such that these behaviors have been and are still being
studied on a regular basis. Furthermore, the term “social net-
working” refers to the same behaviors that are involved when
the term “social c apital” is used.
Consider also that social networking does not inherently sug-
gest any capitalistic motives; it only refers to certain social
behaviors, while the objectives of those networking behaviors
could be for any purpose. Hence, the term “social networking”
could avoid the problem of assuming that “social capital”
should have financially advantageous outcomes, which is an
assumption that has been challenged by authors who point out
that “social capital” can have undesirable results (Smith & Ku-
lynych, 2002; Sobel, 2002). The term “social networking,” on
the other hand, is a more “neutral” term because it refers to a
process and not an outcome; which means it could be for any
purpose desired by the members performing the networking
It is therefore recommended that both the term and the meta-
phor for “social capital” be abandoned, and that the term “so-
cial networking” be maintained as the overarching concept. In
addition, it is further recommended that the objectives of social
networking should be treated as separate variables from the
networking behaviors, and that those objectives should be ex-
plicitly specified by the researcher as intended outcomes of
social networking.
With regard to the term “human capital,” Lehnen and Mc-
Gregor (1994) defined it as “the human capacity for … produc-
tivity” (p. 22). In other words, writers who use that term
consider it to be the human abilities that enable people to
perform work that produces economic value. Thus, the term
“human capital” is even more repugnant than “social capital”
because it reduces human skills and personality characteristics
to mere currency to be used by others (e.g., managers) for fi-
nancial gain. Hence, this term “human capital” should surely be
How to Assess the Concepts
Regarding how to assess these concepts, the answer can
readily be found in the type of variables that researchers have
used when attempting to measure them, e.g., the “knowledge
and skills built up throughout schooling, higher education,
vocational training and work experiences” (Au, Altman, &
Roussel, 2008: p. 20). As another example, if “friends” are
studied as helpers in one’s social network, the term “friends”
may be used as the variable name, but under no circumstances
should one’s friends be referred to or regarded as “capital.”
Furthermore, an overview of the research on this topic would
reveal that the variables are usually selected from demographic
descriptors, human knowledge, skills, abilities, and personality
characteristics, all of which already exist as variables in the
social science and management literatures.
Hence, consistently using existing variable names is neces-
sary to foster clarity in both theory and research, and would
also facilitate communication with researchers from related
fields, such as social psychologists, who find it repulsive to use
the word “capital” when referring to human beings and/or hu-
man characteristics. Indeed, psychologists have always en-
deavored, via operationalized definitions, to classify human
variables more clearly and precisely within the domains of
human personality, skills, and abilities, where they should be
based. Therefore, researchers can avoid the dehumanizing ter-
minology by simply using the appropriate labels that already
exist for the variables they wish to measure in their research.
As can be seen in the many problems arising from use of the
terms “social capital” and “human capital,” which are self-
contradicting, ambiguous, anachronistic, and even immoral, the
terms do not lend themselves to theory, which requires that
terms must be rigorously precise to be usable in theory building
and empirical research. This can be achieved in the following
ways: First, by retaining the term “social networking” as the
best name for the overarching concept (rather than trying to
rename it with the phrase “social capital”); and, second, by
abandoning the oxymoronic metaphors. In order to achieve the
latter, it is strongly recommended that the terms “social capital”
and “human capital” be discarded in preference for variable
names from the existing literature that are more accurate labels,
such as those that refer to human demographics and human
personal characteristics. That is, there already exist operation-
ally defined variables with clearer, more accurate terminology
that is better suited to proper scientific measurement of the
domains that theorists wish to describe and that researchers
would like to assess. Therefore, by using more appropriate
terminology to examine social networking concepts, theorists
and researchers could avoid the use of demeaning language,
and promote the advancement of more humane terminology in
scientific research.
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