Health geography’s role in understanding social capital and its influence on health

Authored by: Amber L. Pearson , Richard C. Sadler

Routledge Handbook of Health Geography

Print publication date:  June  2018
Online publication date:  June  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138098046
eBook ISBN: 9781315104584
Adobe ISBN:


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In general, social capital involves the resources obtained through social relationships and nonmonetary power and influence, with the central idea being that membership and participation in groups may have positive consequences for the individual and/or the community. The positive consequence of particular interest here is good health. Over time, definitions and usage of “social capital” have become convoluted and overlapping, as we will discuss in this chapter. The evolution of the concept highlights important dimensions of social capital as they relate to health, including pathways and measurement challenges. In this chapter, we focus on contemporary notions of social capital, tracing its origins in sociology to applications and debates in the health sciences, with particular attention to contributions in health geography. We then provide a review of the pathways to health, measurement challenges, issues of scale and the positive and negative consequences of social capital in recent research. In closing, we present emerging areas of social capital research among health geographers.

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