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Health by association? Social capital, social theory, and the political economy of public health.

International Journal of Epidemiology

Social Values, Social Justice, Public Health, Poverty, Politics, Humans, Health Promotion, Great Britain

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      Three perspectives on the efficacy of social capital have been explored in the public health literature. A "social support" perspective argues that informal networks are central to objective and subjective welfare; an "inequality" thesis posits that widening economic disparities have eroded citizens' sense of social justice and inclusion, which in turn has led to heightened anxiety and compromised rising life expectancies; a "political economy" approach sees the primary determinant of poor health outcomes as the socially and politically mediated exclusion from material resources. A more comprehensive but grounded theory of social capital is presented that develops a distinction between bonding, bridging, and linking social capital. It is argued that this framework helps to reconcile these three perspectives, incorporating a broader reading of history, politics, and the empirical evidence regarding the mechanisms connecting types of network structure and state-society relations to public health outcomes.

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