Friday, May 29, 2015

Social Capital and Politics


Kevin Rudd, the Prime Minister you either loved or loathed, even today this remains the case. By chance, I recently came across the image you see as part of this post and, as I looked at it more closely, I was drawn to the elastic concept that is, social capital.

There are many definitions of this notion however, in the context of this post I am drawn to that offered by Bourdieu and Wacquant (1992) defining it as, “ the sum of the resources, actual or virtual, that accrue to an individual … by virtue of possessing a durable network of  … relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition”. I would add to this, social capital as a producer of civic engagement, a character conducive to consensus building and, elements of trust acting to enhance the formation of individual and organisational bonds.

When an individual enters public life, he/she brings with them a degree of social capital that has accrued through the quantity and quality of both public and personal interactions to date. Accordingly, it is not merely a case of, you have it or, you have not as continued engagement through the myriad of mediums available, (notably social media now becoming the new conversation challenging traditional ideas about marketing and brand management), allows one to build upon the capital throughout their unfolding career.

With this in mind and, in conjunction with the aforementioned definition, it is clear that Kevin Rudd had a healthy measure of social capital; the image alone tells us so. He was completely at ease in environs such as schools, hospitals, and crowds alike. Contrast this to a select few politicians of the day. With polls telling us that both Tony Abbott and Bill Shorten are not popular with voters it is reasonable to suggest that both lack the capital I refer to. So how do some other, notable federal politicians of the day measure up? Julie Bishop and Malcolm Turnbull have a high measure, those that have an average measure could include, Sussan Ley, Tanya Plibersek, Penny Wong, Chris Bowen, Joe Hockey (some would disagree), Barnaby Joyce and Bruce Billson. Those that lack it altogether could include, Christopher Pyne, Eric Abetz, and Scott Morrison (watch this space). I write, “Could” as this is only my opinion.

I am not implying that we view social capital as the definitive measure pertaining to success or otherwise in politics as from time to time, decisions made in the national interest must outweigh the quest for it. This is where Kevin Rudd abused it and failed, some would add, due to ego. Recall his quip, “My name is Kevin Rudd, I’m from Queensland, I’m here to help”, his outlandish use of semantics and colloquialisms and ideological flip-flopping – a Social Democrat in 2009, an Economic and Fiscal conservative in 2007 and Christian Socialist in 2006. He would try anything to win the hearts and minds of the urban crowd and for a while, it worked. Personally, I saw it a way of exploiting the zeitgeist and in time it caught up with him…

Does it take a special talent to cultivate a good measure of social capital? Is it innate? Can a politician farm it without undermining the national interest, in particular, economic interests of the nation? I believe it does take a special talent - a natural ability and aptitude to steer away from the need to engage in morally rich, idealistic political manoeuvrings without compromising one's popularity and through this, social capital.

What do you think?


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