I’ve been interested in social capital for many years (though I didn’t have a name for it before reading Robert Putnam’s groundbreaking book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community.)
But I’d never heard the phrase civic capital before hearing it used to describe the effect of Barack Obama’s successful “netroots” campaign. The On the Media interview below with Marshall Ganz describes how the Obama campaign helped to develop civic capital among its volunteers:
It talks about how, at “Camp Obama”, volunteers were trained to articulate their own personal narratives, because it’s “from their own stories that they’re most effectively going to be able to engage others.” Ganz goes on:
… a whole tier of volunteer leadership were cut into the action …there was a level of empowerment, of volunteer leadership at the local level, that is a theme that’s run all through this campaign. And that’s why you see the responsibility, the enthusiasm, the creativity. And that’s why when the campaign is over, as it is now, this isn’t going to go away.
The term civic capital is new to me. (And I’m not the only one. Interestingly, there’s no Wikipedia entry [yet] for civic capital, though the Wikipedia article for social capital was started way back in 2002!). So, it seems to me that civic capital is a form of social capital — one that is self-consciously focussed on the improvement of the community or society of which its members are a part. It certainly wasn’t invented by the Obama campaign. (A quick Google search cites the term used a number of years ago; and — even without the term itself — the reality of it no doubt goes back as far as civil society.) But the Obama campaign exposed and exploited it. And, to the question of whether we can use civic capital to help transform our society into one that is more just, green and peaceful, there’s an obvious answer: Yes we can.