With no weekly discussions for a month and with every other task being team-based, I’ve had to skip to week 7 before contributing more to this blog. However, this week was also the JALT International Conference at which I gave two academic presentations. More on them in a later blog. The four-day conference took a lot out of me, and I was compelled to do the minimum work for the Ed.D.
The topic was issues in the creation of a powerful learning environment. Such a topic is wide-ranging and involves all aspects of a higher educational institution, from how its mission interacts with the needs of society to how individual classrooms develop better instructional methods. I selected the notion of social capital to focus on because one of the main tasks was to analyse how Bilgi University attempted to improve its position vis-a-vis the local Turkish society. I felt that the representation given to us (admittedly a very limited perspective) contained a few clues as to why Bilgi may fail in their aspirations.
Bilgi’s conceptualisation of social capital is problematic. Borovali’s characterisation of social capital presents a complex metaphoric aspirational account of how the “living organism” of Bilgi “reaches outside, … co-operates” with outside society in order to aim for significant success (Laureate, 2011). The language used is “going to”, which is used repeatedly indicating the future-oriented nature of Borovali’s hopes for Bilgi. This positioning is resonant with Bagcioglu’s assertion that Bilgi is “a pioneer” and “is a challenging institution to the society” (Laureate, 2011). However the literature on social capital, although highly diverse in its various definitions (Claridge, 2004), points to two critical aspects that are missing in the Bilgi case.
The first is that social capital is a bi-directional result of interaction. Fukuyama (2001) calls it “an instantiated informal norm”, that is, although there may be the potential for reciprocity, social capital only exists when it is actualised in human interaction. Further, this interaction needs to be facilitative and allow for the realisation by one side the desires of another (Portes, 1998, citing Colemann). That this will occur requires trust, the second of Bilgi’s missing aspects. Whether trust is a form of, a result of, a source of, or even the same thing as social capital (Claridge, 2004), the issue of trust is central to social capital. Trust arises from “connections among individuals” is Putnam’s formulation (Putnam, 2000, p. 19). Social capital occupies the space between and has representation in the reciprocal actions of interested parties.
Neither of these aspects is present in Bilgi’s depiction. A focus on the development of social capital for the benefit of the institution without emphasising the natures of mutuality and trust with the other stakeholders may lead to difficulties in realising that aspiration. Bagcioglu hints at these difficulties when he admits that the people of Istanbul may describe Bilgi as a negative force in their society, influencing it in “a bad way” (Laureate, 2011). Furthermore, Bilgi’s decision to incorporate their social aspirations into their curriculum risks alienating students who recognise those missing aspects. The learning aim of developing responsibility and awareness in students is laudable. But unless more sensitivity to the deeper nature of social capital is present, this curricular insertion may turn out to be more a more exclusive one that promotes not true social responsibility but a particular, and narrow, version of one. Bilgi could work on isolating the factors that build trust rather than force political and ideological stances.
The key questions Bilgi must ask regarding the nature of a socially responsible person as defined by the lecturers (and curriculum) are: will these issues likely to develop trust in a) students to the institution, b) students in the society and c) the institution in the society? Perhaps Bilgi would do well to follow Claridge’s advice that “social capital building initiatives should aim to improve the structure of social capital rather than increase social capital per se” (2004, emphasis original).
Space forbids a discussion on INTI. But over the week, I’d like to continue a discussion about INTI’s mode of inclusion, how they claim their existence is anti-elitist, what kinds of rights that are being threatened that require their guardians to ‘foster, promote [and] advance’ (Laureate, 2011b), what are the arguments that support 61 countries inside INTI meaning that social justice is created, and so on. The INTI video presents many more questions than it answers.
Claridge, T. (2004). Measurement of social capital. In Social capital and natural resource management (unpublished thesis). University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia. Retrieved from http://www.socialcapitalresearch.com/measurement.html
Fukuyama, F. (2001). Social capital, civil society and development. Third World Quarterly, 22(1), 7–20. doi:10.1080/0143659002002254
Laureate. (2011). Optimising Diverse Social Resources: BĪLGĪ University. Laureate Education.
Laureate. (2011b). Optimising Diverse Social Resources: INTI University. Laureate Education.
Portes, A. (1998). Social capital: Its Origins and Applications in Modern Sociology. Annual Review of Sociology, 24, 1–24.
Putnam, R. D. (2000). Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Saha, L. J. (2015). Cultural and Social Capital in Global Perspective. In J. I. Zajda (Ed.), International Handbook on Globalisation, Education and Policy Research (pp. 767–778). Dordrecht: Springer.
Strathdee, R. (2011). Educational reform, inequality and the structure of higher education in New Zealand. Journal of Education and Work, 24(1-2), 27–48. doi:10.1080/13639080.2010.528380