This article describes a study in which social capital was the focus of introductory ethnographic research. The World Bank’s Social Capital Assessment Tool (SOCAT) ( Grootaert and van Bastelaer 2002) was used to assess social capital in a poor, Hispanic area of a large city in the southern U.S. The findings demonstrate not only the utility of social capital assessment tools for ethnographic work, but the relevance of social capital to anthropological questions. I describe assets and relationships within this community using three proxy indicators of social capital: (1) memberships in local associations and networks; (2) indicators of trust and adherence to norms; and (3) indicators of collective action. Beyond these data, however, I reiterate the World Bank’s stress on local definitions of ‘community’. The malleability of such definitions does not overshadow their importance. I conclude by suggesting that social capital is a useful investigatory concept for ethnographers, but that it should not be treated as a discrete social fact.
Urban Anthropology, Vol. 36(4): 1-32