The second labour of Heracles, the epic struggle with the Hydra, is used in this paper as a metaphor for the difficulties that may be encountered in analysing and measuring social capital. In Greek mythology, the Hydra ‘had a prodigious dog-like body, and eight or nine snaky heads, one of them immortal’. In a sense, social capital is the intellectual equivalent of the Hydra in that it is conceptualised in many different ways. While the many heads of social capital appear relatively harmless compared to the Hydra, the unquestioning adoption and application of social capital rhetoric is potentially harmful, especially if it distracts policy makers from the real causes of Indigenous poverty and ongoing social exclusion. This paper outlines the conceptual and empirical issues that are likely to plague attempts to measure social capital. After discussing some possible roles for social capital in describing Indigenous poverty, the paper advocates a modest conceptualisation of social capital that focuses on the structure of social networks. Apart from anything else, this minimalist position should limit the scope for misunderstandings arising from cross-cultural differences in the views about the social, cultural and institutional contexts of such networks.
ISBN: 0 7315 5636 4