From theoretical concept to organizational tool for public sector improvement: Janus-faced social capital in a hospital department

Jette Ernst, Anette Lykke Hindhede, Vibeke Andersen

Publikation: Bidrag til tidsskriftTidsskriftartikelForskningpeer review


The purpose of this paper is to examine, first, how social capital was crafted and transformed from a theoretical concept to an organizational tool for public sector improvement that was adopted by a Danish region and implemented in all regional hospitals. Second, the paper examines the application of social capital in one of these hospitals and, further, in a department of the hospital with the purpose of showing how it was applied by the managerial levels and responded to by the nurses of the department.

A Bourdieusian ethnographic approach was used for understanding the local and subjective understandings of social capital as well as the wider context in which the new tool was crafted.

Social capital as a tool for organizational improvement was constructed in a gray zone between science and consultancy. The paper demonstrates that the application of social capital in practice is connected with paradoxes because the concept is inherently ambiguous and Janus-faced in that its official representation is “soft” and voluntary with a working environment focus yet, it envelopes concealed steering intentions. These contrary working features of the concept produce a pressure on the department management and the nurses.

The explanatory critical framework combined with the ethnographic approach is a useful approach for theorizing and understanding social capital as an example of the emergence and consequences of new managerial tools in public organizations.
TidsskriftInternational Journal of Public Sector Management
Udgave nummer5
Sider (fra-til)638-652
Antal sider15
StatusUdgivet - 2018
Udgivet eksterntJa

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