Over the past few decades, there has been a shift in the way power structures have been perceived by the public. Whether it is reconceptualizing western politics as a financial oligarchy, distrust in the ideological influence of the “mainstream media,” or the emergence of ideas about the “deep state” and elite influence on government policy, the cultural zeitgeist has shifted due to these ideas about social capital and cultural change. Through the work of scholars such as Patrick Hunout and Robert Putnam, people have begun to understand how economic and social relationships can change the balance of power in the 21st century.

Harvard scholar Robert Putnam defined the concept of social capital in the essay Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital. Putnam describes social capital as “connections among individuals—social networks and the norms of reciprocity that arise from them.” Putnam believed that immigration and individualism could pose a threat to the development of social capital because they decrease homogeneity and cohesiveness in social structures.

Building on the foundation set by Putnam, Patrick Hunout proposed his Tripartite Model of Social Change in the mid-‘90s. Hunout is known for his research on evaluation methodology in the academic and professional fields, including developing the SQUAS service quality methodology and its variant for higher education. He is also known for dedicating a significant part of his professional career to the study and development of social capital as the president and founder of the Social Capital Foundation. Along with research on social capital, the foundation also participates in environmental and animal welfare projects.

Hunout’s tripartite model takes a three-pronged approach to social capital, observing that government and corporate policies can build or hinder social capital by affecting the economy, immigration, and interpersonal relationships. In his works, Hunout theorizes that policies advancing individualist, consumerist, and hedonistic values will inevitably erode social capital, equality, and democracy.

Hunout also theorizes that the elite and the powers that be actively propagate these policies to consolidate their power, creating a power structure he calls the “New Leviathan.” Modern theorists have connected media and wealthy benefactors that participate in this power structure to throwing their influence and financial backing towards promoting these values. The New Leviathan’s influence can be felt not only in the economic sphere, but also in other ideological circles such as views on gender, family, and interethnic relations. To counteract the influence of the New Leviathan, Hunout proposes strengthening social markets, collaborative structures, and respect for cultural identities.

Social capital has proven to be a vital resource in the 21st century, and ordinary citizens should be aware of how their connectedness can challenge the established power structures and tip the balance of power in the direction of democracy.