The word “social” tends to be associated with the softer side in the world of economics and development policy. The “social” is generally less well measured, and in the current world of effectiveness thus less actionable. However the “social” does frequently pop up on the dashboard of policy makers and development practitioners, often when things go wrong, when social unrest erupts, and when economic policies do not have the intended consequences. No wonder, hence, that after the Arab Spring and after the global financial crisis with the loss of legitimacy of previous arrangements, social inclusion or cohesion has come to the forefront of the debate.
The reason the “social” is less well defined and measured internationally (although the Indices of Social Development is starting to change this) is similar to the reason it’s difficult to measure what glue or cement does or is in isolation from the pieces it connects. Sociologist are primarily interested in how people relate to each other and to larger societal structures such as public institutions, clubs, elections, etc., and how norms, trust and values alongside interests are of critical importance in guiding individuals’ behaviour. For non-economists, it is heartening to see how Akerlof and Kranton’s Identity Economics is trying to insert identity, norms, and social categories into (economists’) ways of understanding people’s decisions – one hopes that this will lead to a blossoming of inter-disciplinary research that is critical to understand most of not all development challenges.