In considering the definition of resources and the way that they are identified, extracted, transported, and used, social organization matters. Materials are socially constructed, as are the accounting systems that we use to trace and control their movements and transformations. There are three ways in which the social and policy sciences have attempted to measure or gauge relevant human capacities: human capital, usually conceived as aggregations of the attributes of individual people; institutional capacity, closely related to instrumental goals of social organizations and agencies; and social capital, which seeks to reconcile the idea of a "stock" of human capacity to the emergent properties of social organization. Cultural theory is used to exemplify the ways in which the organization of social networks can shape key motivations for behavior, such as perceptions of the fragility or robustness of natural and economic systems or economic discounting behavior. Whereas human capital is relatively easy to measure, its usefulness in understanding the governance of materials flows is limited. At the other extreme, the idea of social capital seems to have considerable promise for understanding a wide range of human behaviors, such as consumption patterns and supply chains, but turns out to be very difficult to measure.

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