Walmsley, Jordan (2011) Social Capital, Institutional Structures and Political Engagement. Masters thesis, University of Huddersfield.

For decades there has been a concern that citizens in Britain and other western democracies are disengaging from political processes. Furthermore, Robert Putnam (2000) argues that the decline in engagement is connected to a decline in social capital. Recent citizenship philosophies from authors such as Etzioni (2000) and Blond (2009) attempt to address this concern by arguing for the development of mutual and associative communities. Although Etzioni (2000) and Putnam (2000) argue that the state can help develop social capital and thus mutual and associative communities through government policy, other such as Field (2003) discussion some potential problems for this and argue that government policy focused on increasing social capital can be counterproductive. This project explores this problem using qualitative research methods conducting semi-structured interviews lasting between 30-70 minutes each. 16 people were interviewed from three different engagement groups categorised as formal, semi-formal and informal which allowed for comparing the affects of government policy, or institutional structures, on the respective engagement groups. This project concludes that whilst institutional structures do not necessarily impede social capital and thus engagement; institutional structures that dictate homogeneous engagement or institutional structures that only support bureaucratic normative structures were found to have negative consequences for social capital and political engagement. However, it is also argued that within the specific groups studied, institutional structures can also have positive effects on social capital and engagement when they do not crowd out individual exploration within communal and/or associative structures in the community. Finally, this project argues that the conclusions cannot be fully generalised throughout British society because of the nature of the qualitative methods used, and because social capital is a context specific social phenomenon. As a result, it is argued that the conclusions can and should be used as hypotheses for future studies into the effects of institutional structures on political engagement.

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