Recreation, Informal Social Networks and Social Capital

Article excerpt

Introduction

In the past decade the concept of social capital has been applied to an increasingly large number of fields to explain outcomes such as educational attainment, health status, economic prosperity, crime rates, and democratic participation (see for example, Lin, 2001; Putnam, 2000; Stolle & Hooghe, 2004). Its wider use is valuable in its recognition of the importance of social ties and interpersonal connections in the contemporary world. However, its extension has resulted in loss of analytic precision as the concept has come to carry different meanings as it is employed in disparate theoretical traditions (Fine, 2001). Moreover, and partly as a consequence, there is considerable disagreement about how the processes which generate the effects attributed to social capital operate.

Our paper focuses on the role that engagement in informal recreational activities plays in social capital formation. It uses multi-level methods to examine the social network connections of members of three voluntary associations in North West England. We show how network structures within organizations affect general sociability and that network ties influence participation in a range of recreational and leisure practices. Further, we test the extent to which recreational practices are carried out by socially homogeneous groups to assess whether, and what type of social capital might be generated by informal sociability.

We begin with some theoretical observations to underline the importance of studying informal recreational practices, considering how these bear on current debates about social capital. Secondly, we explain the distinctiveness of our case studies, describe our data and our research methodology. We go on to describe the recreational practices of our sample of respondents as a means of examining the extent of sociability amongst our sample. Then, as a means of assessing the relationship between formal and informal sociability, we examine the overlap between associational involvement and informal socialising with co-members. Next we build models of respondents' involvement in recreational practices in order to see how tar dining, drinking, and domestic invitations are structured by principles of homophily and network connection. The conclusion to our paper emphasises that recreational practices generally involve considerable informal social mixing, and we show the relevance of these findings for debates about social capital.

Social Capital, Recreation and Companionship

We are particularly interested in the connections and relationships evident in informal recreational practices. Who goes where with whom? What types of bond sustain co-participation? We set this question in the context of contentious issues, as yet unresolved, within recent debates about social capital.

The study of social capital has diverse roots, mostly seeking to address issues arising out of the well-established tension between individual interests and the collective good. One major dispute concerns the instrumental and collective roles of social capital. For some, like Bourdieu (1987), Burt (1992) and Lin (2001), it is a matter of how individuals mobilise the resources of their social connections for personal or sectional gain. Burr and Lin use social network analysis to show how relative position within a network confers advantages upon incumbents by virtue of network structure, but are relatively little concerned with the personal characteristics of the people in the network or the quality and affective properties of their relationships. Bourdieu, on the other hand, explicitly rejecting social network analysis, considers the substantive characteristics of individuals and their relationships of friendship and especially kinship, but only insofar as these are privately "profitable". On the other hand, for Coleman (1990), Fukayama (1997) and Putnam (2000) social capital is a matter of how collective goods, like trust and cooperation, are generated. …

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