Academic journal article Canadian Slavonic Papers

The Importance of Trust-Building in Transition: A Look at Social Capital and Democratic Action in Eastern Europe

Academic journal article Canadian Slavonic Papers

The Importance of Trust-Building in Transition: A Look at Social Capital and Democratic Action in Eastern Europe

Article excerpt

Social capital became a buzzword in the academic world with amazing speed in the early 1990s and remains hotly debated even now, more than a decade later. Within the social sciences the concept has been used in a wide range of research including democratization studies. Scholars in this field posited that social capital is primarily a function of culture-and that the presence (or lack) of social capital has direct consequences for the effectiveness of democracy.1 Social capital is generally defined as the networks, norms and trust surrounding social relationships.2 However, variations on this definition exist and research in the area has been marked by problems and criticisms.

The wide conceptual reach of this concept has been criticized for attempting too much and for intruding into theoretical space already occupied by civil society research and network analysis. One of the most pervasive critiques is that many studies a priori cite social capital as a prime causal factor in democratization even though there is no agreement in the literature over social capital's correlation with democratization, much less its role as a causal factor. In reaction to this common a priori assumption, research has been conducted that has attempted to disprove the link between social capital and democracy.3 Indeed, there is enough doubt in the literature as to the validity of the link between social capital and democracy that it can be treated as a disputed hypothesis.

This study will address this dispute by comparing the relationship between social capital and democratic participation at both the individual and the crossnational levels, using data from two waves of the World Values Survey (WVS).4 This relationship and its cross-national comparison have not yet been tested elsewhere and represent an attempt to move beyond the small case studies of social capital in order to situate the concept within a more global arena. The paper will conclude that social capital and democratic action are indeed positively related at the individual level and that in cross-regional and cross-national comparisons the relationship is stronger in the West than in Eastern Europe, and stronger in the leading reformers of Eastern Europe than in the other transition states. Also, it will be demonstrated that the strength of the relationship increases across waves in Eastern European states that have successful transitions. From the data a specific form of trust reciprocity can be deduced in Eastern Europe. Trust generation begins as a tit-for-tat reciprocity mechanism; however, after a "tipping-point" or when a "critical mass" of people identifies itself as "trusters," then a "thick" interpersonal trust-building mechanism is replaced by a "thin" general trust building mechanism, one that is not based on personal experience. This is a crucial finding because without knowing how to generate social capital it is difficult to apply the concept as a useful tool in democratization studies.

COMPETING VIEWS OF SOCIAL CAPITAL

A vast amount of literature exists on the topic of social capital. Due to the interdisciplinary nature of the concept, the definition has most often varied by the field of the researcher. In the political sciences, two polarized views dominate: Robert Putnam's and the response to his work by Michael Foley and Bob Edwards. In his seminal interpretation of the concept, Putnam argues that social capital is an attribute of society that creates social cooperation without which democracy would be overwhelmed by its own inefficiency.5 On the other hand, Foley and Edwards argue that Putnam has stretched the concept of social capital too far. They argue that social capital is not an attribute of societies but rather individuals and is context specific-not general.6 The research on social capital in Eastern Europe has focused on testing a Putnam-like model in case studies of single states, usually Russia, as Christopher Marsh and Richard Rose have done. …

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