Social Capital and Boarding Schools in Italy

By Carbognin, Alessandra | Italian Sociological Review, January 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

Social Capital and Boarding Schools in Italy


Carbognin, Alessandra, Italian Sociological Review


Abstract

The field of education is the area to which the concept of SC is traditionally applied. This study develops a very specific topic: the role played by residential secondary schools, especially in the form of public institutions. These are very specific institutions and quite rare in Italy. The conception of SC adopted in this study separates the social contexts in which it is generated distinguishing three types of SC: 1) Family SC; 2) Wider community SC; 3) Generalized SC. This paper looks at the measure in which the three types of SC affect the development of human capital (HC), of civic culture, and of the planning skills (generative skills) of the students in public residential high schools. In this work I present the data relative to the incidence of SC on micro- and meso-type relationships. This quantitative survey collected data on an experimental sample of students from all the Italian public boarding schools, and on a control group of students from an ordinary Italian state high school.

Keywords: Social capital, human capital, state secondary schools.

Introduction

Within the school environment some important social processes are engendered that can lead to social cohesion or, conversely, to inequalities, distress, discrimination and social disintegration. The tight network of relationships that is created between the main players in the educational context, i.e. the students and their families, the teachers, the school directors and the youth workers, allows an in-depth analysis of these processes.

Based on a long tradition, in Italy there are two types of public residential schools: the girls' boarding school (educandato) and the boys's boarding school (convitto). Inside both types of boarding institutions there is a school open to students throughout the school year.1

In this essay I will examine some aspects of the Italian residential education system through the study of primary and secondary social capital (SC) production, taking into consideration some structural aspects (such as socioeconomic status, or academic achievement, i.e. the human capital (HC) possessed by the students and their families). The concepts that guided my analysis are trust, cooperation, civic and generative skills2; they made it possible to highlight the different forms of SC, from the concept of SC as an individual resource3 to the SC identified as a collective resource.

The concepts of HC and SC have been well received in the field of social sciences, and it can be said that the concept of SC itself was generated by reflections on education and the development of HC (Hanifan, 1916; Bourdieu, 1986; Coleman, 1988).4 Moreover, the direction taken in recent years emphasizes the themes that deal with the individual in the educational context, and reflect on his/her ability to interact with the institutional school world.

HC is generally understood as the sum of the skills and relational abilities that produce a real and tangible investment through which education and training become indicators of their economic. The term has already been examined by Becker and Stigler (1977) in their study of culture as "meritorious good" and "experience good".

Since the end of the 1990s, and in particular over the last decade, an ever-growing number of sociologists and political scientists have worked on these concepts, contributing greatly to educational science.

SC is generally understood as the resource linked to relationships based on trust, help and cooperation that can produce further trust, help or individual and/or collective resources. It can be considered a kind of "social binding force".

Because of the importance that the concepts of SC and HC have on a social level, there has been an attempt to elaborate on their meaning, particularly in the field of the education system, where the new generations of citizens are formed.5

I have tried to highlight the importance of one fundamental aspect: the presence of SC in the school environment, and particularly within relationships. …

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