Social Capital in Europe

Social Capital in Europe

A Comparative Regional Analysis

Emanuele Ferragina

The book investigates the determinants of social capital across 85 European regions capturing the renewed interest among social capital theorists for the importance of active secondary groups in supporting the correct functioning of society and its democratic institutions. Robert Putnam merged quantitative and historical analyses, suggesting that the lack of social capital in the south of Italy was mainly due to a peculiar historical development rather than being the product of a mix of structural socio-economic factors, a conclusion that has been the subject of fierce criticism and debate.

Chapter 3: Why we need a regional analysis

Emanuele Ferragina

Subjects: politics and public policy, european politics and policy, social policy and sociology, comparative social policy, sociology and sociological theory, urban and regional studies, regional studies


Social capital has been measured at the comparative regional level by Beugelsdijk and Van Schaik (2005a and b). However, their contribution (see previous chapter) does not illustrate why a comparative regional analysis is useful in discussing the determinants of social capital. For this reason, the objective of this chapter is to explain through historical, institutional and empirical arguments why a comparative regional analysis can complement the cross-national approach. Etymologically the word region, differently from state and nation, directly refers to a ‘ruled territory’. During the Middle Ages, regions were the main political and administrative entity. The creation of the modern states, in countries like Belgium, Italy, the United Kingdom, Spain and Germany did not erase the rich historical heritage that helps to explain why social capital largely diverges among regions of the same country (see Chapter 4). At the institutional level the progressive devolution of competences from the central governments to the regions is clearly shown by the Regional Authority Index (RAI; Hooghe et al. 2008a and b). One of the most controversial elements of this development is the definition of the impact of the European integration process. Despite the increasing cooperation between the European Union and the regions there is no consensus in the literature about the effect of this process on regional autonomy. The historical and institutional elements of discussion are complemented by an empirical test at the individual level. A multiple regression model is elaborated to test whether people that feel closer to their region, rather than their local community or nation, tend to have higher social capital scores.

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