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 7: Why does social capital ‘sleep’?

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


In the previous chapter we saw how income inequality, labour market participation and national divergence are important socio-economic factors which in turn explain the variation of social capital across the European regions. Furthermore, the regression analysis has revealed that Wallonia and the South of Italy diverge from the general pattern because they display social capital scores largely below the average and positive residuals at the same time. This means that, according to the socio-economic factors, in Wallonia and the South of Italy social capital scores should be lower than currently detected. For this reason, they diverge from the other regions analysed, where according to the socio-economic conditions social capital scores should be higher in regions ranked below the average and lower in regions ranked above (Figure 6.1). These findings seem to challenge Putnam’s1 (1993) historical explanation of the lack of social capital in the South of Italy (based on the absence of medieval towns in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries) and offer an interesting puzzle that we try to disentangle from a comparative perspective. In this respect, the aim of this chapter is to assess the impact of historical evolution on social capital, starting from the interpretation of what the causal model leaves unexplained. The comparison between regular and deviant cases permits us to refine the findings gathered from the general model through the integration of the synchronic and the diachronic perspectives (on the theoretical value of this research design see Chapter 1 and Lijphart 1971).

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