Social Capital in Europe
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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.
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Chapter 8: Fraternal twins: institutional evolution and social capital

Emanuele Ferragina


In the previous chapter the interaction between socio-economic factors and historical evolution has been discussed, thereby explaining the divergent pattern of Wallonia and the South of Italy. Following on from this approach, the sleeping social capital theory has been illustrated by comparing these two deviant cases with Flanders and the North East of Italy (the control cases). This chapter aims to integrate the comparative historical analysis, taking into account the impact of political organizations and institutional change on social capital. As emphasized by North (1990: VII): history matters because present and future are connected to the past by the continuity and transformation of society’s institutions. Belgium and Italy sit on two important fractures of the European continent; Belgium at the crossroads between the Latin and the Germanic world,1 and Italy between North European and Mediterranean space. These two fractures have different origins but similar effects on the political culture and institutional development of each country, as demonstrated by the parallel passage from a central to a federal state, through regionalization. Institutional change in the two countries is discussed starting from the wide historical and social cleavages that traversed the two countries after their unification in the nineteenth century. Their political cultures have been characterized by a high fragmentation of society around vertical groups, the diffusion of a system of relations between formal and informal powers, and a pervasive corruption, which served to smooth out the system and avoid blockages.

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