Chapter 4: Social embeddedness
In The Civic Culture Almond and Verba argue that a well-functioning democratic system ‘rests upon a set of non-political attitudes and non-political affiliations’ (1963: 300). Such attitudes and affiliations develop in various contexts, both within primary groups such as families, friends and neighbours, and within other settings such as voluntary associations, workplaces, and so forth. We use the term social embeddedness to refer to people’s participation in these and other non-political groups and their orientations towards such collectivities (cf. Miller & Shanks 1996: 100–6). Among various forms of social embeddedness, Almond and Verba consider membership and participation in voluntary associations to be especially important: ‘The organizational member, compared with the non-member, is likely to consider himself more competent as a citizen, to be a more active participant in politics, and to know and care more about politics. He is, therefore, more likely to be close to the model of the democratic citizen’ (Almond & Verba 1963: 320–1). Almond and Verba’s argument foreshadows the currently thriving social capital literature. In 1993 Putnam and his associates published their highly influential book Making Democracy Work, where they argued that variations in the democratic performance of Italian regions were the result of differences in social capital existing in various regions. Putnam uses the term social capital to refer to ‘connections among individuals – social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them’ (Putnam 2000: 19). Voluntary associations and the social networks of civil society, Putnam argues, contribute to democracy in two ways.
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