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Voluntary Associations, Trust, and Civic Engagement: A Multilevel Approach

Dag Wollebæk, Kristin Strømsnes
Published: 10 December 2007

Abstract: This article argues that the scope of the voluntary sector is more important than the activity level of members for the formation of social capital. The intensity and scope of 13 European voluntary sectors are analyzed on both the individual and aggregate levels. This reveals no additional effect of face-to-face contact (active participation) over passive membership. Thus, the primary mechanism of social capital formation in the voluntary sector cannot be socialization of individual members. Furthermore, effects at the aggregate level are much stronger than at the individual level. This indicates that social capital is constructed through institutional (macro), not social (micro) processes. It is not face-to-face encounters but awareness of strong and visible voluntary organizations in society that generate a belief in the utility and rationality of collective action. Thus, voluntary organizations institutionalize rather than generate social capital.
Keywords: social capital / face / scope / aggregate / voluntary sector / members

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