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Conceptualising social capital for health promotion in small local communities : a micro-qualitative study

Campbell, Catherine and Gillies, Pamela (2001) Conceptualising social capital for health promotion in small local communities : a micro-qualitative study. Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology, 11 (5). pp. 329-346. ISSN 1052-9284

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Identification Number: 10.1002/casp.635


This paper reports on a micro-qualitative case study of peoples’ experiences of local community life in a south east English town. This material is used as the basis for a critical discussion of the suitability of Putnam’s notion of social capital as a conceptual tool for the design and evaluation of ‘community strengthening’ policies and interventions. The study was motivated by a concern that too much debate about social capital has been conducted by academics and policy-makers in a top-down manner, with inadequate attention to the realities of life in the local communities that they refer to. Three-hour semi-structured interviews were conducted with 37 residents in two less affluent wards in our town of interest. Informants - half men and half women, and spread across the 15-75 age group - were encouraged to talk about their personal experiences of local community life. Interview findings are presented within the 'norm' categories of trust, neighbourliness and reciprocal help and support, and the 'network' categories of participation in informal networks, voluntary groupings and community activist groupings. Our case study points to a number of ways in which Putnam's concept needs to be refined if it is to inform 'community strengthening' policies and interventions in England. Far more notice needs to be taken of the role played by informal networks of friends and neighbours in the construction of local community life. Attention also needs to be given to the complex and shifting geographical spread of peoples’ significant social networks. Putnam’s conceptualisation of cohesive local communities and his unitary notions of trust and local identity may also be unduly essentialist. In our particular communities of interest, they failed to capture the fluidity of local community norms and networks in a rapidly changing society. They also failed to do justice to the extent to which social distinctions – such as age, gender, ethnicity and housing tenure - shape and constrain the way in which people create, sustain and access social capital.

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Additional Information: Conceptualising 'social capital' for health promotion in small local communities: a micro-qualitative study, C. Campbell and P. Gillies, Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology 11(5) © 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. LSE has developed LSE Research Online so that users may access research output of the School. Copyright © and Moral Rights for the papers on this site are retained by the individual authors and/or other copyright owners. Users may download and/or print one copy of any article(s) in LSE Research Online to facilitate their private study or for non-commercial research. You may not engage in further distribution of the material or use it for any profit-making activities or any commercial gain. You may freely distribute the URL ( of the LSE Research Online website.
Divisions: Psychological and Behavioural Science
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HT Communities. Classes. Races
H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare. Criminology
Date Deposited: 21 Jun 2006
Last Modified: 15 May 2024 23:56

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