Social Capital: Rethinking Change What A Theory of Social Capital Reveals About Democratic Stability

  • Tijs Adams Maastricht University
Keywords: Social Capital, Political Participation, Populism


Democracy is often perceived to be in a state of crisis, with theorists ready to measure the perceived decline in democratic health. In this paper I aim to understand the implicit assumptions about democracy within the theory of social capital formulated by Robert Putnam. Normative assumptions expressed by such a theory can say more about democracy than the findings they present based on specific collections of data. A conceptual analysis of social capital is done through a historical overview of the term, by locating it within the philosophical debate between individualism and communitarianism, and by presenting empirical and theoretical counterarguments to its claims. Political participation and civic engagement is shown to not simply be declining, but rather traditional metrics no longer capture the reality of how politics is performed. Equally, certain forms of social capital generating networks are questioned regarding their perceived positive impact on democracy, as understood within a sociological framework. Finally a look at the phenomenon of populism is considered. Populism is reconceptualised as not necessarily signifying the crisis of democracy as a whole, but as an opportunity to reflect on representative politics and the current political paradigm.

Author Biography

Tijs Adams, Maastricht University
Tijs Adams received his Bachelors degree in Arts and Culture from Maastricht university in 2017. He is Currently doing a Masters in Social and Cultural Anthropology at the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium.


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