Social Capital in Unequal Societies. A Comparative Study between Old and New European Democracies

GT 3.5 Sociedad civil en el Sur de Europa: un nuevo actor para el fortalecimiento de la democracia

Conceição Pequito
Jorge Sá

After 1989, the transition process from communism to democracy challenged the conventional view which stated that a democracy is constituted by only two elements: a constitutional and representative political system and a market economy. Ralf Dahrendorf, in 1990, was one of the first scholars to remind that civil society accounts for one of the key elements of democracies.

Therefore, although the expression "civil society" bears a long and noble history in western political thinking, the truth is that only from the 1990's and forward did it enjoy the attention of the academic community and public opinion. And if that's so, it is largely due to the generalized conviction that arose in the 1990's, that not only post-communist and democracy-transitioning countries needed to worry about a total absence or weaknesses of their civil societies, but the "state of health" of civil societies in consolidated democracies began to be questioned more often.

It is nevertheless symptomatic the fast and broad academic success of Robert Putnam's Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy, published in 1993, and consequently, of the concept of social capital and the role of civic traditions, trust and more or less formal voluntary associations over the stability of democracy and quality functioning of political institutions.

In this article our objective is to analyze the micro and macro determinants of the different sides of social capital in the democracies of Southern Europe, comparing this geographical area to the remaining European democracies in order to test the hypothesis of the existence of some exceptionalism in Southern European civil societies regarding the sources of social capital. This is an essentially empirical study, and it will assume a longitudinal and comparative perspective.