22 SES 02 D, Social Responsibility: Participation and Democracy
The positive relationships between higher education and civic participation has been well rehearsed and has been recognised as a European and, indeed, wider international phenomenon for decades (Putnam 2000; Campbell 2006). To date, however, most of our insights about these relationships have been gleaned from the analysis of large-scale, quantitative data sets. Whilst valuable in furthering our understanding about the relationships between education and participation in different forms of social life (including associations, societies, clubs), and the frequency of this participation, this research has not enabled examination of the meanings and significance of social participation to people’s lives, the processes underpinning it and the motives and explanations for participation and non-participation. This paper aims to fill this gap.
Drawing upon the in-depth biographical narratives of 63 UK citizens in their early 50s, the paper makes comparisons between graduates and non-graduates in their civic participation. In addition, it explores more nuanced differences within the sub-sample of graduates in their social participation and other forms of social capital, including their neighbourly connections and informal social networks. This examination is deeply revealing of the relationships between HE participation and different forms of social capital, documenting differences between graduates and non-graduates, as well as the heterogeneity amongst the former in terms of their civic participation. We examine explanations for these differences with a particular consideration of respondents’ early childhood and educational experiences at school and in HE. Our focus on individuals who are largely united by their education level, place of residence and stage in the life course provides an invaluable opportunity for the exploration of factors predicting social participation which moves beyond a crude lens of level of education which dominates much of the research in this field.
The paper is framed by contemporary debates about inequalities more generally and the socially uneven distribution of social capital in particular. Indeed, it makes an important contribution to these debates by revealing relationships between different types of social capital and different social groups, and also the heterogeneity within particular social groups in their experience of social capital. The paper concludes with a brief discussion of the implications of these findings not only for our understandings of the role of HE in the structuring of social life, but also of the relationships between different forms of capital (human and social) and how these can be conceptualised and measured.
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