Alternative approaches to researching social capital: A comment on van Deth's measuring social capital

Fiona Devine, John Michael Roberts

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    This paper responds to van Deth's overview of empirical research on social capital and the difficulties of measuring the concept. We entirely agree with many of the problems that he identifies with the dominant mode of enquiry to date: namely survey and polling methods of attitudinal data. We are sure there are ways of improving on such quantitative methods although we are of the view that qualitative research is especially helpful for exploring the processes of social capital formation and the relationship between networks and norms so crucial to Putnam's use of the concept. Briefly, we discuss our own qualititive work involving intensive interviews with 120 activists drawn from a Citizens Audit of Britain. We address the importance of pre-existing trust and informal processes of mobilization, the significance of experiences of group involvement for generating norms of trust as well as distrust and the extent to which evaluations of such experiences influence wider views of participation and democracy in Britain. In sum, we totally endorse van Deth's call for the greater use of 'multi-methods and multi-level srategies' in empirical research by extending his plea to consider the valuable role of qualitative methods in the study of social capital.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)93-100
    Number of pages7
    JournalInternational Journal of Social Research Methodology: Theory and Practice
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - Jan 2003


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