Cycling and recycling: The effects of group context and member involvement on social capital


Social capital---what it is, how it is generated, and what it may or may not do for the larger political system---is the subject of a large and ongoing debate within political science. This dissertation seeks to answer the question: "What is it about group membership that may or may not produce social capital?" Much of the social capital literature alludes to a relationship between group membership and social capital, yet findings are often mixed on the importance of group membership for the production of social capital. Before the relationship between group membership and social capital can be discounted, it is critical to examine whether or not the organizational structure of a group has an impact on social capital. A theory of organizational structure and member involvement on the production of social capital is introduced and suggests that appropriately structured groups provide a context in which social capital can be produced. Appropriately structured groups are groups that promote face-to-face interaction between members and leaders, avenues for member participation in decision-making and the setting of group goals, communication between members and leaders, and member participation in strategies to achieve group goals. It is expected that the level of member participation within the group will mediate the influence of the group organizational structure. Data used to examine the influence of member involvement and general group structure on the production of social capital are from the American National Election Study, 1996 and the American Citizen Participation Study, 1990. Original data collected from a random sample of members of the Texas Bicycle Coalition and the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club are used to examine more closely the impact of group structure and member involvement on social capital. Overall, the findings indicate that group structure affects the production of social capital and suggest that future research should focus on examining the organizational structure of a larger number of groups

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