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Social capital as analytical tool for geographical communities: overview and empirical evidence from Latvia

On May 27, Guido Sechi (University of Latvia, Latvia) participated in the «Culture matters» seminar.

Professor Sechi gave a talk entitled «Social capital as a conceptual and analytical tool for community studies». In his talk G. Sechi described existing approaches to social capital studies and presented on his own findings. The presentation began with a criticism of a simplistic and uncritically positive view of social capital presented in early studies (Putnam, 1993, 2000; Fukuyama, 1995). Sechi stressed the importance of negative features of «closed» societies and the political aspects of social capital. The talk continued with more recent developments of social capital research, the distinction between bonding, bridging, and linking social capital, and the importance of understanding cognitive aspects of social capital, such as knowledge exchange, social learning, and trust. 

After a theoretical review, the presentation continued with Professor Sechi’s own research of cognitive mechanisms behind social capital. The first study was dedicated to the relationship between social capital and identity development. The data showed that trust towards institutions is positively related to social engagement, and social engagement correlates with the strength of geographic, professional, and ethnic identities. The second study tested a hypothesis on the influence of personal wealth on trust towards institutions and towards other people. According to the tested model, personal wealth strengthens trust towards institutions, which promotes social engagement, and social engagement, in its turn, promotes trust towards other people. Gathered data supported the proposed model, but not for well-educated city dwellers. The last project assessed knowledge exchange in hybrid communities. The participants were recruited among the users of the National Library of Latvia. The results of the study confirmed the structural equation model, according to which various types of cognitive social capital affect the motivation for seeking knowledge and the quality of received knowledge.