Leaders, footsoldiers and befrienders: The gendered nature of social capital and political participation in Britain
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- Campbell, R. Br Polit (2013) 8: 28. doi:10.1057/bp.2012.21
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Feminist political scientists have had a two-track response to Robert Putnam's work on social capital. They have critiqued his original approach for failing to take gender into account, but they have also highlighted the potential of the concept for illuminating mechanisms that reproduce unequal gender relations. In the British case, Peter Hall and Vivien Lowndes have shown how key elements of Putnam's measures are highly gendered. Vivien Lowndes set out a research agenda for assessing the impact of men and women's group memberships upon political participation. This article tests Lowndes’ research questions using British data from the Citizenship Survey 2007. Men and women in Britain do belong to different formal associational networks but these differences do not appear to have a strong impact upon whether they participate in politics. Lowndes’ critique of the social capital literature's failure to incorporate women's informal child-care networks is supported; involvement in child-care networks is positively related to political participation in the form of signing petitions and negatively related to contacting Members of Parliament. Crucially, there are small but statistically significant divergences in the types of activities men and women undertake for organised groups and these roles are associated with variations in political participation.