Young people and social capital: an exploration.




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De Montfort University


Thesis or dissertation

Peer reviewed


Drawing on a critical realist approach and especially Derek Layder’s ‘Domain Theory’ (Layder 1997; 2006) this thesis explores the richness and complexity of young people’s social capital. The study used a mixed methods design which incorporated sequential and concurrent data collection and analysis comprising 16 in-depth interviews, 17 discussion groups and a survey questionnaire (n=500). Twenty one organisations participated in this study, accessed through youth groups, the youth justice system, one school and one college from the Midlands area, in the 13-19 age range. The total sample using all research methods was 574 young people.

Young people’s maintenance and enhancement of social capital is seen as a process which has to be negotiated in a continuous interaction between self, situated activity, social settings and contexts. Within this, critical creative agency, a positive outlook on life and being able to make the leap of trust become agentic mediating factors which help young people to navigate life situations and take the necessary risks to develop a more dynamic social capital.

The study challenges some common discourses on diversity, especially those referring to bonding and bridging social capital (Putnam 2000). Contexts of privilege but also of gender and ethnicity are important mechanisms that have a strong impact on the access to social capital resources and points towards the resiliency young people are able to build.

Policy and practice need to build on the situated activity of young people and not erode it. Enhancing young people’s existing social capital is achieved by building on their existing resourcefulness, strengthening their existing support networks, opening up new horizons and creating access to new resources within a strength perspective. Institutions need to enhance resiliency and positive risk taking, nurture trusting relationships with significant others and enhance young people’s outlook on life.



social capital, young people, resiliency, critical creative agency, critical realism, domain theory, mixed methods, Sozialkapital, Junge Menshen, gente joven



Research Institute