Chapter 4 focused on political parties, which are one type of voluntary organization, and, consequently, in this chapter we widen the focus to look at voluntary activity more generally. It is fair to say that volunteering has always been recognized as an important feature of civil society in Britain (see Almond and Verba, 1963). But work over the last ten years or so has shown that it is even more important than the earlier research suggested, because of its contribution to social capital. The concept of social capital has become more and more influential in social science in recent years. As Chapter 3 explained, social capital refers to cooperative relationships between individuals based on mutual trust and norms of reciprocation. Students of social capital look at networks of volunteering, the effectiveness of voluntary activity and interpersonal trust in society. It transpires that unpaid voluntary activities make a very important contribution to social capital, which, in turn, has all kinds of benign effects on society and politics, and therefore, trends in volunteering take on a particular significance for supporting civil society (see Putnam, 1993, 2000).
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