Civic Orientations: Does Associational Type Matter?



A widespread consensus has emerged that a revival of patterns of civic engagement and citizenship will compensate for the assumed deficiencies of modern democracies. Voluntary associations are widely perceived as pivotal facilitators and mediators of social and political participation and as making a significant (direct and indirect) contribution to civic and democratic well-being. Associations are valorised as social capital manufacturers and for their all-round societal and democratic contribution. However, different types of association are likely to ‘produce’ very different levels of social capital. Given much of the contemporary focus on the (alleged) associational impact on members, there is a paucity of research that actually links citizens' orientations to the specific types of association they are involved in. This article seeks to make a contribution to that research gap by connecting the organisational context to membership, activism and volunteering. Unique data from a comparative study of associational life in Aberdeen (UK) and Mannheim (Germany) are presented. This study includes extensive mapping of all voluntary associations in these two cities, and interviews with selected members. In spite of the common expectation among social capitalists that groups concerned with social matters, small groups and groups with high levels of involvement will show higher levels of confidence and engagement, the data presented in this article did not uncover any systematic substantial difference (in either city).