In recent years both scholars and policymakers have expressed a remarkable amount of interest in the concepts of social capital and civil society. Social capital refers to intangible resources and benefits available and mediated through social networks and ties. The concept of social capital originated in sociological theory and has emerged as an important area of research, drawing from various disciplines in the social sciences. The origins of social capital can be traced to the early 19th century, but three seminal works by Bourdieu, Coleman, and Putnam have shaped the contemporary framework of social capital research and provide the foundation for this study abroad experience in Italy.
Robert Putnam's infamous book, Bowling Alone, focused on the decline of social capital in the United States over the past 3 decades using participation rates in social associations and secondary organizations (PTA, etc). The research for Bowling Alone was based on his time in Italy as he explored the cultural differences between North and South Italy as a representation of social capital. Putnam's definition of social capital refers to features of social organizations such as networks, norms and social trust that facilitates coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit. It is hypothesized that Northern Italy is a more developed region due to the influence of social capital, i.e., the networks and relationships that have been established. General research on social capital in Italy implies that social capital informs Italy's politics and society. Currently, Italy is the only country that seeks to measure social capital amongst it's citizens, which is reflected in the country's statistical literacy initiative through the National Institute of Statistics (Isat) based in Rome.
Additionally, Italy is gaining attention for the creation of it's own form of currency, called Sardex. Founded in 2010 by a group of childhood friends in Sardinia, an autonomous region of Italy, Sardex.net is an example of social capital to help with the economy on Sardinia by establishing a network amongst business owners to sell and purchase goods. Since it's founding, the company has extended beyond Sardinia to include businesses in the Umbria region (Perugia).
Therefore, through various academic, cultural and co-curricular activities, students will explore and observe the influence of social capital in Italy and compare and contrast it with their experiences in the United States. As they interact with businesses associated with Sardex.net and visit with staff from Isat, students will be challenged to reflect on their network(s), norms and organizations by asking the following:
What is social capital and how do we use and spend it to better our lives and overcome social oppressions and inequality?
Can social networking benefit individuals and our society by making meaningful connections with each other and creating dialogue?
What does social capital look like in a U.S. and in an international city?