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The response of two BC sawmill communities to the recession of the early 1980s : a newspaper analysis of social capital in the context of economic downturn Salomons, Kia


This study uses 6 identified dimensions of social capital in Canada to describe and characterize the response of two resource-dependent sawmill communities, Nanaimo and Powell River, British Columbia, during a period of severe economic downturn (1981-1983), using publicly available information found in community newspapers. Social capital is commonly conceptualized as a collective property of social relationships but is most commonly measured as an aggregation of individual survey responses. This study explores whether and how aggregated individual measures of social capital may be manifested in a collective context. A factor analysis of responses to the Equality, Security, Community (ESC) Survey, a representative survey of Canadian adults designed to investigate civil society and the formation of social capital, identified 6 dimensions of social capital in Canada (1). Five of the six dimensions of social capital are composites of cognitive individual measures of social capital, the sixth is a structural measure of community participation. A ’collective’ operational definition was developed for each of the dimensions prior to analyzing the newspaper data. Results show that a structural measure of social capital, namely ’community participation’, was substantially manifested in the newspaper coverage. The two dimensions related to trust - ’government trust’ and ’social trust’ - were not. One dimension, ’economic belief, was manifested in the newspapers of one town, but not the other. Some elements of the dimensions pertaining to perceptions of ’institutional performance’ and to values about ’solidarity’ were manifested in each town. The newspaper coverage on the community’s response was different in each of the two towns. The economic and resulting social structures in the two towns were quite different, as was the degree of relative geographic isolation, and these differences likely affected the nature of the social relationships, which would partly account for the different character of the community response in each town. If social capital is conceptualized as a collective property, a resource that is embedded in relationships that are features of the social structures of society, these results seem to suggest that economic base, degree of isolation, population size and composition and social hierarchy all matter in terms of social capital.

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