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The study circle, democracy and social capital

Research project The project studies how and to what extent study circle activity is related to the experience of social trust and public influence.

A study circle is a group of around ten people who meet regularly to study a particular topic. It was originally established in Sweden at the end of the 19th century and is still frequently used. The study circle is regarded as important for the creation and re-creation of social capital and for a form of democracy based on popular movements. This study aims at comparing two similar counties, Jämtland and Västerbotten, but very with different regarding the use of study circles. This study aims at investigating the reasons for this difference and to explore if it is linked to any corresponding differences in social capital between the two counties.

Head of project

Stefan Gelfgren
Associate professor
E-mail
Email

Project overview

Project period:

2007-02-26 2010-12-31

Participating departments and units at Umeå University

Humlab

Research area

History of ideas, Political science

Project description

A study circle is a group of around ten people who meet regularly to study a particular topic. It was originally established in Sweden at the end of the 19th century and is still frequently used. In the research literature, the study circle is regarded as important for the creation and re-creation of social capital and for a form of democracy based on popular movements. However, the use of study circles varies considerably between different parts of Sweden. Two of the northernmost counties – Västerbotten and Jämtland – are similar in many ways but very different with regard to the use of the study circle. Almost twice as many citizens take part in study circles in Västerbotten compared with Jämtland and this difference has even increased during the last few decades and is even stronger among young people.

This study aims at investigating the reasons for this difference and to explore if it is linked to any corresponding differences in social capital between the two counties. What institutions, actors and idea traditions have contributed to reinforce the position of the circle in one county and what have served to undermine it in the other? The comparative perspective makes it possible to critically test the assumption of a connection between the study circle and social capital. The study combines theories and methods from political science and the history of ideas and uses a mixture of methods, such as interviews, studies of archives and citizen surveys. The project is conducted by Anders Lidström, professor in Political Science, and Stefan Gelfgren, PhD in History of Ideas.