Bridging and bonding: social capital at music festivals

Wilks, Linda (2011). Bridging and bonding: social capital at music festivals. Journal of Policy Research in Tourism, Leisure and Events, 3(3) pp. 281–297.



This paper uses the theoretical concept of social capital as its framework to examine festivals in the context of social and cultural policy. Government policies have cited the arts as a tool for combating social exclusion, overcoming barriers between people and fostering community cohesion. Social capital theorist Robert Putnam specifically suggests that cultural events can bring together diverse social groups. To investigate these claims in practice, this study collected empirical data at three festivals: a pop festival, an opera festival and a folk festival. The empirical data, comprising observations, screening questionnaires and in-depth interviews, was analysed using critical discourse analysis to bring out styles and discourses relating to social interactions. It was found that the reinforcement of existing relationships, termed bonding social capital by Putnam, was an important part of the festival experience. The formation of bridging social capital: that is, new and enduring social connections with previously unconnected attendees was not, however, found to be a feature of festivals, despite a sense of general friendliness and trust identified by some. Furthermore, drawing on Bourdieu’s conceptualisation of social capital, festival attendees were found to be remarkably similar in their demographic make-up, also throwing doubt on policy-related suggestions that festivals could be sites of inter-connections between people from diverse backgrounds. This study therefore suggests that music festivals are not valuable sites for social and cultural policy aims of combating social exclusion, bridging barriers between groups and fostering wider community cohesion.

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