Social capital in the music festival experience

Wilks, Linda (2011). Social capital in the music festival experience. In: Page, Stephen and Connell, Joanne eds. The Routledge Handbook of Events. Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 260–272.



This chapter 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 culture and the arts as social tools which can help combat social exclusion, bridge barriers between groups and foster community cohesion. Leading 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 designed to provide insight into the operation of social inter-relationships 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 new and enduring social connections with previously unconnected attendees - Putnam’s bridging social capital - was not, however, found to be a feature of festivals, despite a sense of general friendliness and trust identified by some. 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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