Social capital and mobility

Since one and a half week or so a student from the University of Concepcion in Chile, Diego Solsona, has been with us — my colleague Karen Lucas and myself — at the Transport Studies Unit. Diego will be with us for three months in the context of the project ‘Transport and Social Exclusion: New Directions and National Comparisons’ (Transendance), in which we collaborate with the University of Concepcion, Chile (Juan-Antonio Carrasco) and Ghent University, Belgium (Tijs Neutens) and which is financed by the Marie Curie International Research Exchange Scheme under the Seventh Framework Programme of the EU.

Diego is the first student to come to us and he is working on a literature review about the concept of social capital. He is currently focusing on the question how social capital is conceptualised, understood and defined across a range of disciplines, including geography, social, public health and urban studies. The idea behind this exercise is that the concept is used (and abused?) in a wide variety of ways, and that this has made the concept even more fuzzy and elusive — in much the same way as has happened with wellbeing. It may seem, then, that people are talking about one and the same thing but in practice are talking about a range of different things. This obviously has significant ramifications for researchers interested in mobilities and transport who want to understand who mobility is related to social capital. The overarching goal of the work Diego is currently undertaking, therefore, is to arrive to at:

  • A robust definition or set of definitions of social capital (which goes beyond the obvious ones propounded by Bourdieu, Coleman and Putnam); and
  • A deeper understanding of, and a series of hypotheses regarding, how social capital is related to the everyday mobility of people across geographical space.

After just a week’s work we already see some interesting patterns in how the concept of social capital is used and developed within human geography. I am sure Diego’s work will result in many very interesting insights and I will report on these on this blog in due course.

Analysing leisure trips

Dick Ettema and myself have written a conceptual paper on leisure travel and activities that will shortly be published in Journal of Transport Geography. In the paper we contend that the conceptual and methodological approaches currently used to examine leisure travel are problematic in a number of ways — one of these being that the relational nature of leisure trips is not adequately taken into consideration. Yes, there is increasing attention for social relations and social networks in travel behaviour analysis but this, we argue, does not go far enough. What is more, the linking of information on a person’s social networks to indicators of his/her travel behaviour in econometric models is conceptually unsatisfactory: it fails to consider how (a) social networks are just one of the space and time specific sets of relations leisure trips are situated in, and (b) how social relations are both medium and outcome of leisure activities and associated trips. We argue that there are complex recursive relationships between leisure activities and trips on the one hand and social relations and ‘place’ on the other. We use the concept of place to capture the more comprehensive sets of relationalities (over and beyond social networks) — think, for instance, of affordances, affects, norms, identities and power — in which leisure activities need to be positioned. We also outline how various theoretical frameworks — such as theories of social practices (a.k.a. practice theory) from sociology and geography and self-determination theory from psychology — can help us to advance the study of leisure activities and trips within travel behaviour and mobility analysis.

The paper is available here.