Explaining stocks of social capital: Argentina in comparative perspective

Date of Completion

January 2005


History, Latin American|Political Science, General




A great deal of attention has been paid to how social capital shapes democratic practice, neglecting the study of its sources. In order to fill that gap, the goal of this dissertation is to account for the creation and evolution of social capital in a post-authoritarian scenario, in Argentina, since its return to democracy in the late 1983. In doing so, I consider three hypotheses: whether the main sources of social capital in that country are strongly affected by authoritarian legacies, whether they are a function of civic engagement or whether they are due to variation in public confidence in political institutions. My findings indicate that collective past experiences of authoritarian rule have an impact on individuals' orientations, beliefs and attitudes through a process of socialization. That is, what people have in mind is deeply rooted in past experiences having to do with politics. Yet stocks of social capital can develop even in post-authoritarian democracies. The former have a greater chance to accumulate where post authoritarian leaders are willing and able to invest in reshaping public confidence in political institutions. In doing so, those leaders will be marking a break from the past, remolding social memories of political institutions, and as a result, facilitating the accumulation of stocks of social capital, which is likely to be seen among younger cohorts. The primary evidence of this study comes from the World Values Survey, a cross-national survey including the country of Argentina during 1984, 1991 and 1995, as well as national surveys administered in the former. Finally, I present qualitative evidence from focus groups conducted in Buenos Aires in 2003. ^