Bonding and bridging social capital in immigrant sportclubs

Por: Paul Verweel.

Athens 2004: Pre-olympic Congress

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Bourdieu (1983/1986) says that class differences influence the possibilities to develop social capital. He considers social capital as the acquisition of ‘class privileged goods’. Putnam (2000) on the contrary defines social capital as the acquisition of ‘public goods’. Social capital is the total of resources and structural characteristics that one used by individuals and groups in specific actions. From this perspective Putnam states that sport clubs are important locations of the production of social capital. The emphasis is here on the experiences and meanings of human relationships in the development of social capital. Breedveld et al (2003) researched the social capital within sport clubs and classified it in social meanings, that are related to the development of networks and/or trust. In this research was shown that people in organised sport clubs had more confidence in their fellow sportsmen than people in non-organised sports or non sporting people. The thesis of Putnam treats the question whether the development of this and other forms of social capital is the result of mechanisms of bonding (cohesion within one’s own group, collective identity) and bridging (learn to cope with ‘others’ outside one’s own group). These general theses require empirical investigations in depth such as we undertook earlier to the question of diversity in regular sport organisations (Anthonissen 2000, Verweel & Anthonissen 2000).

The political and social debate in the Netherlands focuses in the (un)desirability of separate sport clubs for immigrants. The presupposition is that separate sport clubs for immigrants lead to (unhealthy) forms of bonding. Sporting in mixed regular clubs is necessary, in this view, in order to acquire bridging capital. These hypothesis are central in an intensive ethnographic research that was held in 16 sport clubs and through a broad questionary. Care was taken to include in the chosen sport clubs the presence of colonial immigrants (people with a Surinam and Dutch Antillean background) and labor immigrants (people with a Turkish or Moroccan background) in regular and separate immigrant sport clubs.

In this paper the emphasis lies on empirical research in which we performed participating observations in club life, contests and meetings during one whole year and in which we made life histories (trhough interviews) of men in different positions in sport clubs. We also look at the way in which the input of social capital leads either to the (re)production of social inequality between individuals and groups (Lin 2001) or to chances for emancipation. Our aim is to redefine Putnams’s thesis, but also to give insight in the paradoxical relationships between bridging and bonding mechanisms in the development of social capital in sport clubs and society.


[1]. Anthonissen, A. (2000), Dutch Sport Organisations in Transition: Organizing Diversity, in J. Steenbergen. P. DeKnop & A. Elling (eds.), Values and Norms in Sport (pp.197-216) Oxford/Aachen: Meyer & Meyer
[2]. Bourdieu, P. (1983/1986), The Forms of Capital, in J.G. Richardson, Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education (pp.241-258), Westport CT: Greenwood Press
[3]. Breedveld, K. et al (2003), Report of Sport 2003 (in Dutch), Den Haag: SCP
[4]. Lin, N. (2001), Social Capital. A Theory of Social Structure and Action. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
[5]. Verweel, P. & Anthonissen A. (2000), Color Blinds. Constructing Ethnic Identity in Sport Organisations, in A. Knoppers (ed.), The Construction of Meaning in Sport Organizations. Management of Diversity (pp.91-102). Maastricht: Shaker






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