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Social Capital in Decline: Friendly Societies in Australia, 1850-1914

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  • Arthur Downing

Abstract

Participation in ‘friendly societies’ (or other cooperative organisations) is often used as proxy for measuring the stock of social capital. This is too simplistic. Friendly societies underwent radical changes over the nineteenth century and contemporaries regularly demoaned that sociability, member participation and conviviality had been in steady decline over the second half of the century. This paper investigates the social relations between friendly society members. Part one looks at the importance of lynchpin ‘social capitalists’ in the functioning of lodges. Parts two and three examine how lodges generated social capital and how they relied on social network ties between members to function. Part four applies network analysis to proposition books to assess ‘intra’ lodge relationships between members. As friendly societies grew in size they became more business like. In turn the emphasis shifted from sociability and conviviality to insurance provision. In the process social capital was squandered, but the welfare function of these organisations was temporarily safeguarded.

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  • Arthur Downing, 2012. "Social Capital in Decline: Friendly Societies in Australia, 1850-1914," Economics Series Working Papers Number 105, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:oxf:wpaper:number-105
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