Civil Society in Comparative Perspective: Involvement in Voluntary Associations in North America and Western Europe

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Involvement in voluntary associations is analyzed from the perspective of questions raised in the debate about civil society. After demarcating the concept of civil society in relation to the community, the market, and the state, expectations are formulated about the negative effects of modernization and individualization on volunteering and the positive effects of volunteering on social capital and public discourse. World Values 1990 data are used for inter- and intranational analyses. Neither rankings of thirteen Western nations nor in-depth analyses of the U.S., the Netherlands, and Italy support worried reflections about the effects of modernization. The Idea that involvement in voluntary associations is conducive to social cohesion and political democracy finds empirical support. Both mere membership of an association and actual volunteering within such an association appear to be important in this respect.

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