Purpose- This paper examines the possibility of using sense of belonging as an indicator for social capital. Social capital, from the collective social capital theory perspective, is constructed from three main elements: trust, social network and participation. Social capital is crucial to civil society and wellbeing, but there is no consensus on how to define and measure it. This paper approaches this problem with the different but related concept of sense of belonging, as belonging overlaps with social capital conceptually, but also is more amenable to measurement.
Design/methodology/approach- Qualitative and quantitative data was collected from approximately 800 university students and used to explore the relationship between belonging and social capital both conceptually and empirically in the higher education context.
Findings -The mixed methods research analysis in this paper provides strong evidence to show how sense of belonging and social capital are theoretically and empirically intertwined. Conceptually they occupy overlapping spheres and their connections can be clearly traced and measured. This is supported by substantial statistical evidence of their relatedness, despite their independent origins in social research. For these reasons, this paper argues that sense of belonging can be used as a simplified alternative way to measure social capital.
Originality/value- This paper explains the advantages of using sense of belonging to understand social capital. It sets out a conceptual framework and provides a statistical demonstration. This paper develops and enriches a current strand of social capital and sense of belonging research in the fields of sociology and higher education policy.