Sense of belonging as an indicator for social capital: a mixed methods analysis of students’ sense of belonging to university

Electronic versions


  • Mi Young Ahn


Social capital, from the collective social capital theory perspective, is constituted by trust, social network and participation. Social capital is agreed to be crucial for civil society and wellbeing, but there is no general consensus on how to define and measure it. Sense of belonging shares important meanings with social capital, but is more amenable to measurement. Social capital, primarily a metaphor, is elastic, implicative, and versatile, whereas belonging is a more concrete and tangible concept that is suitable for the measurement. This research explores how belonging is related to social capital, and examines whether belonging can be used as an indicator for social capital. A mixed methods, qualitative and quantitative research design was developed to collect data on students’ sense of belonging to Bangor University. A new instrument, the 10 Words Question, was developed to elicit participants’ own thoughts and feelings, while a survey questionnaire was used in parallel, with questions about belonging, social capital, and demographic information. The empirical analysis reveals that there are four main domains of belonging, academic and social engagement, surroundings, and personal spaces. This challenges previous research on the subject in the UK. The findings suggest that students’ sense of belonging is strongly associated with social capital. Further conceptual and statistical analysis shows that there is significant overlap with each of the main components of social capital. One implication of the study is that a one-dimensional approach to students’ sense of belonging to an institution may result in poorly targeted and ineffective policies. The research highlights the complex characteristics of belonging, so if students’ belonging is to be used to promote academic success and retention, more conceptually refined approaches and empirically detailed evidence will be required. This research also demonstrates that belonging data can be used as a simple alternative indicator for social capital.


Iaith wreiddiolSaesneg
Sefydliad dyfarnu
Goruchwylydd / Goruchwylwyr / Cynghorydd
  • Howard Davis (Goruchwylydd)
Dyddiad dyfarnuIon 2017