How the Rural Context Influences Social Capital: Experiences in Two Ontario Communities

Ellen Buck-McFadyen, Sandy Isaacs, Patricia Strachan, Noori Akhtar-Danesh, Ruta Valaitis


Social capital has shown potential for its ability to improve physical and mental health, although findings about social capital’s impact in rural areas have been less promising. The aim of this study was to shed light on how adults in two small towns of rural Ontario experience social capital in their daily lives, and to contribute to the broader literature about the relationship between social capital and rural health. This qualitative phase of a sequential mixed methods study used interpretive description to explore community interactions, social and recreational opportunities, and issues of inclusion and exclusion in two rural Southern Ontario communities. Forty adults of varying ages were recruited using convenience sampling and participated in one of eight focus groups or 13 individual interviews. Data was collected between August and December of 2017 and was analyzed concurrently. The rural context influenced the experience of social capital and residents’ opportunities for accessing it. The structural context was relevant to the social capital experience due to rural residents’ reliance on cars, limited opportunities for young adults, and high rates of rural poverty. The social context influenced social capital by way of rural familiarity and friendly social norms, lack of privacy, and long-established social networks. While there is no single experience of rural social capital, these findings offer a picture of how the rural context can shape individuals’ experiences and opportunities for social capital in ways that benefit some community members while marginalizing others. Implications for health and strategies for building rural social capital are discussed.

Keywords: Social capital, context, interpretive description, rural

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The Journal of Rural and Community Development is supported by SSHRC.