Rethinking the relationship between voluntary associations, democratic citizenship, and cultural values

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


This research aims to investigate the correlation between voluntary associations and cultural values in promoting democratic citizenship. Democratic citizenship consists of two key aspects, namely civic virtue (e.g., García, 2007; Zhu & Fu, 2017) and political engagement (e.g., Vassallo, 2004). Civic virtue can be measured by levels of generalised trust (Fukuyama, 1995b) and tolerance (Iglič, 2010). Political engagement can be measured as interest in politics, voting and political activities which include and consist of assertive civic culture (Welzel & Dalton, 2017). Some scholars suggest that emerging democracies in East Asia have fallen short on the formation of democratic citizenship (Chang, Zhu, & Park, 2007). This is despite a flourishing civic society in post democratisation. This research is timely in seeking to understand the true nature of democracy in this region.

This research utilises theories of social capital, political culture and Asian values debates to examine levels of democratic citizenship in the East and West. A multi-level approach encompassing both individual and country-level variables is adopted to estimate levels of democratic citizenship. More specifically, this research presents a series of large scale, comprehensive tests of democratic citizenship across twenty-nine countries employing the most recently released seventh waves of World Values Survey (WVS) data. It particularly pays attention to the theories and measurements of individual level membership of voluntary associations and societal level cultural values in fostering (or undermining) trust and other forms of democratic citizenship.
Findings highlighted that voluntary associations are beneficial for the generation of tolerance, generalised trust, and political engagement. However, the impacts depend largely on the cultural differences. While the current literature on social capital emphasises a positive effect between membership of voluntary associations and democratic citizenship, this position is only partially supported in the findings. Indeed, collectivistic, and hierarchical cultural values (e.g., Asian values) play a negative moderating role.

This research contributes to social capital theory by reigniting a long-standing debate over Confucianism and its compatibility with Western democratic values. It provides a theoretical and empirical basis for future research by integrating the existing theories of social capital,

political culture and Asian values thesis. Very few studies have integrated these frameworks to investigate these phenomena empirically. This study offers a new analytical tool to empirically explore the relationship between voluntary association and democracy across different cultural contexts.
Date of Award21 Mar 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bristol
SupervisorSarah A Ayres (Supervisor) & Eldin Fahmy (Supervisor)


  • Social capital
  • Political culture
  • Asian values
  • Democratic citizenship

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