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Social Capital, Guanxi, and the Road to Democracy in Taiwan

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image of Comparative Sociology
For content published from 1960-2001, see International Journal of Comparative Sociology.

Theories from Tocqueville to Putnam have stressed the role of organizational participation, social capital, in the emergence and maintenance of democracy. Taiwan is a strategic location for testing this because in the last two decades it has made the transition from an authoritarian regime to a multi-party democracy. Data from surveys of representative samples of the population of Taiwan in 1992 and 1997 do not support the theory in its original formulation. The mean level of participation in 15 types of formal voluntary organizations was not only much lower than that in the United States and several other societies, but declined significantly between 1992 and 1997, as democracy was advancing. Instead of rejecting the causal influence of social capital on democracy in Taiwan, I explore an alternative hypothesis. Though not a "nation of joiners," people in Taiwan create social capital in culturally distinctive ways, through the guanxi social networks of a society that is more relationship-based than either individualor collectivity-based.


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