Exploring the role of social capital in community-based physical activity: qualitative insights from parkrun

Gareth Wiltshire, Clare Stevinson

Abstract

There is a need to understand how social inequalities related to physical activity and health persist across Western societies. Taking a practice-led approach to intervention research, we argue that free, community-based physical activity initiatives - such as the rapidly growing running initiative parkrun - have the potential to improve physical activity and health in low socioeconomic groups. To explore this issue, this study departs from individualised notions of health behaviour and draws on the concept of social capital in order to add to the sociological understanding of physical activity. Interviews were carried out with previously inactive parkrun participants and were analysed thematically through the lens of social capital. Our analysis illustrates how: (1) participants often draw on existing social ties (family, friends, neighbours and colleagues) to initiate their participation in parkrun, (2) participants invest in and benefit from the aggregate labour of the wider parkrun community (their network of social relations) and therefore are privy to significant practical and affective support, and (3) participants utilise social capital to gain access to knowledge related to running performance, injury management and health. We conclude by arguing that volunteer-led, community-based physical activity initiatives are likely to disproportionately engage social groups with high social capital and that efforts to promote physical activity among low socioeconomic groups would benefit from fostering social capital. This study offers insight into the successes and problems of parkrun from a sociological perspective.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)47-62
Number of pages16
JournalQualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health
Volume10
Issue number1
Early online date14 Sep 2017
DOIs
StatePublished - 2018

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Motor Activity
Social Capital
Health
Community Networks
Foster Home Care
Health Behavior
Volunteers
Interviews
Wounds and Injuries

Cite this

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title = "Exploring the role of social capital in community-based physical activity: qualitative insights from parkrun",
abstract = "There is a need to understand how social inequalities related to physical activity and health persist across Western societies. Taking a practice-led approach to intervention research, we argue that free, community-based physical activity initiatives - such as the rapidly growing running initiative parkrun - have the potential to improve physical activity and health in low socioeconomic groups. To explore this issue, this study departs from individualised notions of health behaviour and draws on the concept of social capital in order to add to the sociological understanding of physical activity. Interviews were carried out with previously inactive parkrun participants and were analysed thematically through the lens of social capital. Our analysis illustrates how: (1) participants often draw on existing social ties (family, friends, neighbours and colleagues) to initiate their participation in parkrun, (2) participants invest in and benefit from the aggregate labour of the wider parkrun community (their network of social relations) and therefore are privy to significant practical and affective support, and (3) participants utilise social capital to gain access to knowledge related to running performance, injury management and health. We conclude by arguing that volunteer-led, community-based physical activity initiatives are likely to disproportionately engage social groups with high social capital and that efforts to promote physical activity among low socioeconomic groups would benefit from fostering social capital. This study offers insight into the successes and problems of parkrun from a sociological perspective.",
author = "Gareth Wiltshire and Clare Stevinson",
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