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

Gareth Wiltshire, Clare Stevinson

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There is a need to address social inequalities related to health and physical activity. Taking a practice-led approach to intervention research, this paper uses the case of parkrun–a rapidly growing weekly running initiative–to explore the potential of free, community-based opportunities to improve physical activity in low socio-economic groups. Our approach departs from individualistic behavioural research and draws on the concept of social capital in order to add to the sociological understanding of physical (in)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 acquired social capital to accumulate cultural capital related to injury management, performance and health. These findings add qualitative insight into existing literature highlighting social capital as a key resource in the initiation and maintenance of physical activity. In the ongoing effort to provide viable physical activity opportunities for low socio-economic groups, we optimistically argue that volunteer-led, community-based initiatives have the capacity to mobilise resource through social networks. However, in the context of persistent socio-economic inequalities, it is likely that relying on existing social capital to promote health-enhancing behaviour will limit the impact of this approach.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)47-62
Number of pages16
JournalQualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health
Issue number1
Early online date14 Sept 2017
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Social capital
  • health
  • inequalities
  • parkrun
  • physical activity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Health(social science)
  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation


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