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Publicly Available Published by De Gruyter May 10, 2019

Sense of responsible togetherness, sense of community and participation: Looking at the relationships in a university campus

Fortuna Procentese, Flora Gatti and Annarita Falanga
From the journal Human Affairs

Abstract

This contribution explores the role that the Sense of Responsible Togetherness (SoRT) exerts with reference to Participation and Sense of Community. The study was conducted on a university campus, as campuses represent places where academic and community lives go hand in hand and the community is heterogeneous. A questionnaire with the SoRT scale, the Participation scale and the Italian Scale of the Sense of Community (SISC) was administered to 130 university students. SoRT had a significant indirect effect on the students’ Participation via their Sense of Community, suggesting that the promotion of individuals’ Sense of Responsible Togetherness within their community, along with the emotional and affective bond to it, may allow us to recover symbolic and physical spaces in which participation can be fostered. A need for and significance of interventions aimed at promoting collective actions within intermediate systems (groups, educational systems, work ones, etc.).

Introduction

The present contribution explores how people live together within their local communities as an expression of their integral socio-relational characteristics and processes. Different studies have looked at the role civic engagement and participatory actions play in citizens’ well-being (e.g. Albanesi, Cicognani, & Zani, 2007; Cantor & Sanderson, 1999; Chan, To, & Chan, 2006; Cicognani, Mazzoni, Albanesi, & Zani, 2015; Delhey & Dragolov, 2016; Hyman, 2002), and the emergent civic disengagement and loss of responsibility about what happens within people’s community of belonging (Doolittle & Faul, 2013). Indeed, the individualistic perspective and a system of values that foster the distrust towards the others are undermining individuals’ active engagement and responsibility-taking within their local communities (Natale, Di Martino, Arcidiacono, & Procentese, 2016). As a consequence, social togetherness within local communities is becoming increasingly complex (Procentese, Scotto di Luzio, & Natale, 2011; Procentese & Gatti, 2019): differences among citizens who live in the same local community but are often bearers of different cultures and values are increasing the distances among them and between them and the associations and institutions, resulting in a greater sense of isolation and higher levels of collective disempowerment in relation to opportunities to act together to generate changes within the local context (Arcidiacono, Procentese, & Di Napoli, 2007; Procentese et al., 2011). On the other hand, there are studies that have shown that the Sense of Community may encourage greater citizen participation and responsibility-taking (e.g. Albanesi et al., 2007; Arcidiacono, Grimaldi, Di Martino, & Procentese, 2016; Chavis & Wandersman, 1990; Cicognani et al., 2008; Hughey, Speer, & Peterson, 1999; Talò, Mannarini, & Rochira, 2014).

If we now turn to look at numerous recent social, cultural and political movements, the need for interventions aimed at giving new meanings to the relational structure of communities seems evident. This redefinition should start by recognizing citizens’ main needs and by identifying the places and actions, and norms and meanings, through which communities should be rebuilt (cfr. Procentese et al., 2011). While in some of the research the Sense of Community (SoC) has been fleshed out to explain the individuals propensity to act within the local context—as it refers to the feeling of belonging within a community or group favored by identification processes—there are still some dimensions that seem under developed within its definitions, such as social responsibility. Therefore, in order to develop tools that can be used to strengthen community ties and promote collective actions, we need a holistic explanation of what it is that binds people psychologically to their community of belonging and leads them to act within it.

The present article investigates whether we can use the concept of Sense of Responsible Togetherness (SoRT) to help us achieve a more complex understanding of the relationship between people’s affective and emotional bond to their community, that is their Sense of Community, and their participation within that community. The setting within which the study was conducted was a university campus community, as the social, economic, educational and cultural heterogeneity of the students within the community (cfr. Boyer, 1990; Cheng, 2004; El-Khawas, 1996; Sandeen & Barr, 2006; Terrell, 1992) brings with it issues that are like those identified in local communities with reference to diversities, individualism, togetherness and active participation or disengagement from the community (cfr. Procentese, 2011). Plus, nowadays a campus community should be one aimed at promoting forms of cultural democracy and citizenship and civic participation based on the free collaboration of all citizens relying on their personalities (cfr. Ostrander, 2004; SOU, 1948), such that “becoming, and being, an academic citizen is a way of becoming a better political citizen” (Englund, 2002, p. 286). Indeed, the university community represents “a way of creating human conditions which will allow adult life to be endowed with meaningful content” (Englund, 2002, p. 282) and of promoting the capacity to participate in the national and international culture (Englund, 2002).

Sense of community and social responsibility

SoC has been used in different studies to gain an understanding of how significant bonds with the others develop, understood as the physical, relational, symbolic or even imagined collectivities to which individuals feel connected. It stems from the combination of four core elements: membership, mutual influence, fulfillment of needs and a shared emotional connection (McMillan & Chavis, 1986). Research about SoC has focused on different contexts, like towns (Prezza, Amici, Roberti, & Tedeschi, 2001; Prezza, Pacilli, Barbaranelli, & Zampatti, 2009), sport and work organizations (Brodsky & Marx, 2001; Peterson et al., 2008; Scotto di Luzio, Guillet Descas, Procentese, & Guillaume, 2017), schools (Admiraal & Lockhorst, 2012; Royal & Rossi, 1996; Vieno, Perkins, Smith, & Santinello, 2005) and university campuses (Lounsbury & De Neui, 1996). With specific reference to the latter, SoC helps in facing difficulties with student integration (cfr. McCarthy, Pretty, & Catano, 1990); moreover, students who report living in university campuses have significantly higher SoC scores than students who live off-campus (Lounsbury & DeNeui, 1996).

However, the direction and strength of the relation between SoC and participation is still unclear: while theoretical approaches consider the relationship between them to be circular, in most previous studies participation has been a dependent variable (Talò et al., 2014). Moreover, previous studies have considered situations in which people act to the benefit of their communities, often absorbing the costs themselves because they are led by higher ideals, personal values and a sense of responsibility rather than by the expectation of personal benefits (March & Olsen, 1989; Perry, 2000). Nowell and Boyd (2010) pointed out that feelings of responsibility towards the community are relatively unrepresented in contemporary definitions and measurements of psychological SoC.

From social responsibility to sense of responsible togetherness

Due to the above-mentioned acknowledgments, we also have to consider other elements besides SoC that explain individuals’ behaviors towards and within their communities. Following Nowell and Boyd (2010), we suggest greater attention should be paid to the dimension of social responsibility, as it can be valuable (along with awareness and identification with the community) in building interventions aimed at promoting well-being and development within local communities (Procentese et al., 2011).

Indeed, according to Nowell and Boyd (2010), the local community represents a place where people can get answers to their affiliation, power and affection needs and where people can feel a responsibility to engage and support each other as part of that community. They also argue that the SoC may draw on a normative sense of responsibility for the community well-being: the more individuals feel a psychological SoC, the more they will engage in community-oriented behaviors. The premise of this model is that individuals develop personal values, norms, ideals and beliefs about what is appropriate—that will guide their behaviors—in a given social context through exposure to and embeddedness in different social institutions (e.g. families, churches, schools, neighborhoods, social groups) (March & Olsen, 1989).

Nevertheless, a previous study by Procentese and colleagues (2011) exploring university students’ representations of local responsible togetherness identified some other dimensions that need to be considered when referring to individuals’ feeling of being responsible for their community and of being able to act accordingly. In that study, the participants thought it important to assume roles that could help them exert an influence and generate changes within their local community, acknowledging that individuals and their actions may be the starting point for achieving new ways of living together, as their social responsibility emerges as a critical dimension to forming valuable relationships and generating answers that can be useful for the community. Thus, the Sense of Responsible Togetherness (SoRT) was conceptualized as referring to citizens’ representations of being in relationships with other members of the community and taking responsibility within the community and towards the people they share the physical and social context of life with (Procentese & Gatti, in press). The dimensions underlying the construct (perception of equity, a feeling of being an active member of the community, perceived support from the institutional referents, acting for the power, respect of the rules, respect for the Others, support among community members, freedom of opinion) can transcend different relational contexts and refer to individual perceptions, structural opportunities and shared norms about a specific community and the relationships within it. These represent interdependent aspects which have a role in determining how people share the same local context, both socially and physically, and perceive that they can live together and promote individual responsibilities in thinking and enacting changes to respond to the needs of the people and community (Procentese & Gatti, in press). Indeed, what is defined here as “responsible togetherness” depends on collaboration, shared norms and the collective identity of individuals, groups, organizations and institutions and implies active involvement in local community life. It is aimed at making social actors aware they are able to generate real changes while assuming responsibility for themselves and for others (e.g. promoting responsible actions and taking part in a variety of social and community initiatives such as cultural, political and sport events). At the community level, it is aimed at promoting social trust, a shared social agenda, community building and social actions for the care and maintenance of common social contexts (Procentese, 2011). Attention to others’ needs and respect for rules, spaces and individual freedoms are all considered the basis of the responsible togetherness concept. Furthermore, togetherness can be realized within the relationship between personal and common spaces, as the shared spaces enable interactions between the private and collective spheres (e.g. family, community, university) and solicit citizens’ sense of civic duty.

In the present study this construct was used with the main purpose of showing the effects SoRT could have on individuals’ participation.

The context: The campus community

Building a campus community in which academic and community aspects go hand in hand and are of equal importance (Boyer, 1990; Toma & Kezar, 1999) has always been a goal of higher education and has become increasingly important and more of a challenge over the past decade (Boyer, 1990; McDonald, 2002). Indeed, the campus environment is largely more heterogeneous than it was until around fifty years ago (cfr. Cheng, 2004; El-Khawas, 1996; Levine & Cureton, 1998). Alongside “traditional” students, it hosts a range of students who are bearers of different values and needs, such as those Helfgot (1997) defined as “educational surfers”, who aim to achieve their educational goal as soon as possible; the commuter and part-time students who often live off-campus and have to balance multiple responsibilities and identities but “are not less desirous of being members of an academic community” (Jacoby, 1997, p. 1) and engage within it; and international students, who come from different countries, cultures and educational systems and talk different languages who choose to do their studies abroad or study for a period abroad. Thus, given the social, economic, educational and cultural heterogeneity of the students within them (cfr. Boyer, 1990; Cheng, 2004; El-Khawas, 1996; Sandeen & Barr, 2006; Terrell, 1992), universities have to become spaces for encounters between different cultures and views about society and its way of working (Englund, 2002).

For all these reasons, the campus community is the social context for the present study. The characteristics of this community and the challenges it has to face are similar to the ones found in local communities. Students need to understand and communicate with people who differ from them in national origin, religious and spiritual orientation, and race and gender (El-Khawas, 1996). Indeed, students attending college or university campuses seek more than just an academic education (Brazzell, 2001): they are looking for a sense of belonging and if it is lacking this may prompt them to abandon either their institutions or education. In this perspective, residence halls and common spaces represent places where they can integrate the academic, social and cultural aspects of their campus life, with an impact on their SoC (cfr. Cheng, 2004). McDonald (2002) explained how the campus experience is important to feel part of a community and share purposes, commitment, relationships and responsibilities within it, and provides opportunities for personal and collective growth. On the other hand, not being involved in the activities and not spending time at social gatherings are barriers to community building (Astin, 1993). Therefore, obtaining a deeper knowledge of what is associated with students’ participation within the campus community they belong to will tell us something about how to develop programs aimed at fostering responsibility-taking within the campus community.

Aim and hypotheses

Based on a review of previous studies on the topic (cfr. Nowell & Boyd, 2010; Procentese & Gatti, in press; Talò et al., 2014), this study aims to obtain deeper knowledge on the relationship between SoRT, participation and SoC by investigating these in a group of students from the same university campus community.

Firstly, as previous studies have shown that people sometimes act to the benefit of their communities, despite accumulating costs for themselves, because they are driven by their ideals, values and a sense of responsibility (March & Olsen, 1989; Perry, 2000), we formulated the following hypothesis:

H1: the SoRT will relate positively to participation.

Then, as previous studies have suggested that the SoC may come from a sense of responsibility towards the community (Nowell & Boyd, 2010) and that it can promote an increase in citizens’ participation (cfr. Albanesi et al., 2007; Chavis & Wandersman, 1990; Cicognani et al., 2008; Hughey et al., 1999; Talò et al., 2014), the following hypothesis was formulated:

H2: the SoC will mediate the relationship between SoRT and participation.

Methods

Participants and procedures

Snowball sampling was used to recruit 130 students from the Mlyny campus in Bratislava: a link to the questionnaire was posted on Facebook groups about student life in the campus and distributed in the two canteens near it. No IP addresses or other identifying data were retained. The introduction to the self-report questionnaire contained an explanation about confidentiality and anonymity issues (Podsakoff, MacKenzie, Lee, & Podsakoff, 2003) in accordance with the International applicable law (EU Reg. 2016/679). After reading this explanation, every participant had to provide informed consent online before they could take part in the study.

Of the 130 participants 45.4% were female and 54.6% were male, all were aged between 18 and 35 (M = 22.63, SD = 2.296), 33% of them were in the third year of their university course, 24.6% were in their fifth year and 24.6% were in their fourth year. Only 9.2% were in their second year and 5.4% were in their first year. A further 3.8% had completed their final year, but still had to finish their exams.

The data collection was done in the summer semester of the 2017/2018 academic year.

Measures

The questionnaire included a socio-demographic section, followed by some specific measures.

Sense of Responsible Togetherness (SoRT). As this is a new construct, it was assessed using a scale created by the authors of this study (cfr. Procentese & Gatti, in press). The final version (α = .88, see Tables 1 and 2) consisted of 29 items measured on a 4-point Likert scale (1 = never, 4 = often). The statistical analyses showed that eight factors emerged: perception of equity, feeling of being an active member of the community, perceived support from the institutional referents, acting for the power, respect of the rules, respect for the Others, support among community members, freedom of opinion. For the items in each factor see Table 2.

Table 1

Communalities for EFA with principal axis factoring for the Sense of Responsible Togetherness scale.

ItemInitialExtraction
1. Have good relationships with your campus neighbors..378.309
2. Feel an integral part of the campus..595.722
3. Hang out with campus residents in public places..512.497
4. Feel understood by campus referents..642.613
5. Consider campus referents a reference point..672.701
6. Have good relationships with campus referents..695.773
7. Be able to ask campus referents for help if necessary..586.467
8. Respect the rules of togetherness in the campus..552.977
9. Be aware of the campus rules and respect them..492.452
10. Be treated as equals..498.439
11. Get equal evaluations about the proposals everyone makes..610.683
12. Get equal attention from campus referents..641.590
13. Be aware of the criteria underlying decision making within the campus..549.577
14. Feel free to say what it is you have not totally understood..620.540
15. Be able to express your ideas freely..659.798
16. Let the others express their opinions..634.670
17. Make your own point of view count..577.472
18. Make your work instruments and knowledge available to campus residents..514.418
19. Respect others’ privacy..446.474
20. Keep a promise/commitment..576.593
21. Help a resident going through a hard time (family, work or health problems)..461.479
22. Help new residents to become part of the campus..468.432
23. Defend those who appear weak..516.501
24. Desire to become a leader..480.488
25. Show a behavioral tendency to overstep other people..532.668
26. Seek others’ approval..350.376
27. Welcome all campus residents’ innovative ideas..473.523
28. Seek agreement among different opinions..437.390
29. Feel good in your campus..489.495

  1. Note. n = 130.

Table 2

Factor loadings for EFA with principal axis factoring and promax rotation for the Sense of Responsible Togetherness scale.

ItemFactors
12345678
11. Get equal evaluations about the proposals everyone makes..831
12. Get equal attention from campus referents..683
13. Be aware of the criteria underlying the decision making within the campus..607
10. Be treated as equals..523
2. Feel an integral part of the campus..834
3. Hang out with campus residents in public places..691
1. Have good relationships with your campus neighbors..515
29. Feel good in your campus..514
18. Make your work instruments and knowledge available to campus residents.322
6. Have good relationships with campus referents-.837
5. Consider campus referents as a reference point-.703
4. Feel understood by campus referents-.627
7. Be able to ask campus referents for help if necessary-.429
25. Show a behavioral tendency to overstep other people..813
24. Desire to become a leader..573
26. Seek others’ approval..505
8. Respect the rules of togetherness in the campus.1.033
9. Be aware of the campus rules and respect them..577
19. Respect others’ privacy.-.682
20. Keep a promise/commitment-.563
27. Welcome all campus residents’ innovative ideas.-.619
28. Seek agreement among different opinions.-.582
21. Help a resident going through a hard time (family, work or health problems).-.496
23. Defend those who appear weak.-.474
22. Help new residents to become part of the campus.-.322
15. Be able to express your ideas freely.-.837
16. Let the others express their own opinions.-.658
14. Feel free to say what it is that you have not totally understood.-.506
17. Make your own point of view count.-.383
Explained variance (%)23.5498.5986.9044.8953.7953.1572.6342.053
Cronbach’s α.81.76.85.69.75.69.76.80

  1. Note. n = 130.

    1. Perception of equity; 2. Feel an active member of the community; 3. Perceived support from the institutional referents; 4. Acting for the power; 5. Respect of the rules; 6. Respect for the Others; 7. Support among community members; 8. Freedom of opinion.

Participation. To assess students’ participation in campus activities, we adapted a pool of items based on those used by Cicognani and colleagues (2008). The final version (α = .89, see Tables 3 and 4) comprised 12 items measured on a 4-point Likert scale (1 = never, 4 = two or three times a month). Three factors emerged, corresponding to different aspects of participation: institutionalized participation, informal participation and volunteering activities. For the items in each factor see Table 4;

Table 3

Communalities for EFA with principal axis factoring for the Participation scale.

ItemInitialExtraction
1. I worked with other people who live here to solve campus problems..566.625
2. I took part in events/activities in the campus..513.575
3. I took part in meetings organized by local associations..599.650
4. I took part in religious activities..281.272
5. I took part in informal or Web meetings to discuss campus matters..471.435
6. I took part in typical events and ceremonies in this campus..483.370
7. I took part in political meetings..624.678
8. I took part in meetings of political parties/groups..672.693
9. I took part in meetings organized by the local administration..526.543
10. I volunteered in associations for disadvantaged people (e.g. disabled, homeless, etc.)..681.713
11. I volunteered in educational structures (e.g. schools, juvenile facilities, etc.)..730.829
12. I volunteered in legal counselling or legal representation associations..764.825

  1. Note. n = 130.

Table 4

Factor loadings for EFA with principal axis factoring and promax rotation for the Participation scale.

ItemFactors
Institutionalized participationInformal participationVolunteering activities
7. I took part in political meetings..881
8. I took part in meetings of political parties/ groups..826
9. I took part in meetings organized by the local administration..549
5. I took part in informal or Web meetings to discuss campus matters..477
4. I took part in religious activities..404
1. I worked with other people who live here to solve campus problems..800
2. I took part in events/activities in the campus..779
3. I took part in meetings organized by local associations..739
6. I took part in typical events and ceremonies in this campus..418
11. I volunteered in educational structures (e.g. schools, juvenile facilities, etc).-.938
12. I volunteered in legal counselling or legal representation associations.-.840
10. I volunteered in associations for disadvantaged people (e.g. disabled, homeless, etc).-.809
Explained variance (%)43.39510.9385.72
Cronbach’s α.82.81.92

  1. Note. n = 130.

Sense of Community (SoC). The Italian Scale of Sense of Community (SISC, α = .79, Prezza, Costantini, Chiarolanza, & Di Marco, 1999) was adapted for the campus context; the items were assessed on a 4-point Likert scale (1 = never, 4 = two or three times a month). As the participants were all adolescents or young adults, it included five factors referring to social climate, satisfaction of needs and influence, shared emotional connection, sense of belonging, and habits and traditions of the community (cfr. Albanesi, Cicognani, & Zani, 2002).

Data analysis and results

The items for both the SoRT scale and the Participation scale were created based on the review of previous studies on them and on preliminary interviews (cfr. Procentese et al., 2011). They were created by two independent researchers, who confronted with a third one until they agreed they were sufficiently clear and appropriate.

An exploratory factor analysis (EFA) with principal axis factoring and promax rotation was performed for both the scales. Seven items were deleted from the original SoRT scale pool either because the loadings were too low or too high on more than one factor; only two

items were deleted for the Participation scale, for the same reasons. The items in the final versions of the scales had loadings above .3 in only one factor (cfr. Tables 2 and 4). Once good pools of items had been obtained, sphericity was checked using Bartlett’s test (for the SoRT scale: Chi-square = 1639.919; df = 406; p < .001; for the Participation scale: Chi-square = 870.707; df = 66; p < .001) and adequacy of sampling using the KMO measure (for the SoRT scale: .782; for the Participation scale: .850). From these analyses, the following factor-structures emerged: the SoRT scale showed a eight factors structure (perception of equity, feel an active member of the community, perceived support from the institutional referents, acting for the power, respect of the rules, respect for the others, support among community members, freedom of opinion) and the Participation scale a three factors

one (institutionalized participation, informal participation, participation in volunteering activities). The cumulative explained variance was 55.58% for the SoRT scale and 60.05% for the Participation scale; the factor reliability coefficients are given in Tables 2 and 4. The inter-correlations among the factors were then analyzed, and multicollinearity checked (Tabachnick & Fidell, 2014).

We performed a factor analysis with the maximum likelihood method and the promax rotation in order to extract the factors of the adaptation of the SISC: the results confirmed the expected factor structure, based on previous studies (cfr. Albanesi et al., 2002).

The descriptive statistics and the correlations for all the measures are given in Table 5.

Table 5

Summary of descriptive statistics and correlations.

VariablesRangeMSD12
1. Sense of Responsible Togetherness (SoRT)1-43.09.41-
2. Participation1-41.83.62.219 *-
3. Sense of Community (SoC)1-42.65.34.534 **.358 **

  1. Note. n = 130.

    * p < .05 (2-tailed); ** p < .01 (2-tailed).

We checked for the presence of outliers and/or influential cases using the leverage value, which was always lower than .04, and Cook’s D – lowest and highest values were 0 and .16 – indicating there were no significant values in the data affecting the analyses (Cousineau & Chartier, 2010).

To test H1 we performed a linear regression model. SoRT was the predictor and was centered; Participation was the dependent variable. The model fitted the data well, F(1, 128) = 6.458, p < .05, but accounted for only 4.1% of the variance with a Residual Standard Error (RSE) of .608. Nevertheless, H1 was confirmed, as the SoRT emerged as a significant predictor for Participation, B = .332, p < .05, 95% CI [.074, .591].

To test H2 we fitted a mediation model using Ordinary Least Squares (OLS) path analysis, and tested whether SoC was a mediator of the relationship between SoRT and Participation. The predictor and the mediator were centered. Bootstrap estimation was used to test the significance of the results (MacKinnon, Lockwood, & Williams, 2004; Preacher & Hayes, 2008) with 10,000 samples, and the bias-corrected 95% confidence interval (CI) was computed by determining the effects at the 2.5th and 97.5th percentiles; the indirect effect is significant when there is no 0 in the CI. The results (see Figure 1) indicated that SoRT was a significant predictor of SoC, B = .439, p < .001, 95% CI [.323, .58], and that SoC was a significant predictor of Participation, B = .627, p < .05, 95% CI [.059, 1.138]. SoRT was no longer a significant predictor of Participation after controlling for the mediator, SoC, B = .057, ns, 95% CI [-.321, .457], supporting the hypothesis of a full mediation. The unstandardized indirect effect of SoRT on Participation via SoC was .275, p < .05, 95% CI [.027, .571].

Figure 1 Sense of Community as a mediator of the relationship between Sense of Responsible Togetherness and Participation.Note. n = 130.* p < .05 (2-tailed); ** p < .01 (2-tailed).Predictor and mediator are centered.

Figure 1

Sense of Community as a mediator of the relationship between Sense of Responsible Togetherness and Participation.

Note. n = 130.

* p < .05 (2-tailed); ** p < .01 (2-tailed).

Predictor and mediator are centered.

Discussion

The aim of the present study was to test whether SoRT predicted Participation and whether SoC played a mediator role in this relationship. Both hypotheses were confirmed, showing that the relationship between SoRT and Participation was fully mediated by SoC. The results suggest that individuals’ participation is predicted by their emotional and affective bond to the community and representations about the relationships and responsibility-taking within it, via this emotional bond.

Responsibility is not just the feeling of being responsible for one’s community, but rather a complex idea, defined here as SoRT: structural opportunities within the community context, shared norms and individual perceptions of the community, which are all aspects underlying the idea of SoRT, can determine whether individuals will take responsibilities in thinking and enacting changes within their community. They impact on individuals’ emotional and affective bond towards the community, which in turn impacts on their level of participation within the community. This highlights that perception of equity, feeling of being an active member of the community, support from the institutional referents and among community members, respect of the rules and for the others, freedom of opinion and responsibility-taking can predict greater participation within the community as they strengthen the affective and emotional bond towards it. According to this perspective, community members who experience a SoRT and, in turn, a SoC could engage in activities and endeavors for community valorization to obtain significant social results, such as becoming more civically involved (cfr. Mannarini & Fedi, 2009; Nowell & Boyd, 2010).

These results point to the significance that shared representations about how to live together within a community can have in directing individuals’ actions within and towards the community and in promoting their emotional bond with it. Thus, the elements that can foster individuals’ participation within their community are not only related to their emotional bonds but also to cognitive aspects like reciprocal social influence, chances to share one’s ideas, acknowledgement of the shared norms that settle the social context and of the structural opportunities within it (Procentese, 2011).

As this study emphasizes the value of SoRT in predicting and explaining individuals’ participation within community settings and their significant bonds with them, it contributes to expanding our understanding of the factors that drive members’ willingness to get involved for collective aims. From these results it is evident that promoting SoRT among people may enable the creation of symbolic and physical spaces in which meaningful relationships can be established and managed. Moreover, as the wider sociocultural context is focused on an individualistic rather than a collective perspective, these results suggest that fostering individuals’ SoRT and SoC in local contexts and communities helps them develop positive values and beliefs and become more involved in social actions. Promoting SoRT within local communities means providing citizens with the opportunity to rediscover dialogue and confrontation as tools for encouraging them to share experiences, take common decisions and act with individual and collective responsibility, creating a dialogic process that allows for a comparison between individual positions and systems of collective knowledge (Procentese et al., 2011). In this perspective, the opportunities for exchanging and sharing experiences and meanings will increase along with knowledge-oriented communications, instead of being aimed at reciprocal attacks and defenses; this would give new and higher values and meanings to the collective pursuit of common well-being.

Indeed, according to Procentese and colleagues (2011), new sharing spaces where citizens’ desires can emerge and they can express and achieve their own ways of being responsible citizens are needed. This goal could be pursued by identifying new guidelines for action in intermediate systems (groups, educational systems, work ones, etc.) to promote the recognition of competences and mutual differences in people’s life contexts rather than making them a source of discrimination or a reason to preserve only individual goals and needs. Specifically, the need emerges for chances to confront and negotiate among community members and with local institutional referents, with the aim of creating spaces for implementing reciprocal knowledge and producing participation within the community. Thus, the challenge for higher institutions is to provide experiences and opportunities to help students gain experience of reciprocity, compromise, consensus and welfare within a larger community helping them become responsible, aware and informed global-minded citizens (cfr. Altbach, 2002; Brustein, 2007; Morey, 2000).

Limitations and future directions

It is important to acknowledge some of the limitations of this study. First, the findings are based on self-reported data, which can become distorted due to problems related to memory bias and response fatigue (Podsakoff et al., 2003). Moreover, distributing the questionnaire through Facebook groups to reach a broad range of potential participants may have led to a type of self-selection bias.

Secondly, due to the cross-sectional design of the study, the relationships described should be considered carefully. Nonetheless, participation may be good training for citizens to move away from the idea of self-ness to one of our-ness, promoting a greater SoRT within the community of belonging. Through participation they could start thinking about the community’s collective well-being rather than safeguarding their personal interests. Longitudinal research would be useful to shed more light on the causal paths between these variables.

As the meanings attributed to the community of belonging and the social ties within it vary across cultures both in cognitive and affective terms, more research is needed to test whether SoRT and its role within the described relationships varies across cultures too. Moreover, these relationships may also vary due to length of time spent in the community; thus, this is another aspect that could be explored in future research.

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Published Online: 2019-05-10
Published in Print: 2019-04-25

© 2019 Institute for Research in Social Communication, Slovak Academy of Sciences

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