Patterns of participation

WISERD PhD student, Sian Evans, recently presented her PhD research as part of the WISERD Cardiff lunchtime seminar series. She explores whether the Omnivore Thesis can be found within the field of social participation. 

The Omnivore Thesis was originally identified in the context of cultural participation – music tastes, attendance at the theatre, cinema, art galleries, patterns of reading, etc. It describes how groups of individuals have different patterns of participation. Some, the Omnivores, have varied music tastes, attend a wide range of theatre and cinema productions, or read a wide range of materials. Others, named Univores, have singular interests, such as rock music, or only read fiction novels. There are also those who do not exhibit an interest in a cultural form, such as those who state they do not read. It occurred to me that this patterning could potentially also exist in the context of participation in social organisations.

I wanted to discover whether participation in social organisations follows this pattern. I investigated patterns of participation in sixteen social organisations, including trade unions, religious groups, voluntary groups, and sports clubs. I wanted to see if participants only involved themselves in one organisation, possibly as a result of their specific personal interest, or if there were groups of participants who participate in many organisations, while others do not participate.

Using data from the 2008 Sweep of the National Child Development Study (NCDS), I conducted a Latent Class Analysis on variables assessing participation in organisations. I also added other independent variables, including gender, social class, social status, and general health to identify their impact on the likelihood of placement in different clusters.

I identified three different groups: Omnivores, Sporting Univores, and Non-Participants. Non-Participants were the largest group and did not participate in any organisation. Sporting Univores only participated in the activities of Sports Clubs, while the Omnivores participated in a wide range of organisations. Omnivores and Sporting Univores were equal sized small groups. I also found that each group typically had different characteristics. Omnivores were of a higher class and social status than the other groups, Sporting Univores had a greater level of general health, while the Non-Participants were of a lower social class and status.

I found the fact that the most common participation pattern was non-participation of considerable interest. My future research plans generally centre on dissecting this group to find out what it is they ‘do’. Comments received during the lunchtime seminar will be of great benefit to me in working out exactly how to do this, and I am extremely grateful for all the feedback!

I hope to conduct a second latent class analysis, only on the members of the Non-Participant group, to see if they have any participatory behaviours that remained unnoticed in the original analysis. I also hope to investigate this group using qualitative interviews taken as part of the Social Participation and Identity Project, a sub-study of the NCDS. Finally, as the NCDS is a longitudinal data set, I intend to use it to potentially to identify the extent to which participation, employment, and family histories influence whether an individual is an Omnivore, Sporting Univore, or Non-Participant.