Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science

First Advisor

Ryan Carlin

Second Advisor

Carrie Manning

Third Advisor

Jennifer McCoy


Social cohesion is an assessment of the functional nature of a polity, particularly how a society perceives, assesses, and interacts with the political system and others in society. This dissertation sets out to clarify our understanding of social cohesion within the field of political science. As a discipline we have diverging definitions and conceptualizations of the term. By laying out a comprehensive individual level theory of social cohesion this dissertation aims to open up the black box of social cohesion, moving beyond the aggregate level analyses that largely occupy the academic and policy literature. I set out a new theory of how three components of social cohesion interact and influence the way that a society produces and maintains or degrades social cohesion. The three attitudinal and behavioral areas discussed and scrutinized include political legitimacy, social capital, and political participation. To assess the relationships between these individual level attitudes and behaviors I examine original data collected from student sample from Queen’s University Belfast from 2014-2015. An online survey including a trust game and priming experiment were conducted to test several hypotheses about the relationship between elite behaviors and the three areas of social cohesion. Evidence and findings in this study should be taken as preliminary and a jumping off point for future research. I find preliminary evidence in support of behaviors of elected officials influencing attitudes about certain institutions. Attitudes about actors and institutions are associated with social trust and reciprocity as well as preferences of interacting with the outgroup. Lastly, I argue that legitimacy and social capital will have an interactive effect on when and how individuals participate in politics. I find limited evidence of this relationship. Ultimately there is mixed initial evidence for my individual level theory with the given data. I provide several prescriptions for how research in this area and further tests of social cohesion at the individual level should move forward.