Guide Beyond Social Capital: A critical approach

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Before discussing structural limitations to participation, a review of two different sets of literature on social capital will be done starting with one that favors the communitarian approach, commonly associated with World Bank's specialists, and then the resources or networks approach, which analyzes the structural advantages and disadvantages of individuals in society, a formulation very much absent in development formulations of social capital. SCI scholars defined social capital as the institutions, norms, values, and beliefs that govern interaction among people and facilitate economic and social development Krishna and Shrader ; Groot-aert and van Bastelaer a; b.

In addition, social capital was conceived as containing multiple social and cultural phenomena, including values that predispose people to cooperate, such as trust and reciprocity, and institutional forms that facilitate cooperation, such as local organizations, associations, and the rules that define them. According to the SCI, taken together, these measures could be evaluated to assess the potential of communities to organize themselves for mutually beneficial goals Krishna and Shrader These values and norms, in the end, predispose and facilitate the creation and maintenance of organizations, which in turn, provide larger socio-economic benefits.

Of the many forms that social capital can take, World Bank specialists argue that membership in organizations is the most successful form available to improve household welfare, in particular that of poor households Groot-aert Grootaert, one of the main architects of the concept at the Bank, tells us that when people belong to organizations composed of members of diverse occupational and educational backgrounds they have an opportunity to exchange information and knowledge, not only about matters related to the organization, but also about social and economic opportunities outside of it.

In other words, organizations link people to opportunities through social ties. Most people who belong to an organization will develop friendships and acquaintances that could potentially provide information about jobs, services, business opportunities, and so on. Grootaert's assertion, as we will see later, is in some ways similar to the claims of social network scholars interested in social capital: the more diverse your network, the richer the information available to you. Nonetheless, in the networks approach, the potential benefits of the information received by an individual also depend on the economic and social characteristics of those in the network, and the specific ways that contacts and actors are connected.

As we will see, some people are better connected than others, and some networks have more assets than others. There are dozens, perhaps hundreds of definitions of the term Fine , most of them molded to the needs of the question at hand. Most of these definitions fall within two opposing theoretical constructions: the communitarian and the resources or network approaches.

The former defines social capital as a public good and as the sum of collective benefits derived from civic participation. The latter, as those resources an individual has available through his or her network of social relations. The scholars associated with social capital at the World Bank saw social capital as bringing together the cultural, context-specific features of behavior, and universal, rational economic thinking.

Beyond social capital; a critical approach. - Free Online Library

In this frame of analysis, the metaphor social capital seemed appropriate, for the word capital implied a return on an investment which in this case would equate to social relations. Equating social relations with capital has generated considerable debate amongst economists, adding to an already heated discussion across the social sciences. For example, Nobel Prize recipient Robert Solow calls social capital "an attempt to gain conviction from a bad analogy" , 8. He goes on to say:. Kenneth Arrow, also an Economics Nobel recipient argues that social capital misses a fundamental characteristic of capital, as it requires: "deliberate sacrifice in the present for future benefits" 4.

To believe "the social" in social capital fulfills this requirement is to think that all social relations are forged as a conscious calculation for a future return; even the most orthodox neoclassical economist, he notes, would agree friendship and kinship have affective components that go beyond economic calculation. However, as the "social " in social capital does not only include relations but also larger social and cultural variables, it would erroneously imply that we are all socialized from childhood to engage in social relations for a return 4. This issue brings us to the epistemological crux of the matter, what is the advantage of equating social and cultural practices with capital?

Why do we need to think of social relations as economic wealth? Part of the problem is that development theory still depends on the parsimony that mathematical modeling offers to advance its ideas. Efficient, universal models of human behavior provide the retractable mathematical analysis necessary to make economic theory work, and in turn, development policy.

Social capital at the World Bank seems to be an example of this process, as Bebbington tells us, the communitarian approach was a compromise between discordant schools at the World Bank While one was seeking quantitative measures, another was attempting qualitative approaches and this does not mention the theoretical preferences. As I mentioned previously, economists insisted on couching the term on econometric language, in order to standardize and legitimize it, while scholars of a political bent attempted to frame it along a political-economy line.

Ultimately, the latter failed:. Social capital, it appears, is a compromise between the need to acknowledge that social externalities affect economic performance and the necessity to make a complex social concept universal, comparable, and generalizable in its application. For anthropologists interested in economics and development, the history of social capital at the Bank is illuminating in the way it rekindles old debates about the nature of culture in economic decision-making. When people make a decision regarding production, exchange, and consumption, how are we to understand the role of values and morality?

What are the most appropriate analytical tools to explain decision-making? Furthermore, when individuals and groups organize for productive purposes, to what degree can their decisions be explained through formal models where rational choice acts as a universal human feature? To what degree are choices culturally bound? In the next sections, I further explore the debate by looking at the communitarian and networks approaches to social capital.

A number of researchers have argued that the idea of social capital was initially conceived as a cultural and social condition exercised at the individual level Lin ; Portes and Landolt The two most influential contemporary scholars on the subject, Pierre Bourdieu and James Coleman , believed social capital was an investment individuals made on social relations in order to derive some type of benefit.

Bourdieu thought this benefit would be the maintenance and reproduction of domination by elites Coleman theorized that the sum of individual gains could translate into solutions to the problems of larger social groups As mentioned above, Putnam argues that democracy and development are heavily influenced by cultures or traditions of civic participation. Taking the example of northern versus southern Italy, he noticed that economically developed societies like northern Italian towns have a stronger culture of civic association.

People in this part of Italy are more likely to join associations and have a richer associational culture, both in terms of the number of informal associations they belong to and the strength of their performance. On the contrary, southern Italian towns, less developed economically, do not exhibit a rich tradition of civic association. In fact, joining groups and doing things collectively seems to be heavily dependent on a history of authoritarian, patron-client relations that limit who can participate where. Putnam's linkage of poverty to democratic participation established the foundations for a theory of social capital as a cultural and collective property with the capacity to transform economic conditions.

From then on, the underlying idea behind the concept has been that cultural values are mostly, if not exclusively a cognitive phenomenon, a form of mental model that resides in people's heads and is transmitted generation to generation see for example Guiso et al. A common application of the Putnam approach is the idea that social relations have a spillover effect on economic activities.

Grootaert, for example, has shown that membership in associations in Bolivia, Burkina Faso, and Indonesia generates higher returns for poorer households, whether by expenditure per capita or land ownership a. In what is perhaps the most influential study on social capital, Narayan and Pritchett conclude that generalized trust in Tanzanian communities is a function of village cohesion and norms, independent of household income a.

Grootaert also concluded that access to credit is positively associated with membership on both economically and non-economically oriented organizations in Indonesia. In other words, scholars associated with the World Bank have statistically shown that social capital is a causal factor in household welfare. Once again, this is proof of the spillover effect that social relations have on economic activities, as information is transmitted from economically oriented groups to other groups in society.

From these results the next logical conclusion is to think of social capital as a cultural property, as something that some communities possess as part of their historical development. It is part of a community's norms and values 4. A common critique of the communitarian approach is that it results in tautological explanations of what causes differential economic and political performance among groups. This argument points out that by defining social capital both as a structural attribute e.

For example, an organization such as a rotating savings and credit association is a collective manifestation of social capital, yet, the trust and reciprocity that make it work are also forms of social capital, thus, a circular explanation results as causal factors i. The networks view of social capital, which derives many of its theoretical positions from social network analysis SNA , argues that conceptualizing social capital as an asset held at the individual level allows scholars to differentiate its causes from its outcomes Lin a; b.

Valued resources are embedded in social structures characterized by distributional and rank differences Lin ; b. The higher the rank, the greater the concentration of valued resources, in other words, the better the position of origin in a social network, the more likely the actor will access and use social capital Lin b. SNA researchers have shown that differences in gender, ethnicity, and status in individuals influence their ability to obtain benefits derived from membership in a social network Campbell, Mardsen and Hurlbert ; Lin ; Lin and Dumin ; Silvey and Elmhirst Bourdieu, one of the most influential theoreticians among networks specialists, argued that a person's social capital could be asserted by aggregating: 1 the size of his or her network and 2 the volume of social, cultural, and economic capital of the network members in Zhao From his perspective, embedded resources such as information and the influence of its members are social capital.

Lin a; b has further refined this conceptual framework by seeing social capital as assets located in networks which can be measured through two main categories: 1 as embedded resources and 2 as network locations. The first one refers to the power, wealth, and influence available in a network and the resources that each contact in the network can provide. The second is more concerned with the structure of the network and how certain characteristics of a network, such as actors acting as bridges facilitate or impede returns to other actors.

Beyond the explanatory technicalities of formal network analysis, the point is that social capital is a resource that is differentially available to individuals depending on where they stand in the structure of relations of the group. Class, race, ethnicity, religion and gender, to name some, are categories that position social actors in the structure of social relations. In other words, whatever forms of stratification and inequality are at play in the constitution of social life in a community, they will be reflected in the processes of participation in its formal associations Cleaver, ; Reviewing the literature on social capital in its civic and communitarian forms leaves the reader with the idea that by the time people actually put into practice their cultural knowledge, some innate and automatic cultural logic has already told them what to do.

As such, people are either prone to work together or not , much in the sense that some communities have larger stocks of social capital than others; which explains their levels of development. This mostly dichotomous view sees culture as something that either contains virtuous knowledge that bonds people together, as in some ideal indigenous society, or conversely, it constrains development by subjecting them to tradition Cleaver In other words, no complex explanation of the relationship between culture and economics can be gained by defining culture as something acting autonomously in people's heads, detached from history, politics, and social relations.

Next, I offer an ethnographic account of the organizational challenges faced by the people of Limoncito, 5 a rural community located in the Province of Santa Elena in the coast of Ecuador. Limoncito in this sense provides a space to problematize the idea of social capital as a result of a homogeneous, localized system of values. Limoncito is a rural community that operates under a communal land tenure regime called Comuna. This form of territorial unit was established by the national Ecuadorian government in as a form of social protection against the excesses of monopolistic agricultural practices.

By law, Comuneros --those who are members of a Comuna-- take decisions regarding their territory by vote in Comuna assemblies. In this regard, the Comuna is an institutional arrangement that calls for collective participation and discussion of issues affecting all its members. Comunas are a significant development in Ecuador because they have provided legal certainty to its residents and offered an institutional presence recognized by the national government.

However, while the law protects communal land tenure, it also demarcates territories, assigns legal responsibilities, and places local government under the supervision of national authorities. In the Santa Elena Peninsula as the Province has been historically called one of the most notorious consequences of this transition was the severe limitations experienced by Comuneros to use diverse ecological zones, in particular to raise cattle over extended territories, an activity practiced since late colonial times by Indians and non-Indians Alvarez In addition to the economic and ecological transformations created by the formalization of Comunas, the political organization of communities was changed.

In Limoncito, Comuna decisions are heavily influenced by a small group of families that represent both a long-standing leadership dating back to the origins of the Comuna in the late s, as well as a new leadership that gained prominence in the when Limoncito was fully recognized and registered as a Comuna. This event marked the beginning of the formal adoption of the bylaws associated with the Law of Comunas, including the regulations and procedures for the election of the local governing body called the Cabildo.

The establishment of the first formal Cabildo saw its first challenge in the need to embrace the diverse interests of its members. Limoncito is composed of 5 main settlements, called recintos, each of them comprising between 20 and 60 households, gathered around extended family units. The Comuna, for many of them, was a point of reference to exert a Comunero-campesino economy and identity, but not necessarily an institutional unit to plan and regulate their life. The result of the formal establishment of the Comuna was that five small villages whose social, economic, and political organization revolved mostly around a limited number of extended families had to adopt a new governmental and administrative system, whose ultimate consequence was the subordination of decision-making processes to a centralized Comuna government controlled by a set of dominant actors.

The residents of smaller, peripheral recintos thought that the Comuna as an institution designed to protect their life-style was a good proposition, yet they felt increasingly ignored in local policy decisions under a new centralized government in the hands of powerful families located in the central recintos. The issue was further complicated by the complexity of land uses and property in the Comuna. Many families in these smaller recintos had titles to their parcels pre-dating the original enactment of the Comuna, leading some of them to wonder why they had to pay membership dues to be part of a Comuna if they had titles to their own lands.

The details of the titling arrangements of these Comuneros are beyond the purposes of this paper, however, the issue is that participatory-organizational issues are tightly woven into the agrarian and material aspects of a community.

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By the late s, Comuneros were engaged in yet another disagreement over the transformation of communal lands into titled, individualized parcels. The planning and arrival of a large network of irrigation canals in the Peninsula funded by the national government and multinational development agencies made some of Limoncito's communal lands economically valued.

Their location in the area of influence of the canals made them a desirable asset in the eyes of investors and speculators. External actors offered to buy land, a process that had started in the southern Comunas of the peninsula since the early s. Under the Limoncito Cabildo administration, the general assembly drafted and approved a proposal to assign parcels of up to 50 ha to those Comuneros wishing to do so, these lands could be titled as individual, private parcels.

Applicants however, had to be members in good standing, current with their dues. Seventy nine requests were granted under the proposal. According to Felipe Hurtado, a former Cabildo official, soon after the first plots were adjudicated:. The reason all petitions were accepted was the considerable disagreement that ensued after the assembly decided that only Comuneros in good standing would be granted approval of their petitions. In Limoncito, like many other Comunas, is very common to have members who attend to all Comuna assemblies, that is, take part in discussions, vote over proposals, and cooperate in diverse tasks, but are years behind in their dues.

Equally so, there are a number of members who live in nearby urban areas who are up to date in their dues but rarely attend assemblies. To Comuneros, it was obvious that the sudden appearance of the irrigation canals was a source of conflict. One that aggravates the recent history of disagreements over the role of local government and land tenure practices. In this sense, associational processes, including Comuna membership and local governance are difficult to separate from political and economic interests. In the next section, I explore in further detail the relationship between local political disputes and Comuna membership, the main formal association in the community.

In Limoncito, Comuneros are constantly juggling their pledge towards their recinto with the needs of the larger Comuna. Each recinto has their own associations, all with economic, social and cultural objectives as established locally. The dilemma over recinto and Comuna priorities is enacted in the process of becoming a member of the Comuna.

In , a group mainly composed of women residents applied for membership to the Comuna. All of them resided in Algarrobos, the second largest recinto, which historically has disputed control over Comuna policy with Tres Mangos, the largest one,. The applicants stated that they wanted to enjoy the benefits of membership, which include a parcel of land and an urban allotment to build a house and a garden. To others, the move was also intended to tip the balance of power towards Algarrobos by giving them more votes in the Comuna assembly.

For some Comuneros, this is a real concern as the few projects, services, and infrastructure gained or provided by the State or non-governmental organizations have to be physically located in one recinto, therefore, benefiting one sector of the Comuna more than others. Some Cabildo officers saw the incorporation of this group as a real threat to the cohesion of the Comuna and its assembly meetings. The group, they argued, was made up of very confrontational individuals, and during a period, their interventions led to physical confrontations during general assemblies. Shouting matches and accusations that sometimes ended in verbal and physical aggression were common.

Some Cabildo officers believe that as a result of the confrontational nature of the assemblies and a general discontent with local government, many Comuneros had stopped attending them. During my stay in Limoncito, general assemblies rarely ever reached quorum. Assembly business went on as usual, but officials and members knew that they were not following procedure, as this could not be carried out without the majority of members.

However, the relation between associational practices and the formalities of government is not circumscribed to the village level. Regional and national governance are also connected. The problem of national politics influencing collective action is evident during political campaigning and the election of municipal officials. In many ways, the Comuna's economic well-being is dependent upon the relationship it develops with candidates running for office, particularly those aspiring to be Alcalde mayor.

Beyond Social Capital: A critical approach

Supporting the winning contender means a greater access to services and infrastructure as previously negotiated during the election campaign. Recinto leaders, as well as Cabildo officers, usually support a candidate, sometimes based on shared party affiliation or on his or her policy agenda. It is not uncommon for local Comuna officials to campaign on behalf of candidates in exchange for social and economic favors for their associations, the recinto, or the Comuna as a whole. Libio Mendez personal communication , former President of the Comuna put it this way: "I have brought projects through politician friends that have power.

I have made agreements with them to help them, and in exchange they include me in their budgets to carry out projects It is embarrassing to ask politicians for money, but there is no other way, so I stick to them". In , the Cabildo officers had pledged their political support to three different candidates running for mayor. The candidates themselves knew this and saw Limoncito as a politically ambiguous community. In other words, as Cabildo officials did not represent a united front to bargain with mayoral candidates, therefore the Comuna was weakened in its lobbying power.

From a communitarian perspective, the Comuna could be deemed a fractured socio-cultural unit unable to carry out its "civic duties". People are not finding avenues to trust and cooperate with each other. Recinto-level associations are bypassing altogether the Cabildo in its role of political broker with municipal and national authorities. As a result, a micro fragmentation of political negotiations exists between the local community, regional, and national governments. These new institutional arrangements are not necessarily detrimental to collective action.

Small groups might be able to manage and control their resources better, however, the Comuna continues to stand as the legitimate representative of the rights of Comuneros to land, services, and development in general. It has the national government approval to navigate extra-comuna political waters. Fausto Salas, President of a recinto association and founder of several associations in Limoncito, is clear in this regard: "Today we have a Cabildo that could never agree on anything because they all belong to different political parties.

I am never going to participate in the Cabildo as an officer; I prefer to work in my local committee.


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I am more at ease there" personal communication. Further research is needed to investigate reasons for participation and association that consider local systems of values and under multiple economic and political pressures. Given the trend to generate global policies of development, knowledge of local experiences is a must. The ethnographic account offered above highlighted the importance of larger historical and political contexts in the constitution of participatory and organizational capacities -centerpiece of communitarian social capital approaches.

From this perspective, associational practices are carried out at different scales of interaction. Local ways to organize are not exclusively a local, cultural product, they are connected to institutional relations that go well beyond the local village. As such, the communitarian view of social capital as a public good carries two problematic ideas about the nature of social relations. First, that social capital can be converted into any tangible outcome Natrajan and Ilahiane ; and second, that small-scale societies are homogeneous or even classless, and that everyone has the same access to resources Durrenberger ; Edwards and Foley ; Harriss However, local circumstances are central to understanding particular institutional trajectories.

A crucial concern in social capital studies is that, since social capital is usually equated with collective action and organizational capacity, differences in welfare will be attributed to differences in abilities to organize and participate Fine , Fox , Schafft and Brown In terms of policy, a further consequence of thinking of participatory choices as cultural imprints is that it reproduces the idea that poverty ultimately rests on the incapacities of poor people.

They are incapable of accumulating trust, developing political connections, or engaging in collective action. In this framework, development outcomes are not related to politics, conflict, or inequality in access to resources.

Social Capital Theory

A further challenge is to reconceive the idea of culture in social capital. As a final thought and potential avenue for analysis, I propose understanding culture in action Bourdieu For the purposes of social capital in development and its interest in knowing how culture structures people's lives, it is useful to observe the ways in which values and ideas materialize in situated political practices. By adopting this view, we begin to see that in the interactions of individuals, along with their categories, hierarchies, values, and other phenomena considered culture, there is a material side.

In describing the way Comuneros carry on their associations and the relational practices we also begin to understand how class relations, kinship categories, and gender hierarchies, are all arenas to find culture in practice. Students of the interaction between culture and development would benefit from an idea of participation in which we look for: "what the participants in the interactions are up to, what counts as meaningful to them, what they are paying attention to, and for what purposes" Duranti This inductive exercise allows the researcher to build explanations of the cultural foundations of development that are informed by the economic, social, and political realities people face on a daily basis.

Research and dissertation writing funds were granted by the National Science Foundation and the University of Florida, respectively.


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They introduce the idea of bridging and bonding capitals. The latter refers to the levels of cohesion that social groups have at local levels, for example villages, associations, and clubs. The former indicates the ability of these groups to transcend their local environment to reach groups and institutions different from them and operating in different institutional spaces. For example, second degree organizations that link village-level associations, and non-governmental organizations. This version of social capital argues that it is a combination of both types of capital that generates economic and social development as local organizations are able to more effectively lobby policy makers.

Alvarez Litben, Silvia. Quito, Abya - Yala. Arneil, Barbara. Diverse Communities: The problem with social capital. Arrow, Kenneth J. Observations on Social Capital. Dasgupta e Ismail Serageldin, pp. Washington, D. The World Bank. Bebbington, Anthony. Social Capital Debates at the World Bank. The Journal of Development Studies 40, pp.

Bourdieu, Pierre. The Forms of Capital. New York, Greenwood Press. Outline of a Theory of Practice. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press. Revista Europea de Estudios Latinoamericanos y del Caribe 73, pp. Social Resources and Socioeconomic Status. Social Networks 8, pp. Cancian, Frank. Change and uncertainty in a peasant Economy. Stanford, Stanford University Press. Chibnik, Michael. Anthropology, Economics and Choice.

Austin, University of Texas Press.

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