| By Anthony Bebbington | Published in Progress in Development Studies, 4(4): 343-349 |
Abstract: This is the first in a series of short notes on social capital in development studies. Departing from three recent critical interventions (Fine, 2001; Harriss, 2002; Studia Africana, 2002) this first note reflects on the nature of the debate about the concept, for I think that the tone of the debate tells us much about the issues at stake. The second note will take a more theoretical focus, reflecting critically on the adequacy of recent efforts to use social capital as an analytical category in development studies and addressing the potential for bringing Bourdieu into these discussions – a move that several critical interventions imply is essential if the concept is to have any utility. The third report will discuss one of the core claims made by proponents of the concept, and consider whether there is any evidence that it fosters cross-disciplinary conversation, research and action. In this opening note, I argue that there is a danger that current critical debate on social capital – in particular its clever and at times not-so-clever acrimonies – might be read as playing the fiddle while Rome burns. I suggest that it is important for all involved to be modest, reflexive, self-critical and, on these bases, creative. I comment first on questions of tone and engagement, then on questions of conceptual choices in framing research programmes and finally on the far larger and longstanding challenges at hand that are raised by these debates on social capital.