| By Anthony Bebbington | Published in Progress in Development Studies vol. 7 no. 2: 155-162 |
Introduction: My first progress report (Bebbington, 2004) focused on the nature of recent debates on social capital and development, and explored some of the institutional contexts that may help explain why the concept became so attractive to some authors and so problematic for others. ‘Context’ will be an important part of this note also, though in a different sense – one that is closer to the preoccupations of those who have assumed more sceptical and critical postures in social capital debates. Here I want to explore the possibility of working with the concept of social capital within more general analytical approaches grounded in notions of cultural and political economy. I take this tack because even the most trenchant critics of social capital (Fine, 2001; Harriss, 2002) seem to suggest that if the concept is to be of any analytical value at all, it has to be understood in the way that sociologist Pierre Bourdieu uses it – as part of a theory of practice, itself grounded in a broader theorization of political economy. Indeed, Bourdieu’s take on social capital has been recognized as offering promising ways forward by various scholars of development (Rankin, 2001; Mayer and Rankin, 2002; Silvey and Elmhirst, 2002). In part this seems to be because his conceptualization holds out the possibility of what Rankin (2001: 2, 3) calls a ‘Marxian approach to social capital’, one which would be centred on ‘a structural analysis of social capital … [that] draws attention to the ideological as well as material dimensions of social change’.
This article begins with a refl ection on Bourdieu’s approach to social capital, and then explores one domain in which several authors have directly or indirectly explored the value of such an approach: work on gender, social capital and development. It closes with a more applied refl ection and asks whether a concern for social capital understood as product and producer of cultural and political economy has any chance of travelling into policy.