| By Anthony Bebbington | Published in the International Encyclopedia of Human Geography, pp 165-170. Edited by N. Thrift and R. Kitchin. Oxford: Elsevier. |
Abstract: The concept of social capital generally refers to the assets that reside within social actors’ relationships. These assets are understood as constituting an important part of people’s identities, livelihood and political strategies, and interests and aspirations. As a resource that fosters civic engagement, responsibility, and community, and oils the wheels of collective action, social capital is often also viewed as critical to the success of local development and the recovery of community cohesion. This article explores the different ways in which social capital has been interpreted, and teases out the convergences and differences in these meanings. It then discusses how, and when, the concept became of interest in both development policy and development studies – and thus also development geography. Some attention is given to the ways in which the concept has affected policy thinking. The article closes with a review of several of the different critiques of the concept – questioning both its coherence and the conservative political projects that critics argue underlie its use. It suggests that because these critiques – and responses to them – have been so fierce, much of the potential (in particular, the progressive potential) in the concept may well have been lost.