This paper draws on research in Tanzania to question ideas that building social capital through getting institutions right in development can overcome poverty . It uses cases studies of the poorest families in the study area to dispute the concept of social capital as an asset that can be readily created, used or substituted for other missing 'capitals' (human, natural, financial and physical).
The paper details the clusters of interlocking disadvantage of the chronically poor which make it highly unlikely that they can draw on social capital to ameliorate their poverty, or that the creation of social capital at community level has any significant effect on their wellbeing. Factors highlighted include small family size and weak family networks, lack of assets (including labour power) which constrains their ability to engage in reciprocal collective activities, poor health, inability to articulate in public fora and the derogatory perceptions of other community members towards them.
The paper illustrates how some social relationships, collective action and local institutions may reproduce the exclusion of the poorest. The paper concludes by suggesting that processes of institutional formation do not necessarily result in inclusive forms of social, that the poorest people are severely limited in their scope for exercising agency and that we should be cautious about claims that it is possible to get institutions wholly right for poverty alleviation and social inclusion.
The inequality of social capital: agency, association and the reproduction ofchronic poverty presented at Staying Poor: Chronic Poverty and Development Policy, Institute for Development Policy and Management, University of Manchester, 7-9 April 2003. Chronic Poverty Research Centre (CPRC), Manchester, UK, 21 pp.