This paper uses two case studies drawn from in-depth ethnographic research in South Africa's Eastern Cape to interrogate and problematise the often simplistic or reductive ways in which the concept of social capital is used in debates about development and poverty alleviation. It argues that if the concept is to be useful at all, it needs to be used in ways that are sensitive to the fact that social capital inheres in social relations; that these social relations cannot be understood separately from the meaning-giving practices and discourses with which they are entangled; that the analysis of social capital requires an agent-centred approach that is alive to the way in which it is used, transformed, created, made and remade; and that such an analysis furthermore needs to be alive to the nature of power relations both on the micro-level and the macro-level of political economy. The analysis of social capital therefore should be linked to a careful account of the practices, networks, systems and processes that empower some and enable them to climb out of poverty, but which also marginalise and trap others in poverty that is deep-seated and chronic.
Du Toit, A.; Skuse, A.; Cousins, T. The Political Economy of Social Capital: Chronic Poverty, Remoteness and Gender in the Rural Eastern Cape. Social Identities (2007) 13 (4) 521-540. [DOI: 10.1080/13504630701459180]