Social Capital and Economic Development
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Social Capital and Economic Development

Well-being in Developing Countries

Edited by Jonathan Isham, Thomas Kelly and Sunder Ramaswamy

The chapters in this volume explore the challenges and opportunities raised by this concept for researchers, practitioners and teachers. Social Capital and Economic Development is based upon a consistent, policy-based vision of how social capital affects well-being in developing countries.
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Chapter 2: Social Capital in Theory and Practice: Where do we Stand?

Michael Woolcock


Michael Woolcock1 ‘It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.’ This common aphorism sums up much of the conventional wisdom regarding social capital. It is wisdom supported by empirical evidence, but also borne out in our everyday experience: In good times, we draw on the skills, insights and resources of others to pursue individual and common goals; when we fall upon hard times, our friends and family are often our final ‘safety net’. Gaining membership to exclusive clubs requires inside contacts; close competition for jobs and contracts is often won by those with ‘friends in high places’. Less instrumentally, some of our happiest and most rewarding hours are spent talking with neighbours, sharing meals with friends, participating in religious gatherings and volunteering on community projects. The nature and extent of our social relationships have an important impact on our lives but they are especially significant for the poor: with little by way of material assets, modest income or formal education, the poor are left to devise survival and mobility strategies that draw on (or in some cases circumvent) their social capital. This chapter introduces the recent theoretical and empirical literature on social capital as it pertains to economic development, with a particular focus on its significance for teaching and practice. It seeks to address four questions: (1) what is social capital, (2) how do different disciplines conceptualize and measure it, (3) how do any disciplinary similarities and differences influence development theory and research, and (4) how might an awareness...

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