Edited by Hans Westlund and Johan P. Larsson
Chapter 14: Social capital and rural development in Southern European regions: the case of EU-funded LEADER projects
The objective of this chapter is to examine the role of social capital in regional, rural development in the South of Europe through the EU-funded LEADER programme. LEADER’s aim is to provide rural communities with a method to tackle problems of local development by building new forms of partnerships and linking activities across various economic sectors, social groups and levels of governance. In this regard LEADER is inextricably connected to the neo-endogenous approach and relies heavily on local social capital. It has considerable appeal in rural areas of southern Europe, which have been hit hard by the crisis and are characterized by specific cultural and historical conditions and chronic structural problems. Yet we observe that funding and decision-making bodies at all levels have not explicitly and formally addressed and assessed the role of social dynamics and specifically of social capital in promoting rural development by exploiting LEADER funds. We argue that this must be remedied if we wish to enhance the effectiveness of these projects. The chapter begins with an overview of policy reports and case studies to examine the role of social capital in rural development and LEADER, particularly in areas of innovation, governance and marginalized groups. Then we use the lessons learnt from case studies in Greek and Italian rural areas in southern Europe to discuss alternative definitions and measures of social capital that take into account: economic and non-economic dimensions of local development; process-oriented evaluation methods; and context-specific characteristics of regions. Finally, we suggest ways to re-contextualize social capital in development programmes to improve their design, implementation and evaluation.
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