Social Capital and Natural Resource Management

There is some, but limited literature linking social capital theory and natural resource management. Enhanced social capital can improve environmental outcomes through decreased costs of collective action, increase in knowledge and information flows, increased cooperation, less resource degradation and depletion, more investment in common lands and water systems, improved monitoring and enforcement (Anderson et al. 2002[1] ; Daniere et al. 2002a[2] ; Daniere et al. 2002b[3] ; Koka and Prescott 2002[4] ). There is a growing interest in social capital and its potential impact for affecting collective action in sustainable renewable natural resource institutions (Rudd 2000[5] ; Sobels et al. 2001[6] ; Walters 2002[7] ). Pretty and Ward (2001)[8] identified that where social capital is well-developed, local groups with locally developed rules and sanctions are able to make more of existing resources than individuals working alone or in competition. Social capital indicates a community’s potential for cooperative action to address local problems (Fukuyama 2001[9] ; Pilkington 2002[10] ; Ritchie 2000[11] ). As it lowers the costs of working together, social capital facilitates cooperation and voluntary compliance with rules (Isham and Kahkonen 2002[12] ; Pretty and Ward 2001[12] ). The norm of generalized reciprocity assists in the solution of problems of collective action. Adler and Kwon (2002)[13] identified that it transforms individuals from self-seeking and egocentric agents with little sense of obligation to others into members of a community with shared interests, a common identity, and a commitment to the common good. Brewer (2003)[14] believed that denser networks increase the likelihood that people will engage in collective action. There is also evidence linking social capital to greater innovation and flexibility in policy making (Knack 2002)[15] .

In the field of development it offers the potential for more participatory, sustainable and empowering approaches in theory and practice (Chhibber 1999[16] ; Evans 1996[17] ; Woolcock and Narayan 2000[18] ). Krishna and Uphoff (2002)[19] found that an index of social capital variables is positively and consistently correlated with superior development outcomes. Social and human capital, embedded in participatory groups within rural communities has been central to equitable and sustainable solutions to local development problems (Pretty and Frank 2000[20] ; Pretty and Ward 2001[20] ). Grootaert and Van Bastelaer (2002a, p. 344)[21] stated that social capital has a profound impact in many different areas of human life and development: it affects the provision of services, in both urban and rural areas; transforms the prospects for agricultural development; influences the expansion of private enterprises; improves the management of common resources; helps improve education; can contribute to recovery from conflict; and can help compensate for a deficient state. Social capital is critical for poverty alleviation and sustainable human and economic development (Dolfsma and Dannreuther 2003[22] ; Grootaert and Van Bastelaer 2002c[23] ). It represents a potential link between policy level thinking and community level action (Pretty and Ward 2001)[23] . The mobilization of social capital requires a high degree of sensitivity to the specific nature of the societies involved in order to have positive effects (McHugh and Prasetyo 2002)[24] . Social capital reduces the costs associated with working together thereby facilitating collective action (Ostrom 1994[25] ; Ostrom 1999[26] ). There is a need for further research in this area.


  1. Anderson, C. Leigh, Laura Locker, and Rachel Nugent. 2002. ‘Microcredit, Social Capital, and Common Pool Resources.’ World Development 30: 95-105. ^
  2. Daniere, Amrita, Lois M Takahashi, and Anchana NaRanong. 2002a. ‘Social capital and environmental management: culture, perceptions and action among slum dwellers in Bangkok.” in Social Capital and Economic Development: Well-being in Developing Countries, edited by Sunder Ramaswamy. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Eglar. ^
  3. Daniere, Amrita, Lois M Takahashi, and Anchana NaRanong. 2002b. ‘Social capital, networks, and community environments in Bangkok, Thailand.’ Growth and Change 33: 453-484. ^
  4. Koka, Balaji R, and John E Prescott. 2002. ‘Strategic alliances as social capital: A multidimensional view.’ Strategic Management Journal 23: 795-816. ^
  5. Rudd, Murray A. 2000. “Live long and prosper: collective action, social capital and social vision.” Ecological Economics 34: 131-144. ^
  6. Sobels, Jonathan, Allan Curtis, and Stewart Lockie. 2001. “The role of Landcare group networks in rural Australia: exploring the contribution of social capital.” Journal of Rural Studies 17: 265-276. ^
  7. Walters, William. 2002. “Social capital and political sociology: Re-imagining politics?” Sociology : the Journal of the British Sociological Association 36: 377-397. ^
  8. Pretty, Jules, and Hugh Ward. 2001. “Social capital and the environment.” World Development 29: 209-227. ^
  9. Fukuyama, Francis. 2001. ‘Social capital, civil society and development.’ Third World Quarterly 22: 7-20. ^
  10. Pilkington, Paul. 2002. “Social capital and health: measuring and understanding social capital at a local level could help to tackle health inequalities more effectively.” Journal of Public Health Medicine 24: 156-159. ^
  11. Ritchie, Mark. 2000. “Social capacity, sustainable development, and older people: lessons from community -based care in Southeast Asia.” Development in Practice 10: 638-651. ^
  12. Isham, Jonathan, and Satu Kahkonen. 2002. ‘How do participation and social capital affect community-based water projects? Evidence from Central Java, Indonesia.” Pp. 155, 175 – 187 in The Role of Social Capital in Development, edited by Thierry Van Bastelaer. Melbourne: Cambridge University Press. ^
  13. Adler, Paul S, and Seok-Woo Kwon. 2002. ‘Social Capital: Prospects For a New Concept.’ Academy of Management. The Academy of Management Review 27: 17-40. ^
  14. Brewer, Gene A. 2003. ‘Building Social Capital: Civic Attitudes and Behavior of Public Servants.’ Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory 13: 5-26. ^
  15. Knack, Stephen. 2002. ‘Social capital and the quality of government: Evidence from the states.’ American Journal of Political Science 46: 772-785. ^
  16. Chhibber, Ajay. 1999. ‘Social capital, the state, and development outcomes.’ Pp. 296-310 in Social Capital: A multifaceted perspective, edited by Ismail Serageldin. Washington, DC: World Bank. ^
  17. Evans, Peter. 1996. ‘Government action, social capital and development: Reviewing the evidence on synergy.’ World Development 24: 1119-1132. ^
  18. Woolcock, Michael, and Deepa Narayan. 2000. “Social capital:  Implications for development theory, research, and policy.” The World Bank Research Observer 15: 225-249. ^
  19. Krishna, Anirudh, and Norman Uphoff. 2002. ‘Mapping and measuring social capital through assessment of collective action to conserve and develop watersheds in Rajasthan, India.” Pp. 85 – 88, 115 – 124 in The Role of Social Capital in Development, edited by Thierry Van Bastelaer. Melbourne: Cambridge University Press. ^
  20. Pretty, Jules, and B.R. Frank. 2000. “Participation and social capital formation in natural resource management: Achievements and lessons.” in Plenary paper for International Landcare 2000 Conference. Melbourne, Australia. ^
  21. Grootaert, Christiaan, and Thierry Van Bastelaer. 2002a. ‘Conclusion: measuring impact and drawing policy implications.’ Pp. 341 – 350 in The Role of Social Capital in Development, edited by Thierry Van Bastelaer. Melbourne: Cambridge University Press. ^
  22. Dolfsma, Wilfred, and Charlie Dannreuther. 2003. ‘Subjects and boundaries: Contesting social capital-based policies.’ Journal of Economic Issues 37: 405-413.
  23. Grootaert, Christiaan, and Thierry Van Bastelaer. 2002c. The role of social capital in development : an empirical assessment. New York: Cambridge University Press. ^
  24. McHugh, Rebecca, and Raphael Jane Prasetyo. 2002. “Social capital in Asia: A proposal for discussion.” The International Scope Review 4. ^
  25. Ostrom, Elinor. 1994. “Consituting social capital and collective action.” Journal of Theoretical Politics 6: 527-562. ^
  26. Ostrom, Elinor. 1999. “Social capital: A fad or a fundamental concept?” Pp. 172-215 in Social Capital: A multifaceted perspective, edited by Ismail Serageldin. Washington, DC: World Bank. ^

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