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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[8]). 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[8]). 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)[8]. 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.

Citing this article

This article is part of a thesis submitted to the University of Queensland, Australia. You should reference this work as:

Claridge, T., 2004. Social Capital and Natural Resource Management: An important role for social capital? Unpublished Thesis, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia.

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  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. ^
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  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. ^
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