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Call for Papers: Social Capital and Development: A Contested Relationship

Chiara Pierobon PhD (Universität Bielefeld) and Lilian Tauber (Durham University) are seeking to relaunch the academic debate about the relevance of social capital theory to development.

This call for papers invites researchers and practitioners to submit their paper proposal (between 1,000 and 2,000 words) by October 31, 2019. 

The papers will be collected for a special issue of a journal, to be determined depending on the paper topics. Enquiries should be directed to Dr. Chiara Pierobon ( and Ms. Lilian Tauber (

Background and details

In economic development, social capital is seen as a valuable resource that should be tapped; the rationale is that social cohesion is directly related to growth and prosperity. Theoretically, individuals with stronger associations among one another can better communicate and coordinate for mutual benefit[1]. Collective action is understood to build trust through repeated association and reciprocity, which should lead to greater developmental capacity[2]. Prosperity is also linked to political representation, as social capital supposedly enables people to better participate collectively in local decision making, monitor government agencies, and lobby for better services[3]. Social capital theory, as based on the work of Robert Putnam, suggests that trust, cooperation, and public participation will lead to citizens being more active and engaged in government institutions. Likewise, government processes are predicted to become transparent and accountable through citizens’ increased engagement[4]. Thus, social capital has been theorized to have both economic and political development benefits.

During the 1990s, national governments and international agencies discovered social capital as a valuable means to attain their development outcomes and commissioned projects as well as studies exploring the relationship between social capital and development. The World Bank, OECD, and UNDP heralded social capital as the ‘missing link’ in explaining development in comparative perspective[5]. In 1996, the World Bank launched the Social Capital Initiative (SCI) that represents one of the main endeavours in this field. The SCI aimed at both assessing how social capital can influence the effectiveness of development interventions as well as at identifying ways in which development assistance might affect its creation. At the same time, the SCI sought to develop methods and indicators to monitor and measure the impact of social capital on development[6].

In the second half of the 2000s the SCI was disbanded, and the notion of social capital became unfashionable among decision makers worldwide. In academic circles, the use of social capital in development was initially criticized due to the difficulty in defining, measuring, and theorizing the concept. The positive view of social capital has been challenged by studies that outline the exclusionary processes of cooperative action[7]. Other studies have shown that local groups and associations are unable to compensate for failed governments and do not operate equitably in inequitable communities[8]. In addition, criticism turned to the depoliticizing aspects of social capital, with accusations that development frameworks focusing on social capital form part of the apolitical post-Washington Consensus[9].

This call for papers seeks to re-launch the debate about the relevance of social capital theory for development. More precisely, it is meant to shed light on new approaches and dimensions able to capture and explain the relationship (or lack thereof) between social capital and development by examining concrete case-studies in the Mediterranean, Middle East, Africa, Latin America, and Asia. We seek papers that critically investigate the theoretical, methodological and/or practical implications of social capital at the micro, meso and macro level. The papers will be collected for a special issue of a journal, to be determined depending on the paper topics.

Potential topics include but are not limited to the following:

  • Social capital and development: definitions, dimensions, and operationalization strategies
  • Social capital as dependent vs. independent variable for development
  • Use of social capital as heuristic tool to evaluate development interventions (how to measure what?)
  • Use of social capital to achieve development outcomes (inclusion in project/program design, theory of change etc.)
  • Contribution of social capital to (civil) society and community empowerment
  • Social capital, development and the role of political contexts, historical legacies and power relations
  • The role of the state in the development, or absence, of social capital
  • Development initiatives that rely implicitly on social capital, but do not explicitly promote it (see, for instance, global social entrepreneurship promotion efforts)

Researchers and practitioners are invited to submit their paper proposal (between 1,000 and 2,000 words) to Dr. Chiara Pierobon ( and Ms. Lilian Tauber ( by October 31, 2019.

Authors will be notified by November 30, 2019 about the status of their proposals.

The full papers should not exceed 8000 words and should be submitted by February 28, 2020.


  1. Frances Cleaver. ‘The Inequality of Social Capital and the Reproduction of Chronic Poverty,’ World Development 33 (6): 893. ^
  2. See for example Ostrom and Ahn. Foundations of Social Capital; and N. Uphoff and C.M. Wijayaratna. ‘Demonstrated benefits from social capital: The productivity of farmer organisations in Gal Oya, Sri Lanka.’ World Development, 28 (11): 1875-1890. ^
  3. Cleaver. ‘The Inequality of Social Capital and the Reproduction of Chronic Poverty,’ 893. ^
  4. See Robert Putnam. Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993. ^
  5. F.J. Schuurman. (2003). ‘Social capital: The politico-emancipatory potential of a disputed concept.’ Third World Quarterly, 34(6), 991-992. ^
  6. World Bank. ‘The Social Capital Project’ accessed 26 August 2019. ^
  7. See for example T. Benjaminsen and C. Lund. ‘Formalisation and Informalisation of Land and Water Rights in Africa: An Introduction.’ The European Journal of Development Research 14(2): 1-10; and L. Mehta, M. Leach and I. Scoones. ‘Environmental governance in an uncertain world.’ IDS Bulletin, 32(4): 1-14. ^
  8. See for example E. La Ferrara. ‘Unequal access to social capital? Evidence from Tanzania.’ Development Research Insights 34, September 2000. Sussex: University of Sussex; and F. Stewart. ‘Groups for good or ill.’ Oxford Development Studies, 24(1): 9-24. ^
  9. See for example Schuurman. ‘Social capital,’ 991-1010; and Cleaver. ‘The Inequality of Social Capital and the Reproduction of Chronic Poverty,’ 893-906. ^

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