Presentation to the Rural Affairs Forum for
5 November 2004
The term 'social capital' has moved slowly by osmosis into
the everyday language of regeneration. My feeling is that only a minority of
those involved in community regeneration have gone back to basics to understand
the origin and original meaning of the term.
Although I had sought out definitions in the literature and
on the web, the real revelation for me came when I came across the concept of
'sustainable livelihoods'. This is a whole approach to the alleviation of
poverty that is used extensively in supporting less developed countries. Within
this approach, social capital is defined as being one of five capital 'assets'
that an individual, or family unit, has at their disposal in order to build a
sustainable livelihood. The ruralnet|2003 conference was built on the theme of
sustainable livelihoods and the five capital assets. I have gone back to the
ruralnet|2003 forum on ruralnet|online in the preparation of this brief paper.
The five assets at your disposal that you can 'exploit' to
build and sustain a livelihood are: financial capital (money), physical capital
(infrastructure), environmental capital (land, water etc), human capital
(skills) and social capital. These assets are used by all of us in our day to
day lives. We 'exploit' them to operate as we do. In simple terms, social
capital is the social contacts, relationships and support we can exploit to
prosper. Social capital is that which bonds us together and builds bridges
between our community and others.
An initiative that builds social capital and reduces social
inclusion is likely to be perceived as 'good' or beneficial. The goals of
building social capital and increasing social inclusion have come to be
associated in most people's minds as 'universally good'. But is the building of
social capital always a 'good thing' and does it automatically lead to social
Whose social capital is it anyway?
In 2002 the Home Secretary, David Blunkett said:
"Today, there are 350,000 school governors. There are
160,000 local neighbourhood watch schemes registered with the National
Neighbourhood Watch Association. .. Balsall Heath took radical action against
prostitution and crime in the early 1990s