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Englebert, P. (2001). The World Bank and the Unsuspected Virtues of Social Capital. Pomona College Department of Politics, mimeo

Since the middle of the 1990s, the World Bank has made substantial room in its discourse and operations to the theory of social capital, according to which trust among citizens and the prevalence of non-hierarchical social networks favor economic development.  For benign as this theory may appear, its enthusiastic adoption by the Bank nevertheless raises some important issues.  The hurried nature of the Bank’s embrace, at a time when social capital theory is still in its infancy and remains the object of serious controversies both with respect to the very existence of social capital and to its alleged effects, betrays an unusual lack of intellectual rigor.  This shortcoming is further aggravated by the manner of the Bank’s treatment of the theory, which suffers from a tautological bias, a tendency to take its effects for granted, and a possibly self-serving belief that foreign aid can contribute to the formation of social capital.  How are we to explain the Bank’s rapid subscription to the idea of social capital and its rather cavalier treatment of the theory?  This paper, which is an essay rather than a rigorously evidenced empirical piece of work, suggests two hypotheses.  First, social capital theory may provide the Bank with a comfortably apolitical and self-exonerating explanation for the failure of some of its structural adjustment and public sector reform programs, as well as of some projects whose implementation relies on the participation of local populations.  Second, it allows the Bank to expand its fields of intervention to non-economic issues, such as programs of national reconstruction in post-conflict countries, which have become increasingly common since the end of the Cold war, especially among its new member states.  For the Bank, social capital theory may then serve simultaneously, and contradictorily, as an escape from the errors of the past and a stepping-stone for broader involvement in member countries’ policy making.  For developing countries, however, the benefits of the Bank’s love affair with social capital remain uncertain.

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Englebert, Pierre

Areas of Specialization Sub-Saharan Africa, particularly the Democratic Republic of Congo and other Francophone countries; State formation, state failure and state reconstruction; African democratic experiments; Nationalism and separatism Refereed Articles "Post-Conflict...

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