Module 3: Is Development Possible in Communities Lacking Trust and Social Capital?

Despite the last module’s clear delineation of the necessary precursors for development, there is danger in relying too heavily on social capital as a “tool” for development. Social capital is not something that can be easily incubated by outside agencies. As Fukuyama describes, it is born of historical and inherently cultural tendencies and values to associate and cooperate. Institution-building, a vital aspect of development, requires social capital.(1) Accordingly, institution-building is greatly contingent on the cultural personality of the target community. The characteristic inflexibility of culture to manipulation makes development in a society lacking trust and social capital difficult. Fukuyama vehemently asserts that since it is impossible for governments or external agencies to “mitigate the cultural dimensions of the problem,” the single thing that can be done to build social capital is “strengthen the rule of law and the basic political institutions on which it rests.” This would involve an increase in “the radius of trust” among inward-looking, familial societies, like those of Latin America and some Asian countries.(2)

Many of Fukuyama’s assumptions, as is apparent, apply more pertinently to large-scale, national development schemes. Altering the social patterns of societies is a daunting endeavor. So what does lack of trust or social capital on the community level look like?Is it any more feasible to mitigate inadequacies in trust and social capital if modifications are made on a microscopic scale?

If a developer who is not native to a community wants to initiate a development project, high levels of internal (amongst community members) and external (between insiders and outsiders) trust are needed. This ensures that community members most likely share cooperatively a common existence, common set of norms, and common interests. It also means they would not be immediately hostile or disinterested if an independent party promising some improvement in well-being were to enter the community sphere. But even if these qualities exist only minimally, the project is not necessarily doomed. Examine the following case study, from Hubert Campfens’s Community Development Around the World: Practice, Theory, Research, Training. It can be accessed here. Please read pages 219-231 (the Introduction and Case Study A: “Ossim Shalom: A Community Demonstration Project for Peace and Welfare”).

As you read in this case study, Ossim Shalom, a non-profit/non-partisan organization working to promote peace and welfare between Jewish and Arab Israelis, found a way to overcome skepticism, distrust, and a backwards form of social capital that manifested as extremism rather than harmony. Through open community dialogue, intensive investigation of the local complexities of Jewish-Arab dissonance, and the development of an effective conflict-resolution model, Ossim Shalom succeeded in gaining legitimacy and reducing incidents of retaliation between the religious factions. Ossim Shalom’s emphasis on the involvement of neighborhood activists, village leaders, and ordinary civilians in the project planning and implementation was crucial.(3) The vitality of these strategies, and more, will be discussed in the next couple courses.

In sum, while trust and social capital are preconditions for development, they are not easily formulated by external entities. As our case study shows, though, they can be developed on the community level if proper measures are employed. As always in effective development endeavors, critical analysis of cultural complexities is an essential step in the realization of a better reality.

Footnotes

(1) Ibid, 25.

(2) Ibid, 32.

(3) Campfens, H. Community Development Around the World: Practice, Theory, Research, Training. (University of Toronto Press, 1997): 219-231.