The nexus social capital – rural community development

In their article titled “Networking: Social Capital and Identities in European Rural Development”, Lee et al. (2005) check out the roles that social capital and identity play in rural development and the relationships between these two concepts in the contemporary Europe. This paper resumes the research findings of an EU project that was realized in six cases study in six different countries: Finland, Ireland, Italy, Norway, Scotland and Sweden (Lee et al., 2005:269-270). The authors consider social capital as “being constructed through a process of political struggle in which social capital is mobilized, expended and accumulated” (Lee et al., 2005:271). Accordingly, the understanding of social capital is associated to a scarce and unequally distributed resource which gets a meaning only when it is envisioned into social interactions. Additionally, social capital is believed to enhance rural development so that a community can amass strong sense of shared identity from within social capital to generate development benefits. In other words, there is great potential and opportunities for development, at local, community or territorial level, when people within a society treasure high to be affiliated to one group or community or territory, and see themselves as partakers instead of watchers (Lee et al., 2005:273; Anderson and Bell, 2003 quoted by Shortall, 2008:451). Therefore, providing support to create and build on people’s endowment within a community serves at fostering development (Lee et al., 2005:280) in many dimensions – economic, political, environmental, cultural, etc. The experiences of many people bring some illustration of the above mentioned arguments. In fact, all over the world, there are many situations which could exemplify the implications of deep sense of shared identity or social capital  for rural development purposes. One typical illustration is when shared identity and self-identification to a specific ethnic or social group serve as drivers to mobilize  resources needed to implement local development projects. For example, in the West region of Cameroon, the ethnic category Bamileke represents a cluster of different cultural and social groups in which individuals and lineages within specific territories share a common sense of connectedness through ancestors, dialects, traditions, customs, beliefs and practices. The West region is the smallest region in terms of surface area compared to others, but is among the most densely populated area of the country. Subsequently, in order to survive and improve their livelihoods, western people started to migrate and spread in almost all the other regions of the country. Wherever they find themselves, they strongly identify to people originating from the same locality and sharing the same dialects. While doing so, they formally gather within associations or so-called “tontines” in which they reinforce social bonds across the members, but also towards their native areas (or ‘villages).

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Their strong and shared sense of belonging stimulate deep trust for one another, and thus cooperation for action. As well, they voluntarily gather in such socio-cultural associations with the goal of preserving their dialects, traditions, customs. Besides, members are strongly united and exercised solidarity in multiple forms among the members of their groups,: financial support (small scale credits and loans), labor support (in farming, house building), assistance in mourning and other difficult or joyful times.  Moreover, on a regular basis, they can gather and send money (remittances) to their relatives and traditional leaders in their places of origin. They keep visiting their relatives and chieftaincy (traditional authorities) at different occasions (weddings, funerals, special traditional events). They constitute financial, political, socio-cultural supports to the designing and implementation of projects within both their origin and host communities. At a global level, throughout years, Cameroonian citizens of various ethnic affiliations who have migrated to foreign countries for academic, diplomatic, political or economic purposes keep gathering within associations in their new places. Their main goal is to maintain social and cultural bonds and perpetuate their dialects, traditions and culture. Some of such gatherings have evolved into non-profit organizations aiming to mobilize all forms of resources (human, financial, physical, political, social) and to finance a wide diversity of small and medium scale projects in their natives areas in Cameroon, such as infrastructures development, health campaigns, education grants, agricultural projects, sport programs, etc. At least once a year, many travel back home and contribute to organizing local events. In conclusion, with social capital as the (individual and collective) capacity to act, its mobilization contribute considerably to rural, territorial and community development. 

References:

Anderson, Cynthia D., Bell, Michael M. (2003): The devil of social capital: a dilemma of American rural sociology. In: Cloke, P. (Ed.), Country Visions. Pearson Education, Essex, pp. 232–244.

Lee, J., A. Arnason, A. Nightingale & M. Shucksmith (2005): Networking: social capital and identities in European Rural Development, Sociologia Ruralis, 45 (4), pp. 269-283.

Shortall S. (2008): Are rural development programmes social inclusive? Journal of Rural Studies 24, pp. 450-457.


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