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Converting Social Capital into Political Capital: How Do Local Communities Gain Political Influence? A Theoretical Approach and Empirical Evidence from Thailand and Colombia

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Birner, Regina; Wittmer, Heidi
Conference: Constituting the Commons: Crafting Sustainable Commons in the New Millennium, the Eighth Biennial Conference of the International Association for the Study of Common Property
Location: Bloomington, Indiana, USA
Conf. Date: May 31-June 4
Date: 2000
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10535/1421
Sector: Social Organization
Forestry
Region: East Asia
South America
Subject(s): IASC
common pool resources--comparative analysis
social capital
political behavior--comparative analysis
governance and politics--comparative analysis
community forestry
industry
collective action--comparative analysis
local participatory management
Abstract: "The concept of social capital has attracted increasing attention in the study of common property, collective action, and natural resource management. Compared to related concepts, such as social networks, norms and trust, social capital is compatible with the concepts of physical, human and natural capital, thus allowing to relate the social, the economic and the ecological sphere. This paper proposes a concept of political capital, which permits to integrate the political sphere, as well, and allows to analyze how local communities can use social capital to achieve political objectives. Drawing on the work of political resource theorists, the paper distinguishes between instrumental and structural political capital. Instrumental political capital is defined in the actors' perspective as the resources which actors can use to influence policy formation processes and realize outcomes in their interest. Structural political capital is defined in the public perspective and refers to variables of the political system which condition the actors possibilities to accumulate instrumental political capital and to use it effectively. On this basis, the paper develops an analytical framework which focuses on the transformation of social into political capital. To study this capital transformation, the paper integrates Bourdieu's concept of social capital, which has been somewhat neglected by those using the social capital approach to study common property and natural resource management. Two case studies, one from Thailand and one from Columbia, illustrate the application of the framework. In a macro-political perspective, the Thailand case deals with the devolution of authority in forest management, while the Columbian case adopts a micro-political perspective and deals with the labor policies of multi-national firms. The paper concludes that the proposed framework allows to integrate arguments which have been put forward by different schools of thought, such as pluralist, statist and political conflict theories. The framework also allows to accommodate the role of knowledge, ideology and discourse, which are particularly relevant for environmental policy formation. To further develop the proposed framework, the paper suggests to explore how analytical tools used in investment theory, principal-agent theory and transaction cost economics can be applied to political capital."

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