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Social Capital and Poor Communities

Social Capital and Poor Communities

Susan Saegert
J. Phillip Thompson
Mark R. Warren
Copyright Date: 2001
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    Social Capital and Poor Communities
    Book Description:

    Neighborhood support groups have always played a key role in helping the poor survive, but combating poverty requires more than simply meeting the needs of day-to-day subsistence. Social Capital and Poor Communities shows the significant achievements that can be made through collective strategies, which empower the poor to become active partners in revitalizing their neighborhoods. Trust and cooperation among residents and local organizations such as churches, small businesses, and unions form the basis of social capital, which provides access to resources that would otherwise be out of reach to poor families. Social Capital and Poor Communities examines civic initiatives that have built affordable housing, fostered small businesses, promoted neighborhood safety, and increased political participation. At the core of each initiative lie local institutions—church congregations, parent-teacher groups, tenant associations, and community improvement alliances. The contributors explore how such groups build networks of leaders and followers and how the social power they cultivate can be successfully transferred from smaller goals to broader political advocacy. For example, community-based groups often become platforms for leaders hoping to run for local office. Church-based groups and interfaith organizations can lobby for affordable housing, job training programs, and school improvement. Social Capital and Poor Communities convincingly demonstrates why building social capital is so important in enabling the poor to seek greater access to financial resources and public services. As the contributors make clear, this task is neither automatic nor easy. The book's frank discussions of both successes and failures illustrate the pitfalls—conflicts of interest, resistance from power elites, and racial exclusion—that can threaten even the most promising initiatives. The impressive evidence in this volume offers valuable insights into how goal formation, leadership, and cooperation can be effectively cultivated, resulting in a remarkable force for change and a rich public life even for those communities mired in seemingly hopeless poverty.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-482-8
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Contributors
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    Melvin L. Oliver
  5. Foreword
    (pp. xv-xvi)
    Robert D. Putnam

    The most urgent moral problem in contemporary America is the persistence of poverty and growing inequality in the midst of unprecedented affluence. Over the last three decades or so, the gap between haves and have-nots has grown steadily and alarmingly, a sharp reversal of previous trends. Too few Americans on the comfortable side of that gap have been outraged by this mounting deficit in social justice.

    At the same time, Americans of all classes and races, and in all sections of the country, have become increasingly disconnected from their communities and from one another. In the language of social science,...

  6. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  7. Chapter 1 The Role of Social Capital in Combating Poverty
    (pp. 1-28)
    Mark R. Warren, J. Phillip Thompson and Susan Saegert

    As the third in a series of books about building assets in poor communities, this volume examines the contributions that social capital can make to combating poverty and fostering the development of poor communities. Social capital refers to the set of resources that inhere in relationships of trust and cooperation between people.¹ These kinds of social assets do not alleviate poverty directly; rather, they leverage investments in human capital and household financial resources. Poor people rely on the support of extended family relationships and of more formal organizations like churches to survive. Scholars have long recognized the importance of these...


    • Chapter 2 Social Capital and the Culture of Power: Lessons from the Field
      (pp. 31-59)
      M. Lisette Lopez and Carol B. Stack

      Social capital resists simplification. It does not make a conversation lifted above the fray of time and place. Instead, it must be heard in dialogue with local voices, seen against the background of individuals, families, and communities, a nation and world in motion. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, changing geographies of financial capital have hardened the urban core; global and interregional migrations of people have altered it. It has been reconfigured by ethnic and racial divisions, and destabilized by the erosion of public institutions and services. But studies of social capital have sometimes obscured the interconnections that make...

    • Chapter 3 Social Capital in America’s Poor Rural Communities
      (pp. 60-86)
      Cynthia M. Duncan

      Rural communities would seem to be the ideal setting in which to see social capital flourishing. Most often we think of a rural community nostalgically as a small, uncomplicated place where everyone knows everyone else, neighbors help one another, and close ties and cooperation are the norm. We envision a kind of classless, family-based social structure with Tocqueville-like civic engagement of essentially equal citizens-farmers, small-business people, skilled tradespeople. But we also know there are chronically poor communities. From photographs, stories, songs, and histories we have images of the other rural America—poor southern sharecroppers, Appalachian coal miners, Native Americans. This...


    • Chapter 4 Crime and Public Safety: Insights from Community-Level Perspectives on Social Capital
      (pp. 89-114)
      Robert J. Sampson

      Research has long shown that crimes involving interpersonal violence are more frequent in socially and economically disadvantaged neighborhoods. Drawing on the concept of social capital, recent work has attempted to unpack why this is so and what might be done to improve the level of safety in poor communities. In this chapter, I assess the state of current knowledge on the relevance of social capital to the known facts about crime and public safety, including theoretical formulations on what social capital means at the neighborhood level, criticisms of the concept, and proposed revisions. I then review research attempting to measure...

    • Chapter 5 Making Social Capital Work: Social Capital and Community Economic Development
      (pp. 115-135)
      Ross Gittell and J. Phillip Thompson

      The discussion of social capital as it relates to economic development in low-income communities has been inappropriately narrow. It has focused on social ties and relations within and between firms in ethnic enclave economies without paying sufficient attention to how social capital can influence private market rules, individual preferences, and economic outcomes. We offer an alternative view, with social capital as a contributing factor in the shaping of economic markets through political and collective community action and in the actualizing of market potential in inner-city economies. Our view is that social capital can operate in concert with other important development...

    • Chapter 6 Housing, Social Capital, and Poor Communities
      (pp. 136-164)
      Langley C. Keyes

      Given the current definitional controversy surrounding the term “social capital,” any discussion of its relationship to housing and poor communities can quickly become mired in theoretical and empirical debate.¹ Rather than cursing the definitional darkness, this essay seizes Michael Woolcock’s (1998) framing of the term as the lens through which to view housing and poor communities.

      In “Social Capital and Economic Development: Toward a Theoretical Synthesis and Policy Framework,” Woolcock (1998, 184) throws down this gauntlet:²

      As arguably the most influential concept to emerge from economic sociology in the last decade, it behooves serious students to critique, clarify, and refine...

    • Chapter 7 Social Capital, Poverty, and Community Health: An Exploration of Linkages
      (pp. 165-188)
      Sherman A. James, Amy J. Schulz and Juliana van Olphen

      This chapter explores the degree to which the overall health of communities depends, at least in part, on reliable access to social capital among their residents. As discussed in chapter 1 by Mark Warren, Phillip Thompson, and Susan Saegert, social theorists (for example, Bourdieu 1987; Coleman 1988, 1990; Putnam 1993) have generally defined social capital as resources that inhere in social relationships. These resources include mutual trust, a sense of reciprocal obligation, and civic participation aimed at benefiting the group or community as a whole. As such, social capital is construed to be a property of groups or communities, not...

    • Chapter 8 Transforming Urban Schools Through Investments in the Social Capital of Parents
      (pp. 189-212)
      Pedro A. Noguera

      This chapter explores some of the ways in which parental involvement at local school sites can generate social capital that can be used to improve inner-city schools and the communities they serve. The form of involvement examined goes beyond traditional calls for parents to be more interested in the education of their children and more supportive of teachers (Epstein 1991). I make the case for schools to become more responsive to and supportive of the children, families, and communities they serve by consciously developing partnerships based on mutual accountability and responsibility.

      Given the poor state of most inner-city public schools,...


    • Chapter 9 Social Capital, Religious Institutions, and Poor Communities
      (pp. 215-245)
      Michael W. Foley, John D. McCarthy and Mark Chaves

      Religious institutions playa significant, if little understood, role in poor communities in the United States. Among the institutions of civil society, churches are often the last to leave deteriorating neighborhoods and dwindling communities and the first to return. Religiously based social service efforts carry an important part of the burden of providing for the needs of poor communities. Congregations and local denominational bodies frequently build broad community coalitions on behalf of policy change and to strengthen both private and public social services for the poor. Congregation-based community-organizing programs have been among the most successful efforts to mobilize residents of poor...

    • Chapter 10 Capitalizing on Labor’s Capital
      (pp. 246-266)
      Margaret Levi

      The recent history of labor organizations in attacking poverty and building the social capital of poor communities is a complex one. Unions have been a major force in improving the salaries, working and living conditions, and health of workers in the United States. Nonetheless, racism, sexism, and xenophobia continue to mark segments of the labor movement, and many unions have been more concerned with servicing their dues-paying members than with building movement organizations or using their political and economic resources to combat persistent social and economic inequality. Even so, as this chapter attempts to demonstrate, there have been important efforts...

    • Chapter 11 Social Capital,lntervening Institutions, and Political Power
      (pp. 267-289)
      Cathy J. Cohen

      As we enter the new millennium, we find ourselves grappling once again with the question of social capital. This time the social capital of which we speak (or at least the social capital that will be central in this discussion) consists of the networks, trust, norms, and interactions in which people engage daily to both survive and to become enriched. For many political scientists, social capital, especially in the form of associations and informal affiliations, is the building block of civil society. Through such formal and informal activity, residents learn lessons of reciprocity and trust, build networks that can be...

    • Chapter 12 Social Capital, Political Participation, and the Urban Community
      (pp. 290-324)
      Ester R. Fuchs, Robert Y. Shapiro and Lorraine C. Minnite

      The decline of political participation in the United States is most serious in its central cities, where the lowest levels of political engagement can be found among new immigrants, poor African Americans and Latinos, and Asian Americans. In recent years, U.S. citizenship applications have been increasing, although citizenship among new immigrants remains extraordinarily low, and those immigrants who become citizens are generally less likely to vote than native-born Americans. Latinos and Asian Americans, even those born in this country, have demonstrated a persistent pattern of low voter turnout. Voter turnout in the African American community has also been low relative...

  11. Index
    (pp. 325-334)