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SAMF-Fagkomiteen for samfunnsvitenskap

Reassessing Civil Society, the State, and Social Capital: A Comparative Approach to Theory, Evidence and Policy

Tildelt: kr 0,98 mill.

Social capital has become one of the most popular and influential ideas in the social sciences over the past decade. Yet the basic conceptual relationships and empirical methods employed in social capital research remain contested and disputed within and across social science disciplines. We have earlier published a critical assessment of the relationships between social capital, civil society and governance based on a comparative framework involving contributions from an international, multidisciplinary group of scholars (Prakash and Selle 2004). The principal outcome of this work – which was to clarify some conceptual relationships, raise critical questions about methods for social capital research, and uncover some of the theoretical tensions inherent in the idea of ‘civil society’ – now needs to be taken forward. In this project we aim to examine the sources and functions of civil society as represented in the proliferating literature on social capital. Though frequently understood as a universal te rm, the ambit of ‘civil society’ today is essentially normative and contested, and tied closely to the political debates that shape it. The project will investigate the adequacy of the tenets, assumptions and methods employed in research on the ‘bridging’ form of social capital (broadly understood as crosscutting networks and generalised trust) for purposes of a rigorous analysis of plural conceptions and models of civil society. It will also explore other plausible approaches and explanations. Social cap ital and civil society constitute increasingly important arenas for policy-makers in the North and South, and interpreting theory and evidence responsibly to policy makers are critical matters for developing countries. The scope of the project will includ e Western countries and, as in our earlier work, reach beyond to selected societies in Asia and Africa (such as India and South Africa) in order to test the robustness of underlying explanations.


SAMF-Fagkomiteen for samfunnsvitenskap

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