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Social Capital and Poor Communities.

Saegert, Susan, J. Phillip Thompson and Mark R. Warren (eds).

Social Capital and Poor Communities.

New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2001.

333 pp.

ISBN 0 - 87 154-733-3

$39.95 US

Social Capital and Poor Communities is the third book in the Ford Foundations series on asset building. This work focuses on the strengths and policy relevance of an asset building approach to poverty alleviation. The book has 12 chapters which provide a fairly comprehensive review of concepts such as social capital and how these ideas work toward combatting poverty and inequality.

Many of the chapters help solidify conventional views of social capital which highlight the recognition that social capital is about the social connections and the associated norms and trust that enable community members to act together more effectively to pursue shared objectives. Within these chapters are sentiments which highlight that within "poor" communities there are potential untapped assets and community capacity which residents can utilize to meet immediate circumstances and advance public policy to resolve long term issues. Capacity building is synonymous with social capital and there is a provocative theme which underlies many of the contributions which suggests using social capital to build coalitions can change existing power arrangements. Overall the underlying theme is there are real possibilities for improving the lives of families and quality of life in communities through building social capital.

Social capital has attracted many disparate meanings which increases the conceptual ambiguity behind the overall notion. On the surface, Langley Keyes' contribution focuses on housing, social capital and poor communities, but he articulates a critically important message. Keyes asks whether the notion of social capital is being used too liberally, weakening what could be a powerful contribution to socioeconomic thought.

One of the strengthens of the book is that there are important new conceptual contributions, including further elaboration of the types of social capital that are effective in forging relationships within and between communities. On the other hand, there is growing recognition that social capital is not a panacea for solving problems of poverty and inequality. There is a "dark" side to trust and cooperation that can result in exclusion and increased barriers between groups.

The book is divided into an introductory chapter and three parts. Part one explores some historical elements and focuses on the creation and destruction of social capital. Part two moves into practical applications of the concepts in question by exploring various policy arenas such as crime, community economic development, housing, community health and schools. The third part looks at social capital within institutional settings. Too often books derived from conference papers, such as this one, suffer from a lack of focus as readers endure a myriad of directions and styles. The editors in this volume should be commended for a fine job of eliminating repetition and ensuring a flow of themes and concepts among the various contributions. But there is the rub, there is no concluding chapter which appears to be a glaring omission. Rather than a concluding chapter where themes and concepts put forward by various authors are brought together into a cohesive whole, the first chapter serves this purpose. A minor quibb le perhaps, but readers may find the message in chapter one simply does not resonate without the context of further chapters. It would be a shame to lose readers by overwhelming them at the start.
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Author:Lezubski, Darren W.
Publication:Canadian Journal of Urban Research
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 22, 2002
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