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Depoliticizing Development: the World Bank and social capital

John Harriss
Anthem Press (March 2002)

The idea of social capital - meaning, most simply, 'social connections' - was unheard of outside a small circle of sociologists until very recently. Now it is proclaimed by the World Bank to be the 'missing link' in international development and has become the subject of a flurry of books and research papers.

In this book, John Harriss explores the origins of the idea of social capital and its diverse meanings in the work of James Coleman, Pierre Bourdieu and of Robert Putnam, who is most responsible for its extraordinary rise through his work on Italy and the United States. Harriss then asks why this notion should have taken off in the dramatic way that it has, and finds in its uses by the World Bank, the attempt to obscure class relations and power. Social capital has thus come to play a significant part in the discourses of international development, which go to comprise 'the anti-politics machine'.

This powerful and lucid critique will be of immense value to all those interested in development studies, including sociologists, economists, planners, NGOs and other activists.


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