Does social capital count? : the case of solid waste management and public safety in Dobsonville and Yeoville, South Africa
Urban conditions in the cities of the developing world are deteriorating and the gaze of international development has increasingly fallen upon the local context. In the context of decentralisation policies and weak local states, urban policy makers and academics have begun searching for remedies at the local level, including new frameworks for understanding the social resources available to assist in local level development. Social capital has become one of the conceptual frameworks and explanatory tools taken up to factor in the role of social and institutional relationships at the urban scale. While general development debates are fairly advanced in terms of the role of social relationships in governance, the literature falls short at the urban scale. This thesis takes up the challenge of investigating social capital in the context of a complex urban environment, where the relationships and patterns of state-society engagement, increasingly described in development discourse as social capital, are often disparate and difficult to pin down. The focus of the research is Johannesburg, South Africa, where the existence and operation of social capital within two residential localities are explored. Each locality has a different history of collective action and state-society relationships. These state- society relations are investigated in relation to two urban services, solid waste management and public safety. The research methods used for this study were qualitative and included semi-structured and in-depth interviews with area-based key informants, politicians and local government employees; focus group discussions; and participant observation of daily routines, meetings and community life in the two localities. The research findings first reveal that the mobilisation of social capital depends on the context. Particularly important are place and history and, more specifically, the local legacy of collective action. Second, the mobilisation of social capital depends on the issue involved. In this case, it is found that the urban service at stake has a bearing on the extent to which social capital is significant for local governance. Nevertheless, the two case studies also demonstrate how contexts with different histories may have similar outcomes in circumstances of change and flux. As such the constructability or mobilisation of social capital cannot be taken as a given. It is further argued that the possibilities of utilising social capital as a development resource remain inadequately theorised. An important conceptual conclusion is that social capital can provide an effective analytical framework for understanding urban governance but the notion falls short in operational terms. Consequently, the usefulness of social capital as a development resource lies primarily in its explanatory power.