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Social Capital and Poor Communities

Susan Saegert, J. Phillip Thompson, Mark R. Warren

Publication Year: 2001

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.

Published by: Russell Sage Foundation

Series: Multi-City Study of Urban Inequality

TItle Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. iii-iv


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiv

This book edited by Susan Saegert, J. Phillip Thompson, and Mark R. Warren is the third volume in a new series funded by the Ford Foundation and published by the Russell Sage Foundation. The series provocatively explores the strengths and policy relevance of the asset-building approach to poverty...

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pp. xv-xvi

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...

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pp. xvii-xviii

The chapters in this volume were originally presented at the conference "Social Capital and Poor Communities: Building and Using Social Assets to Combat Poverty," held in March 1999. The editors would like to thank the Ford Foundation for its sponsorship of the conference as one of a series devoted to...

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Chapter 1: The Role of Social Capital in Combating Poverty

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pp. 1-28

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...

Part I: The Creation and Destruction of Social Capital

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2: Social Capital and the Culture of Power: Lessons from the Field

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pp. 31-59

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,...

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3: Social Capital in America's Poor Rural Communities

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pp. 60-86

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...

II: Policy Arenas

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4: Crime and Public Safety: Insights from Community-Level Perspectives on Social Capital

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pp. 89-114

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...

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5: Making Social Capital Work: Social Capital and Community Economic Development

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pp. 115-135

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...

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6: Housing, Social Capital, and Poor Communities

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pp. 136-164

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...

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7: Social Capital, Poverty, and Community Health: An Exploration of Linkages

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pp. 165-188

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,...

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8: Transforming Urban Schools Through Investments in the Social Capital of Parents

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pp. 189-212

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...

Part III: Institutional Settings

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9: Social Capital, Religious Institutions, and Poor Communities

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pp. 215-245

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...

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10: Capitalizing on Labor's Capital

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pp. 246-266

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...

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11: Social Capital, lntervening Institutions, and Political Power

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pp. 267-289

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...

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12: Social Capital, Political Participation, and the Urban Community

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pp. 290-324

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...


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pp. 325-333

E-ISBN-13: 9781610444828
Print-ISBN-13: 9780871547330
Print-ISBN-10: 0871547333

Page Count: 352
Publication Year: 2001

Series Title: Multi-City Study of Urban Inequality

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Urban poor -- United States.
  • Community development -- United States.
  • United States -- Economic policy.
  • United States -- Social policy.
  • Social capital (Sociology) -- United States.
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