ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Social Capital and Realm of the Intellect

The wide range of application and celebration of social capital is acknowledged and, yet the question of what is social capital remains unsatisfactorily answered. Despite its popularity, social capital has created an undercurrent of opposition from progressive scholars with intellectual integrity. As this article argues, they have not been more numerous and outspoken, precisely because it is very hard to generate serious debate and disagreement. Individual advancement aside - an important factor in the rise of social capital - all it reveals is much by way of intellectual bankruptcy and a failure to recognise how social capital's ready accommodation of opposition represents a highly successful form of a legitimising repressive tolerance.

Susanne Rudolph’s (2000) article is a welcome guide for those entering that troublesome territory known as civil society. Without wishing to summarise her account, three important conclusions are inescapably drawn from it. First, understandings of civil society are often unthinkingly transposed from the west to the rest of the world, both for conceptual purposes and for ideals to be emulated. This involves a double displacement in that the initial application of the notion tends to neglect a recent history over the past century in which western society has been far from civil. In addition, in this light, false perspectives from one world are universalised to others.

Second, civil society has been regarded as a panacea, a source of positive-sum outcomes, if only appropriately organised, embraced and participated in by its citizens. Consequently, it is hardly surprising that it tends to be viewed through rose-coloured spectacles, with the economy and systemic power set aside in deference to democracy and good governance. Rather than seeing civil society as a site of, or focus for, underlying conflicts, the latter melt away as mutual benefits flow from collectivism and cooperation. In short, civil society and social revolution sit extremely uncomfortably side by side.

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