Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Social Capital, Development, and Indigenous Politics in Ecuadorian Amazonia*

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Social Capital, Development, and Indigenous Politics in Ecuadorian Amazonia*

Article excerpt

In August 1998 the recently elected leaders of the Federation of Indigenous Organizations of Napo (FOIN) gathered in the center of the Amazonian town of Tena, Ecuador to take their oaths of office. They sat on a stage overlooking the town's central square, joined by representatives of the provincial and municipal governments, political parties, other indigenous federations, the Josephine mission, and the mayor of the nearby town of Archidona, himself a former FOIN president. As they do for every inauguration, federation leaders shared their stage with representatives of the institutions of local and regional power--those institutions most directly responsible for the historical marginalization of Ecuador's indigenous peoples. The square they shared is commonly used for parades, concerts, and political speeches and as a public gathering place by the town's populace. That the federation inaugurated its new leaders in this very public space, with the visible support of state authorities, illustrates the web of relations that FOIN has fostered and the degree to which, by virtue of these relations, it has become a significant actor in regional politics.

This article examines the ability of indigenous federations such as FOIN to foster interorganizational relationships and to mobilize the social capital--that is, the relations of trust and reciprocity--that inheres in them. I argue that this social capital is embedded within and given meaning through the constellation of shared understandings, or cultural capital, of which it is a part. If we are to understand how social capital is formed, we must examine the symbolic context and systems of meaning within which it functions. I therefore consider the formation of social capital through FOIN's organizing activities and explore the ways in which social capital has facilitated the federation's ability to access resources and make political claims against the state. The concept of social capital, viewed within a context of symbolic meanings, provides a valuable conceptual framework for analyzing the multiscale processes of environmental management, rural development, and resource conflicts with which many rural social movements are engaged.

After an initial discussion of social and cultural capital, I maintain that the ability of social movement organizations to access and manage natural resources is to a large extent a function of the movement's social relationships. Analysis of those relationships, and the multiscalar (frequently transnational) networks of which they are a part, can help geographers understand the capabilities and limitations of rural peoples' organizations. This article probes the organizational history of FOIN, emphasizing the institutional relationships it has forged over time, shows how these connections have enabled the federation to gain access to resources and political rights, and outlines the federation's role in constructing the symbolic meanings within which its social relations and material practices must be understood. (1)

SOCIAL CAPITAL AND SYMBOLIC MEANING

In the decade since the publication of Robert Putnam's Making Democracy Work (1993), adoption of the concept of social capital has outpaced agreement regarding its definition (Bebbington and Perreault 1999). Indeed, John Harriss and Paolo De Renzio (1997) identify six distinct uses of the term, highlighting the confusion in the idea and its application. Within sociology, where the term was developed by Pierre Bourdieu (1977, 1984) and James Coleman (1990), social capital has retained a focus on individual benefits and microscale social relations. In this sense, social capital may best be defined as "the ability [of individuals] to secure resources by virtue of membership in social networks or larger social structures" (Portes and Landolt 2000, 532). As the concept diffused beyond sociology--most notably through the work of Putnam-its focus shifted away from individual actions and benefits to the collective spread of effects through society (DeFilippis 2002). …

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