Academic journal article Human Organization

"Nadie Es Profeta En Su Tierra": Community, Civil Society, and Intervening Institutions in Rural Chile

Academic journal article Human Organization

"Nadie Es Profeta En Su Tierra": Community, Civil Society, and Intervening Institutions in Rural Chile

Article excerpt

In this article we examine community level civil society in Chiloé, Chile. We look at the interface between community and the wider systemic environment in the community development process. Issues such as the paradox of community solidarity, culture of dependence, obstacles to grass-roots participation, and leadership are examined in the community context. These issues are set in relief against a systemic environment comprised of traditional municipal politics and modernist 'intervening' agencies of the state. We refer to the case of one organization, ProRural, to examine the successes and failures of an interventionist strategy in Chiloé. Our central argument is that structural powerlessness, and dependent relations on the state, are reproduced through traditional cultural patterns in small community settings. These obstacles can be overcome through the development of leadership capacity and small project successes which in time stimulate new cultural patterns. The role of intervening organizations in this process is vital. But such organizations have to adopt a long-term, capacity-building strategy based on flexible and responsive relationships with their constituencies.

Key words: civil society, community development, intervening institutions, Chile


There are many examples of communities and regions around the world that have found niches in the global economy (see Burkett 2001; Ettlinger 1999; Kayatekin and Ruccio 1998; McMichael 1996). Some authors emphasize the importance of social capital as a vital dimension of healthy communities (see Allen 2001; Hibbitt et al 2001). Others stress the role of intervening agencies and institutions, which facilitate linkages with the systemic political environment (see Cohen 2001). In this article we examine civil society at the community level and its relationship to the wider systemic political environment. What are the correlates of successful community development? We focus on communities in the archipelago of Chiloé in southern Chile and use the case of one inter-governmental, community development agency, ProRural, to assess the role of intervening institutions in the process.

Our central argument is that the longstanding powerlessness common to isolated rural communities is a complicated problem that lacks quick fixes. Traditional dependence on outside agencies is reproduced through local cultural patterns such as fatalism, passivity, and an anti-leadership mentality rooted in an egalitarian ethic. Internal divisions, conflict, and factionalism tend to reflect the local face of clientelism. These patterns in effect disable local civic institutions and may turn these institutions into local agencies of traditional outside power interests. This may appear like an intractable vicious circle. However, our case study shows that it can be reversed when communities develop 'transformational' leadership, small successes that build trust and horizontal social capital, and encounter systemic intervention strategies that are focused on long-term, leadership capacity-building as much as short-term project funding.

The Community Context

The role of social capital and civil society is widely heralded as the central feature behind community resilience (see Chenoweth and Stehlik 2001; Minerbi 2001). Community 'spaces' provide an opportunity for interaction, the emergence of social networks, and a shared sense of identity (see also Bolland and McCallum 2002; Grant 2001; Joseph 2001; Lyons et al 2001; Wiesenfeld and Giuliani 2002). There is a well-established connection between sociability, communality, and collective agency. Social capital is the concept used to capture this relationship and the benefits that accrue to participants in collective activities (see Coleman 1988; cf. Bridger and Luloff 2001).

There are important links between social capital and civil society that are correlated with community cohesion. Civil society acts to articulate and mold the amorphous social tics and networks that constitute community-based social capital for functional and productive purposes. …

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