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A Relational Approach to the Theory and Practices of Economic Development


  • Michael Woolcock
  • Elizabeth Radin


Arguments and evidence from the social sciences, natural sciences and development practice are used to frame a broader discussion of the role of social relations in the process of economic development. We trace the intellectual history of social relations within theories of economic development and situate the rise of ‘social capital’ as idea and practice in the late twentieth century. Brief surveys of empirical and applied research in development studies—as well as recent influential work on preference formation, expectations and social identity in the fields of experimental economics, psychology and biology—are used to argue that there is now a diverse storehouse of compelling theory and evidence in support of propositions and hypotheses that have long been at the heart of social capital scholarship. Much remains to be done, however, on multiple fronts. The paper concludes with practical examples of social capital ideas in action in development projects around the world, from which scholars have much to learn. More frequent dialogue across the disciplines, and between scholars and practitioners, is needed to consolidate and advance our knowledge.

Suggested Citation

  • Michael Woolcock & Elizabeth Radin, 2007. "A Relational Approach to the Theory and Practices of Economic Development," Brooks World Poverty Institute Working Paper Series 0907, BWPI, The University of Manchester.
  • Handle: RePEc:bwp:bwppap:0907

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    Cited by:

    1. Garofalo, Maria Rosaria, 2011. "Il volontariato può sostenere lo sviluppo? Riflessioni metodologiche per la costruzione di un frame work teorico
      [Can the voluntary sector sustain the development path of an economy? Suggestions fo
      ," MPRA Paper 40008, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    2. Stephen Knowles & P. Dorian Owen, 2010. "Which Institutions are Good for Your Health? The Deep Determinants of Comparative Cross-country Health Status," Journal of Development Studies, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 46(4), pages 701-723.

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