Recent theoretical work employing the concept of ‘social capital’ in the study of democratization remains plagued by conceptual confusion and a curious neglect of politics. This paper critically examines the work of Robert Putnam and other institutional theorists and suggests that a misguided attempt to locate a singular framework to explain both economic and political performance fails to recognize that the conditions underpinning successful capitalist development may not always be congruous with those favouring democratic politics. The work on social capital is coloured by an idealization of the role of the family and of the American political past, influenced by current communitarian thinking. Finally, an uncritical acceptance of the determinist notion of ‘path dependence’ eclipses the role of political action and ideas in the assessment of political outcomes and prospects for democratization.

Accounting for the “Dark Side” of Social Capital: Reading Robert Putnam on Democracy, JamesPutzelJournal of International Development, 9 (7) (1997): 939–949. © 1997 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Reproduced with permission of John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
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