Social and Cultural Capital: Empowerment for Sustainable Development in the MOUNTAINS OF ESCAZU, COST by Phillip J. Montoya - HTML preview

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                When I began my extended fieldwork in 1992 the concept of sustainable development had begun to take precedence over a purely environmentalist discourse among sectors of society critical of the environmental, as well as economic and social ills conventional development had permitted.  I found that diverse social actors employed a wide array of strategies to implement alternate, and often contending, conceptions of "sustainable development".  What soon became most interesting to me were precisely these struggles and strategies of a particular "community" immersed in a context of allies and adversaries along a vertical continuum of differential power.  Besides campesinos, which were the subjects of my original research proposal, there emerged other key social actors, such as community organizations and NGOs, who in turn were conditioned and confronted in their work by the State, private enterprise, and international cooperation agencies.

                The reality in the field made me shift my research perspective from a horizontal comparison of the environmental discourse and practice between different sets of campesinos, to a more vertical study of the strategies of sustainable development of one community organization in a local and national context of differential power.  This, in turn, summoned a more political, practical and theoretically interesting series of questions.  It brought to the fore the issue of the hegemony of sustainable development as the dominant development paradigm.  It problematized the role of civil society in creating social movements.  It suggested the theoretical and practical importance of social and cultural capital as means of empowerment in achieving sustainable development.  But in addition, it revealed contending strategies of community disempowerment.  Ultimately, this shift in research perspective also permitted me to understand how a local campesino community measured its own version of sustainability and the means they employed in trying to achieve it.



The Hegemony of Development Ideology


                Once I settled in Costa Rica in April of 1992 to engage in long-term fieldwork and became a participant observer among a group of "critical environmentalists", I found that the "environmentalist" impulse represented only half of the equation of their critical calculations.  There was also an impulse towards "development", which represented the other half.  In fact, shortly after my arrival, the concept of "sustainable development" was launched at the "Earth Summit" in Rio de Janeiro as the dominant discourse that purported to reconcile both impulses of conservation and development.  Much has since been written about sustainable development, both in favor and against, but the fact is that it has become the established guiding concept of both conservation and development not only in Costa Rica, but in most of the world.  Sustainable development as the paradigm of conservation and development that has gained most adherents and has moved more people to action in the last decade, stands clearly on the shoulders of the previously established hegemony of development theory and practice.

                After World War II, the desirability of world development, and its achievement through economic growth was born as a full fledged hegemonic ideology.  By ideology I mean a perspective or explanation that naturalizes what is actually a human construct, and in so doing legitimizes action to maintain this view (Hamilton 1987; Schull 1992).  An ideology becomes hegemonic when one out of many alternative perspectives or explanations of a particular aspect of reality becomes the only accepted, obvious or natural one.  After World War II, the United States emerged as the dominant power in the world capitalist system.  The need to expand its markets and investments made world development a necessity.  Economic development was taken up as a primary goal of rich and poor countries alike.  The United Nations was created to promote world development, and the World Bank and International Monetary Fund were created to finance this impulse.  During the 1950s, the industrialized countries viewed their role in world development, essentially as one of "enlightened charity" (Brandt 1980:18).  The goal of development aid was to pull "underdeveloped" nations up to the level of "developed" nations by promoting industrialization and urbanization, the penetration of modern technology in agriculture, rapid growth of material production, and the transformation of archaic rural structures by the widespread adoption of modern education and cultural values (Escobar 1995:4).

                Contradictions to this ideology and its policies soon emerged.  During the decade of the sixties social and political upheavals swept the Western world.  Old models of authority, order, and progress were questioned.  In 1964 the Non-Aligned countries from Latin America, Africa and Asia, brought together by sentiments of anti-colonialism, formed the Group of 77 to bargain for the interests of "developing" nations.  The problems of underdevelopment, they argued, came not from psychological or cultural deficiencies as was commonly suggested (McClelland 1964), but from unequal terms of trade and lack of distributive justice (Cardoso and Faletto 1979).  Other critiques of the ideology of development also emerged.  Instead of seeing underdevelopment as a prior stage of development, determined by a lack of appropriate values, and a prevalence of traditional structures that impeded modernization, Dependency Theory explained underdevelopment as the necessary structural counterpart of development (Frank 1969).  The desirability of development, however, was not questioned in these critiques.  In this decade, United States development aid, in part took heed of Third World critiques, but mostly responded to historic events such as the Cuban Revolution.  In order to prevent -the "domino effect" of the spread of revolution by a dispossessed peasantry, the United States promoted policies of agrarian reform in the Third World.  This included primarily the distribution of land, while maintaining an emphasis on technical assistance and the introduction of modern technologies.

                In the early 1970s, various emergent factors affected rural conditions in the Third World.  Metropolitanization, the growth of financial markets, and the expansion of a consumer society continued to impoverish the rural family whose sons and daughters were abandoning the family farm.  On the other hand, industrialized agricultural production expanded, causing large-scale environmental destruction, creating a rural proletariat, and flagrant rural inequality.  Despite the outflow of development aid for large scale economic projects, conditions of underdevelopment prevailed.  At the end of the decade, rural poverty was understood as being more than merely economic.  Rather, it included social, political, cultural and institutional aspects, as well.  The World Bank, under Robert McNamara, adopted a "reformist" approach concerned with unemployment, income distribution, appropriate technology, integrated rural development, and basic needs.  Policies of Integrated Rural Development (IRD), which stressed growth with equity, were included in national development policies.  The driving impulse was to target the poor with specific projects.  These projects, however, were mostly "top-down, site-specific and time-bound", resulting in many cases being irrelevant to local communities, or at best, having a limited area of impact, and offering only short term gains (Lewis 1988:6).

                In the 1980s, the foreign debt crisis exploded in Latin America, resulting in a precipitous fall of external financing.  Moreover, Reaganomics and "trickle down theory" were on the rise.  Under the direction of the IMF, Third World States had to undergo severe processes of Structural Adjustment, downsize State governments, and give economic and financial balances precedence over questions of equity.  These aspects contributed to deteriorating social conditions in developing countries.  In the South the decade of the eighties was called "the lost decade" for development.  During this period all the traditional indicators, economic as well as social, worsened.  Per capita incomes fell, unemployment increased, de-industrialization occurred, demand for Third World products fell, the South faced declining terms of trade, and interest rates and debt service payments increased (South Commission 1990).

                Besides the worsening of traditional indicators, many other shortcomings of conventional development became evident.  "Top-down" development gave way to "bottom-up" approaches (Chambers 1983; Hirschman 1984; Morss and Morss 1986; Uphoff 1988).  A mostly male-focused development practice began to turn toward the participation of women in development (Buvinic and Lycette 1988, Deere and Leon 1987).  The destruction of native cultures, the evident degradation of the environment, and depletion of natural resources around the world, provoked theories of "Ethnodevelopment" (Bonfil et al 1982), "Ecodevelopment" (Sánchez and Sejenovich 1983), and brought forth the concept of "Sustainable Development" (UICN 1980; WCED 1987).



Sustainable Development: Erasing Contradictions


                During the last half century, the ideology of development took hold of practically the entire world.  The critiques that resulted from the emergent contradictions, were directed not against development as such, but against the short reach of development, its lack of coverage, its excessively slow arrival, or even its apparent retreat.  Even those critiques that exposed the cultural and environmentally destructive aspects of development, went not against development, but against its reduced scope and unsophisticated methods.  Undoubtedly, there were radical critiques against development, per se, appearing mostly in the industrialized First World, as was evidenced by the Hippie movement, and later on by such groups as Earth First!  But the most significant critiques attempted to refine the rougher edges of conventional development theory and practice.

                In the 1960s, along with other critiques of the status quo, there emerged a new environmental awareness.  By mid-decade, such words as "ecology" began entering the public discourse.  Recognition of the scarcity of natural resources began making inroads in the very sectors that were co-participants of the ideology of development exclusively as economic growth.  The United States, still the world's major industrial power at the time, celebrated its first Earth Day in May of 1970.  In 1972, two events marked the beginning of a generalized concern for the environment: the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, held in Stockholm, and the publication of the report of the Club of Rome, The Limits to Growth.  The Stockholm Conference emitted an international call concerning the mismanagement of natural resources, and placed the environment within the sphere of the development debate.  The U.N. General Assembly recognized the need for a "permanent institutional arrangement within the United Nations system for the protection and improvement of the environment" (United Nations 1973).

                Despite the contributions of the U.N. Conference in Stockholm, it was the publication of The Limits to Growth by The Club of Rome (Meadows et al 1972) and its subsequent translation into 30 languages within four years (Mires 1990:16), that unleashed the environment-development "debate" into the midst of an international public.  This report presented the problems of overpopulation and the growing scarcity of natural resources, and called for these issues to be discussed in the major centers of political debate.  To some analysts, this report was the "official and authorized declaration of the bankruptcy of the ideology of progress and of its most divulged version, the `economy of growth'" (Mires 1990:149).  The reactions to the report were not unanimously favorable.  In the South, where an emerging ideology of opposition to the North expressed itself in terms of "neocolonialism", "dependency", and "economic imperialism", reflecting a reaction to continued poverty despite twenty years of post-war development aid, the response to The Limits to Growth was definitively critical.  The Modelo Bariloche (Herrera and Scolnik 1977) elaborated in Argentina, proposed that the limits to growth were not determined by the finite nature of natural resources, nor to the demographic explosion, as stated in the report by The Club of Rome, but rather that they were determined exclusively by political and sociological factors.

                The South, and Latin America in particular, maintained a yearning for "development" Northern-style.  They viewed the call to hold back on exploiting their natural resources as an attempt against their hopes for development, and an expression of the North's continued attempt to undermine national sovereignty in the South.  In the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, the Latin American delegates insisted on the possibility that their countries follow the model of the industrialized nations, and, indeed, on the existence of all the necessary resources to do so (Mansilla 1987:118).  Ultimately, the result of this position was that if development could no longer disregard the environment, the "right" to development also had to be taken into consideration when discussing issues of environmental protection.

                To begin the new decade, the Union International pour la Conservation de la Nature (UICN) and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), two of the largest First World NGOs concerned with environmental issues, along with the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), coined the term "sustainable development" in their document World Conservation Strategy: Living Resource Conservation for Sustainable Development (UICN 1980).  By identifying sustainable development as the basic goal of society, this document made reconciling the demands of development with the need to conserve the environment, the only obvious and natural solution to the previous contradictions between the two impulses.  The World Conservation Strategy, however, focused primarily on living resources and ecological processes, leaving out issues regarding the international economic and political order (Lélé 1991).  Essentially, what was meant by sustainable development in its first rendition was economic development that did not undermine the living resources that sustained it.

                In 1983 the United Nations set up an independent World Commission on Environment and Development, with the assignment to reexamine the planet's critical environmental and developmental strategies for achieving sustainable development by the year 2000 and beyond.  Finally, in 1987, one year after the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster, the Commission issued its landmark report, Our Common Future (WCED 1987), also known as the Brundtland Report, for its coordinator, Gro Harlem Brundtland, Prime Minister of Norway.  This report rapidly became the most important document in shaping the concept of sustainable development.  A single sentence of the Brundtland Report subsequently became the central, all-encompassing definition of sustainable development, hailed by everyone, and upon which further embellishments or refinements, or even critiques, were simply attached.


                "Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." (WCED 1987:43)


                The Brundtland Report not only reconciled environment and development, but also reconciled development and participation.  The needs of present and future generations had to be met, regardless of culture, gender, class or age.  Our Common Future recognized the importance of new social actors as participants in the processes of development and conservation.  The report's open call on NGOs to participate in a transition to sustainable development acknowledged the potential of these emergent social actors.


                                "In many countries, governments need to recognize and extend NGOs' right to know and have access to information on the environment and natural resources; their right to be consulted and to participate in decision making on activities likely to have a significant effect on their environment....

                                "NGOs and private and community groups can often provide an efficient alternative to public agencies in the delivery of programmes and projects.  Moreover, they can sometimes reach target groups that public agencies cannot.  Bilateral and multilateral development assistance agencies, especially UNDP and the World Bank, should draw upon NGOs in executing programmes and projects." (WCED 1987:328).


                Although Our Common Future was presented as a major challenge to conventional thinking on development, and regarded as a breakthrough in integrating environmental concerns with the social and economic needs of development, many of the report's conclusions reaffirmed the fundamental premises of the conventional perspectives on development, especially those stressing the importance of economic growth, above all else.


                "If large parts of the developing world are to avert economic, social, and environmental catastrophes, it is essential that global economic growth be revitalized. In practical terms, this means more rapid economic growth in both industrial and developing countries, freer market access for the products of developing countries, lower interest rates, greater technology transfer, and significantly larger capital flows, both concessionary and commercial." (WCED 1987:89)


                In 1989, in response to the Brundtland Report, the United Nations set up a Preparatory Commission to organize a United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), the "Earth Summit", to be held in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro.  The Commission began its work immediately, incorporating perspectives from hearings held on five continents, that would hopefully bring on significant changes in the global patterns of development and in the protection of the planet's ecological integrity.  After three years of testimony, the Commission presented one central conclusion:


                "We came to see that a new development path was required, one that sustained human progress not just in a few places for a few years, but for the entire planet into the distant future.  Sustainable development becomes a goal not just for the `developing' nations, but for industrial ones as well." (UN Chronicle 1992:42).


                The Earth Summit gathered some 120 heads of State and other official representatives from 172 national governments, 8000 representatives of the media from around the globe, as well as 1400 NGO representatives (Guimarâes 1992:86).  International agreements were signed by most, if not all the nations represented at the Summit.  These included the "Rio Declaration on the Environment and Development", the "Agreement on Biological Diversity", the "United Nations Agreement on Climate Change", and the "Principles for a Global Consensus on the Management, Conservation and Sustainable Development of the World's Forests".  But foremost of all the documents was the "Agenda 21", agreed on by consensus of the 172 participating nations.  The Agenda 21 represented a global action plan extending into the twenty-first century, that provided a blueprint for integrating economic growth, environmental protection, and the participation of civil society.  This document became the point of reference of virtually all subsequent efforts, plans and projects of sustainable development.

                The ideology of sustainable development, backed by the Bible-sized international agreement of Agenda 21, reconciled all previous contradictions.  Economic growth went hand in hand with the protection of the environmental, "top-down" development led by the State went hand in hand with "bottom-up" development promoted by NGOs and community organizations.  Feminist critiques of male-biased development were reconciled with the incorporation of the "perspective of gender".  Science and technology was reconciled with traditional knowledge in a marriage of mutual benefit.  The present was reconciled with the future generations.  If there were critiques against the global affirmation of sustainable development, these were against the financial commitments and institutional mechanisms available for the operationalization of this type of development (PAE 1993; Redclift 1993).  For the most part, however, as Escobar (1995:210) accurately pointed out, "Development", in general,  "continue[d] to reverberate in the social imaginary of states, institutions, and communities, perhaps more so after the inclusion of women, peasants, and nature into its repertoire and imaginative geographies."  In this way, sustainable development became the unopposable ideology, spreading its hegemony of reconciliation across the globe.



Cracks in the Hegemony of Reconciliation


                Most greeted sustainable development as "an idea whose time has come" (Murdoch 1993:225), as "a window of opportunity" (Singh 1992:164), as "a concept with the potential to build a bridge between environmentalism and development" (Murdoch 1993:226), and as a model "that mediates between the models [of] traditional local ethnoecology, environmentalism, and developmentalism" (Costa et al 1995:79).  Few could be against an ideology that reconciled virtually all previous contradictions.  However, despite this appeal, it was precisely the absence of antagonisms, this threat of "an end of history", that also generated apprehension that sustainable development could serve as a cover allowing business as usual to continue unhindered (Guimarâes 1992; O'Connor 1993; Pierce 1992).  More recently, Escobar (1995:197) warned that the "epistemological and political reconciliation of economy and ecology proposed by sustainable development is intended to create the impression that only minor adjustments to the market system are needed", where, in fact "the economic framework itself cannot hope to accommodate environmental considerations without substantial reform."

                However desirable sustainable development has been presented to be, there have been critical reactions to it from the start, stemming from a diversity of concerns.


"Brundtland seeks a co-optation of the very groups that are creating a new dance of politics, where democracy is not merely order and discipline, where earth is a magic cosmos, where life is still a mystery to be celebrated....  It is this that we seek to resist by creating an explosion of imaginations....  The world of official science and the nation-state is not only destroying soils and silting up lakes, it is freezing the imagination..." (Visvanathan 1991:384).


                However widespread its acceptance and seductive its appeal, the growing hegemony of sustainable development has from the start had its detractors.  As some critical scholars have pointed out (Mouffe 1988:91), however appealing an ideology, "hegemony is never established conclusively."



Mainstream-Critical Divide in Costa Rica


                In Costa Rica, as elsewhere, the ideology of sustainable development has sought to erase contradictions and antagonisms between social actors.  Indeed, the goals of sustainable development appear to have been embraced in Costa Rica by mainstream and critical sectors, alike.  Nonetheless, the hegemony of a monolithic perspective has not been "established conclusively".  The generic notion of sustainable development considers the "needs" of present and future generations in terms of economic, environmental and social sustainability.  These three areas, however, can still be said to constitute conceptual battlefields of continuously disputed meaning.  Economist Herman Daly (1996:7) proposed a distinction between contending perspectives based on views favoring "quantitative growth", versus those favoring "qualitative development".  In Costa Rica, the differences between contending camps fall less on a quantity-quality divide, than on what I have termed as mainstream and critical perspectives.

                Putting aside temporarily, for the sake of argument, the fact that there occurs a continuous production, appropriation and co-optation of the discourses around the concept of sustainable development, we can roughly distinguish the two perspectives in the following way.  The mainstream view, from the "Brundtland Report" (WCED 1987), to the Agenda 21 (UNCED 1992), sees sustainable development as a desired refinement and improvement of current development practices.  This perspective equates economic sustainability with economic growth, environmental sustainability with the rational management of natural resources, and social sustainability with the "participation of civil society", placing economic growth at the top of its list in importance.  In Costa Rica this perspective was held  mainly by the State and the business sector.  In contrast, what I have identified as the "critical perspective", views sustainable development, as a fundamental transformation of the unsustainable trends of current development ideologies and practices.  The critical perspective equates economic sustainability with economic equity, environmental sustainability with respect for all life forms and the processes that sustain them, and social sustainability with "empowerment" of local actors in all their diversity.  This perspective places empowerment at the center of its thesis.  In Costa Rica this perspective was held by such organizations of civil society as CODECE, COPROALDE and CONAO, to mention only a few.

                Here, however, I would like to bring back into the argument the issue of continuous production, appropriation and co-optation of the discourses and practices around the concept of sustainable development.  While production and appropriation occurs on both sides of the critical-mainstream divide, I posit that this is an asymmetric process, with greater production of material and symbolic value on the critical side, and a greater appropriation of this labor by the mainstream.  This leads to a continuous blurring of the differences and boundaries between the mainstream and the critical perspectives, or as Kearney (1996:107) recently expressed, "contemporary ideas and politics about sustainable development reflect a dissolution of the modern dual structuring of the opposition not only between modern and romantic but also between left and right."  This blurring tends to favor the hegemony of reconciliation, which also dampens the participation of civil society.



Civil Society and Social Movements


                One major thrust in development aid during the decade that gave birth to the concept of sustainable development was to seek less government intervention and greater local participation, often referred to as the participation of civil society.  Historically, civil society meant a domain of interaction distinct from the state (Kumar 1993), but Weiner (1991:311) points out that today the concept follows what Habermas has referred to as "the domain out of which the reflective, creative and institutionalizing potential of group needs and interests are embodied in autonomous public spheres".  This domain includes NGOs, community organizations, and the "new social movements", in general.

                The expectations placed on sustainable development by all sectors have been equaled, if not surpassed by those placed on civil society.  Some find that neo-liberal policies have promoted civil society as the appropriator of the space relinquished by government downsizing (Bebbington and Farrington 1993; De Janvry and Sadoulet 1993; Meyer 1993; Nugent 1993; Uphoff 1993).  But critical thought has also considered civil society to be "an important new terrain of democratization, of democratic institution building" (Cohen and Arato 1992:16).  Habermas (1981:33) defines the new social movements as "fragmentary pieces of existing civil society working to retain independent identities and autonomy on the periphery of institutionalized state/corporate structures."

                Civil society is equally seen as filling the void left by the State, or as the source of social movements functioning as "resistance and liberation movements, fighting the 'state' and its colonizing of the everyday lifeworld and its bureaucratic instrumental rationality" (Luke 1989:215).  At whatever end of the spectrum, however, civil society and its active expression in social movements have been the subject of voluminous research.  Cohen (1985) distills two paradigms that dominate the studies of new social movements: on the one hand there is a "resource mobilization approach", stressing strategic considerations of organization, collective action, and interest mobilization, and in contrast, there is an "identity-orientation approach" which emphasizes issues of consciousness, ideology, and solidarity.

                While I find this dichotomy separating rational-materialist explanations from identity-ideological ones, useful as a heuristic device, I consider that this categorization actually hides important elements and processes of the actions of civil society.  I concur with several authors (Buechler 1993; Marx Ferree and Miller 1985), who opt for an integration of both stances, and with Epstein (1990), who suggests drawing on an even wider range of perspectives.  I find that a more revealing approach is to look at the constant manipulation and reproduction of diverse forms of capital, including economic, social and cultural capital (Bourdieu 1986) as diverse means to empowerment.  This conceptualization brings together the resource mobilization approach with the identity-orientation approach in a way that is less schematic and more explicative of how social mobilization and community empowerment is advanced or impeded.

                Among the means employed in the reproduction of social capital for local empowerment is the creation of a common identity.  This point is shared by Escobar and Alvarez (1992a:5) who find that the question of strategy is intimately linked to how social actors construct a collective identity for themselves, often out of conflictual roles and positions.  However, the confounding aspect I mentioned above is that there is a continual production and appropriation of material and symbolic resources, including elements of ideology and identity, which blur contending positions and roles.  Rosaldo (1989:217) points out the importance of paying special attention to the "borrowing and lending across porous... boundaries that are saturated with inequality, power and domination."  It is in this context of the blurring of difference between critical and mainstream actors, or what Luke (1989:220) has distinguished as "core and periphery, technocratically empowered planners/producers/providers and disempowered citizens/consumers/clients, ....lifeworld colonizers and the lifeworld colonized," that I look at the mobilization of economic, social and cultural capital, and how their reproduction and differential appropriation affect local community empowerment and sustainable development.



Social and Cultural Capital


                The mainstream perspective values economic growth as the ultimate goal and as the primary catalyst of sustainable development, and economic capital is viewed as the necessary requisite with which to launch the process of sustained economic growth (Durning 1989b; Meyer 1993).  This is the operative framework of most international development institutions and cooperation agencies.  Economic capital is valued as the missing ingredient of sustainable development which international development aid provides.  Although I do not deny the powerful role of economic capital as a resource for mobilization, there are two major dangers in concentrating solely on this form of capital.  The first, is that the use of an "economic calculus" (Amin 1992) to describe and to prescribe, reduces our possibilities of transcending a system dominated by the logic of capitalism.  In this regard, there has already been widespread agreement regarding the dangers of economistic policies in the context of conventional development (Davis 1977; DeWalt 1986; Bodley 1988; Bodley 1990, Lewis 1992).

                The second and most important reason, is that economic calculations have only limited applicability in an increasingly complex world, where economic capital is only one of many recognized forms of capital.  With sustainable development, for example, mainstream perspectives have already moved economic accounting to begin to include previously ignored "natural capital" and the costs of contamination (Pearce 1988; Lutz and Munasinghe 1991; Daly 1996).  Besides economic capital and natural capital, which for the most part are relatively tangible material forms of capital, there are also other less tangible forms of capital which in this study assume great significance.  Of these less tangible forms of capital, there are two major categories which stand out in importance: social capital and cultural capital.

                I base my use of these concepts on the exposition by Bourdieu (1986), whose analysis Portes (1998:3) has recently hailed as "arguably the most theoretically refined among those that introduced the term in contemporary sociological discourse."  Bourdieu (1986:248) defines social capital as:


"the aggregate of the actual or potential resources which are linked to possession of a durable network of more or less institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition -or in other words, to membership in a group- which provides each of its members with the backing of the collectively-owned capital, a 'credential' which entitles them to credit, in the various senses of the word."


                Bourdieu (1986:249) points out that social capital, or the network of connections, is not a natural given, or even a social given, but rather "the product of an endless effort at institution... investment strategies, individual or collective, consciously or unconsciously aimed at establishing or reproducing social relationships."  These, he further explains (Bourdieu 1986:250), are "endlessly reproduced in and through the exchange of gifts, words, women, etc...  Exchange transforms the things exchanged into signs of recognition and, through the mutual recognition and the recognition of group membership which it implies, re-produces the group... [and] reaffirms the limits of the group."

                The other major form of capital described by Bourdieu is cultural capital, which he also refers to as "informational capital" (Bourdieu and Wacquant 1992:119).  "Cultural capital," he points out (Bourdieu 1986:243), can exist in three forms: in the embodied state, i.e., in the form of long-lasting dispositions of the mind and body; in the objectified state, in the forms of cultural goods...; and in the institutionalized state..."  Embodied forms of cultural capital can include upbringing, education, training, skills, knowledge, values, etc.  Material objects, such as books, art, tools, crafts, libraries, and museums, for example, can be considered as objectified forms of cultural capital.  Institutionalized forms of cultural capital can include academic titles, or titles of nobility, which can confer authority.  I also include under the rubric of institutionalized cultural capital social institutions, such as the legal system and its laws, which provide a backing of authority to those who embrace them.

                The concept of social capital has recently received a lot of attention in sociological studies of the United States (Putnam 1995; Portes 1998; Schneider 1998).  Of particular interest for my investigation, is Putnam's emphasis on the elements of "trust" (Putnam 1993a:35) and "horizontal ties" (Putnam 1993b:ch.6; Putnam 1995:77) as important elements in the reproduction of social capital.  I find that these conditions of social capital reproduction contrast significantly with the workings of economic capital and how it affects local empowerment.

                Unfortunately, there is much literature which follows the lead of Coleman (1988), who claims to introduce the concept of social capital, but whose conceptualization of the term "obscures" Bourdieu's clarity, to whom he makes no reference (Portes 1998:5).  On the positive side, the concept has transcended academic journals and has become a consideration in United States domestic social policy (Putnam 1995).  The concept has also made an impact in development theory (Woolcock 1998; Sampson 1999), and has also been employed in theoretical analyses of sustainable development (Evans 1996; Weaver et al 1997; Ritchey-Vance 1997).

                The concept of cultural capital, on the other hand has received much less attention both in the sociological literature, as well as in policy circles.  This is unfortunate when one of the most important aspects of social capital lies precisely in its ability to provide a pool of cultural capital to the "members" of the social networks.  In this regard, Coleman (1988) does make a point of analyzing the effect social capital has on the creation of "human capital", which in this dissertation is practically synonymous with embodied cultural capital.  There are, however, some anthropological studies that do deal with the important issue of cultural capital in social development and reproduction (Hirabayashi 1993; Wikan 1995).  In my research I put the concept of social and cultural capital to test to reveal the micro-workings of creating and reproducing these forms of capital as important sources of local empowerment.

                Among the means employed in the "endless reproduction" of social and cultural capital (Bourdieu 1986:250), two processes stand out: the uses of discourse and the creation of collective identities.  As Bourdieu points out (1986:250), one of the primary means in which social capital is reproduced, is through the exchange of words, or through discourse.  As a system of storing and distributing large amounts of information, or cultural capital, discourse is probably the most ubiquitous means of manipulating and reproducing this "symbolic capital" (Bourdieu 1986:255).  One of the prime uses of discourse is to transform identifications of social actors, mobilize political subjectivity, and move to action.  It is this use of discourse which I focus on in the reproduction of social and cultural capital.

                As a form of informational capital, discourse can be made to reproduce and expand itself.  It is mainly through discourse, that ideologies are established, which "naturalize" (Barrett 1991:167) and legitimate" (Schull 1992:736) particular forms of thought and action.  Ideology, as an institutionalized form of cultural capital, in the sense that it legitimates, or confers authority, can further be employed as an instrument to transform reality.  While ideologies legitimate particular discourses, these discourses are the very means by which ideologies are constantly reconstituted.  Discourses are also the means by which ideologies are pitted against each other in the battle for hegemony, where hegemony is the spread and stability of an ideology.  Thompson (1987:519) states that "to study ideology is to study the ways in which meaning serves to sustain relations of domination."  I prefer to view ideology as an institutionalized form of cultural capital which tends to maintain and reproduce itself, as well as the social capital through which it exchanged.

                The other important process in the reproduction of social and cultural capital is the creation of collective identities.  Cohen (1985) describes diverse currents that find that collective identity can be generated by appealing to collective interests, to shared beliefs, and to group differences.  The creation of a collective identity defines the boundaries in which dense social networks can be generated and then be employed to transform the lived context through collective action.  Social capital lies in the network of human relationships from which cultural capital, or economic capital, may be obtained, and it lies in membership in a group which provides each member with the backing of the collectively-owned capital.  Parting from the premise that collective action is founded on a shared identity (Escobar and Alvarez 1992b), I consider that the creation of a collective identity (as a particular set of information, or cultural capital, shared among a particular social network, or social capital) is an important means of social and cultural reproduction.

                Although Bourdieu, himself, presents social and cultural capital as subtle means that are employed by elite classes to maintain and reproduce the overall class structure (1986:248-249), I claim that social capital and cultural capital are amenable to the appropriation of other classes besides the elite to draw from collective resources for purposes of social reproduction.  These diverse forms of capital, which Bourdieu refers to as "accumulated labor" (or invested time and energy) enable social actors, individual and collective, to "appropriate social energy in the form of reified or living labor" (Bourdieu 1986:241).  Capital, then, as accumulated labor, whether material or symbolic, has the capacity to reproduce and expand itself by appropriating more labor.  As products of accumulated labor, these diverse forms of capital can be wielded to transform the lived context.  I posit that their appropriation is what lies at the heart of "empowerment".

                This is not to deny, however, that there may be negative aspects to the use of social and cultural capital, as some authors have already pointed out, including "facilitating the reproduction of the overall class structure" (Bourdieu 1986:248), the "inequalities that may be embedded in social capital" (Putnam 1993:42), or "restrictions on individual freedoms, and downward leveling norms" of social capital (Portes 1998:15).  In this dissertation, for example, I show how social and cultural capital may be appropriated by contending groups and used to advance or subvert opposed class interests.  It is with consideration of these contradictory aspects of social and cultural capital, that I have studied the efforts of segments of civil society to implement a critical current of sustainable development that places empowerment at its core.



Power and Empowerment


                The concept of power has been widely analyzed in the social sciences.  The most commonly employed version of power is that of Max Weber who treats power as "the capacity of an actor to achieve desired ends or goals" (Giddens 1981:49).  This view has informed Liberal thought which places power in the individual.  Critical of this position, a wide range of currents, derived mostly from Marxist thought, view power as the property of collectivities, and particularly as "the property or right that one class exercises over another in order to keep it subjugated" (Grosz 1990:87).  In this vein, power is viewed as inherently coercive, and that its use inevitably implies the existence of conflict.  For Foucault, the notion of repression and coercion only capture power's frustrated form, instead of its typical functioning.  "If power were never anything but repressive", he asks, "if it never did anything but to say no, do you really think one would be brought to obey it?  What makes power hold good, what makes it accepted, is simply the fact that it doesn't only weigh on us as a force that says no, but that it traverses and produces things, it induces pleasure, forms knowledge, produces discourse.  It needs to be considered as a productive network which runs through the whole social body, much more than a negative instance whose function is repression." (Foucault 1980:119).

                For Foucault, power "produces reality" (Rabinow 1984:205).  It is the identification of this creative aspect of power that permits us to expand an analysis of empowerment from a narrow framework of a "struggle for power", to a wider field of action where power is wielded, not to wrest it from other individual or collective social actors, but to transform the lived context.  One of the characteristics of the new social movements is that their struggles are not to "take over power", but rather to become empowered.  To analyze strategies of empowerment, only a creative notion of power, as expressed by Foucault, will do.

                However, in its entirety, I find Foucault's notion of power inadequate, or too slippery, to serve as an analytical tool for the study of empowerment.  He describes power as "something which circulates, or rather as something which only functions in the form of a chain.  It is never localized here or there, never in anybody's hands, never appropriated as a commodity or a piece of wealth.  Power is employed and exercised through a net-like organisation.  And not only do individuals circulate between its threads; they are always in the position of simultaneously undergoing and exercising this power." (Foucault 1980:98).  This conceptualization of power as "never localized here or there" and as "never appropriated" renders it untenable in practice.  I am not alone in this appreciation.  Cohen and Arato (1992:294) find that "Foucault's analysis has deprived the modern rebel of any institutional, normative, or personal resources for constituting herself in terms other than those made available by the forces that already control her."

                A more committed assertion as to the identity of power, and the concept which I employ in this study, is alluded to, almost in passing, by Bourdieu.


"A general science of the economy of practices, capable of reappropriating the totality of the practices which, although objectively economic, are not and cannot be socially recognized as economic, and which can be performed only at the cost of a whole labor of dissimulation or, more precisely, euphemization, must endeavor to grasp capital and profit in all their forms and to establish the laws whereby the different types of capital (or power, which amounts to the same thing) change into one another." (Bourdieu 1986:242-243).


                For Bourdieu, the different types of capital -economic, social and cultural- are equivalent to power.  Just as capital is "accumulated labor" that enables social actors to appropriate more labor and the products of labor, so too, power, as the capacity to do work, enables social actors to transform the lived context through labor.  Empowerment, as I employ the term in this study, is achieved, inasmuch as it is exercised, by appropriating these diverse forms of capital and applying them to transform reality.  Power is derived from putting capital to work.  Capital, then, is potential power.

                This conceptualization of power, opens the door not only for a theory, but for a praxis of empowerment.  This is not limited to only offering subalterns the "arts" and "weapons" of resistance (Scott 1985; Scott 1990), where any larger aspiration would be "quixotic" (Stokes 1991:268), but rather, provides them with a creative potential to transform reality.  It is clear that major forms of economic, cultural and social capital are unevenly distributed throughout the social landscape, and have the capacity to accumulate and to reproduce themselves, tending to deepen existing inequities.  There is, however, a particular aspect of social and cultural capital which make them especially important in terms of empowerment.  These less tangible forms of capital, unlike economic capital, are not as subject to the effects of "subtractability", that is, to their diminution when used.  Putnam (1993:37) has expressed that "Social capital is... a resource whose supply increases rather than decreases through use and which (unlike physical capital) becomes depleted if not used."  The same principle applies to cultural capital.  Whereas economic and natural capital are objectively finite, social and cultural capital can expand indefinitely.  It is this freedom from the "zero-sum" game, that makes me focus on the use of social and cultural capital as a vehicle for empowerment.

                With this view of power and the possibilities it offers of empowerment, I hope to advance in a small way an exhortation made by fellow Latin American social scientist Orlando Fals Borda (1992:315)


"...we must continue to reinvent power in our own terms, in more humane, less cruel, and less violent forms that are more accountable to the people.  This is a theoretical and practical challenge that must be taken up if the independent social and political movements of today are not to waste away or to become absorbed by parties, as has been happening, but are, instead, to continue their vigorous, fruitful existence as leading actors in historical developments in the future."


                This exhortation also cautions us to take heed of the dangers of co-optation.  As I mentioned before, while there is a continual reproduction of diverse forms of capital that may lead to empowerment, there is also, concurrently, a continual appropriation of this labor.  It is this area of continual production and appropriation, or of "borrowing and lending", as Rosaldo (1989:217) softly puts it, that requires particular attention, both in theory and in practice.  Special attention is required, not only to detect processes of unequal appropriation, or co-optation, but also evidence of "synergistic relationships" (Evans 1996:1119) that may emerge along this nebulous divide between critical and mainstream perspectives of sustainable development which may be mutually reinforcing.



Measuring Sustainability


                The proposition developed so far that I will study the use of social and cultural capital as sources of empowerment to maintain or create a lived context of social, environmental and economic sustainability, calls for a final discussion on how to measure sustainable development.  My focus is the Third World where 70 percent of the people live in rural areas and work in agriculture (Weaver et al 1997:135).  In other words, most of the population is comprised of peasants, or what in Latin America are called "campesinos."  By their sheer numbers the question of the peasantry's transformation and reproduction is central to the project of sustainable development.  The measurement of sustainability cannot proceed without considering the fate of campesinos.  Indeed, a great portion of projects of sustainable development have been directed at small-scale rural producers, albeit mostly through the mediation of NGOs (Williams 1990; Bray 1991; Thomas-Slayter 1992; Bebbington and Farrington 1993; De Janvry and Sadoulet 1993; Kaimowitz 1993; Uphoff 1993).  The intentions behind these projects and the agendas of the mediating NGOs can be said to fall into the aforementioned mainstream and critical camps.  I have suggested elsewhere (Montoya 1993) that this concern for campesinos in sustainable development, apart from the weight of their numbers, was sparked mainly by two reasons: first, they were seen as the direct destroyers of the environment, and second, they were seen as its possible saviors.

                As destroyers of the environment, it was often understood that campesinos represented a last link in a chain of destruction, where their limited options forced them to compromise long-term environmental sustainability in lieu of their own short-term needs of subsistence.  While mainstream and critical perspectives coincided roughly in this regard, the first tended to view the people and their cultural practices as the prime locus of environmental degradation (Leonard 1989), while the second placed the blame on policies and politics (Collins 1986; Clay and Lewis 1990; Millikan 1992; Winterbottom 1995).  The view of campesinos as the hope for environmental protection stemmed from their proximity as rural communities to areas of environmental importance.  This made them key potential actors in the conservation and management of these natural resources.  For both their destructive and their redemptive roles, mainstream and critical efforts of sustainable development placed their sights on small-scale rural producers.  Under either perspective the measurement of sustainability, in environmental, social, and economic terms, tends to differ.

                In mainstream terms, the priority of sustainable rural development is "to increase food production in a sustainable manner" and to "conserve and rehabilitate the natural resources with the aim of maintaining a sustainable man/earth relationship", where "the success of agriculture and sustainable rural development will depend in great part on the support and participation of the rural population, the governments, the private sector and international cooperation, including technical and scientific cooperation" (UNCED 1992:179).  In other words, sustainability of the rural sector is defined as increased productivity and the management of natural resources, where the means of achieving this is in part, the participation of campesinos, among others.  This view contrasts strongly with what I pointed out earlier as the critical perspective that gives priority to local empowerment, from which derive the other two main axes of sustainable development, that is, a respect for nature and economic equity.

                One might say that as "beneficiaries" of projects of sustainable development, the considerations of campesinos and the effects of projects on their lifeworlds constitute parameters for the measurement of sustainability.  However, this perspective perpetuates what Kearney (1996) has sought to deconstruct, namely the construction of the image of "the peasant" as an "object of study", or in this case, as an object of development.  At once doing away with the concept that sustainable development is something that is done to people through projects, but rather is something done (or not done) by the people, and experienced (or not experienced) by them in their everyday lives, it is campesinos, not as beneficiaries of projects, but as social actors in their own right, who can express whether sustainable development is being achieved or not.  This is not a sly attempt to toss the "hot potato" of indicators of sustainability over to campesinos as a last ditch effort to relinquish responsibility.  True, this is a difficult aspect to grasp firmly, because it is derived from such imponderables as "the satisfaction of needs" -present and future.  But acknowledging that the valorization of sustainability must reside largely in the hands of campesinos is based, instead, on epistemological and political reasons.

                From a mainstream perspective, sustainability has been measured more specifically in terms of economic growth, productivity, rates of replenishment of natural resources, and number of "beneficiaries" participating in projects.  Some of these categories have been further operationalized (Altieri 1987; De Camino and Muller 1993; FAO 1997; Schomaker 1997).  From a critical point of view, the measurement of sustainability rests on a subset of imponderables that derive from present and future "needs", namely, empowerment, consciousness and equity, whose definitions reside closer to the subjectivities of the people in their lifeworld.  Ultimately, I believe that the definitions that count most -both epistemologically and politically- are those that are lived in the flesh by the people in their lifeworlds.





                In this study I address the diverse theoretical issues brought up in this broad literature review.  In chapter 5 the birth of the community organization, CODECE, around the defense of the local environment reveals the importance of the social capital of the founding members, along with the cultural capital embedded in these networks of relations, in achieving early victories.  The organization itself represented a dense network of social relations, or social capital which the members of CODECE attempted to reproduce as a source of continued empowerment.   They did this through the use of discourse and participatory practices attempting to establish an identity and a sense of belonging among a wider membership.

                CODECE's legal struggles in chapter 6 demonstrate how institutionalized cultural capital serves elite class interests despite arduous efforts of new social movements at democratizing the contents and boundaries of these institutions.  CODECE's mostly failed attempts at transforming established manifestations of social and cultural capital reveal some of the workings of class reproduction and raise the question of where sources of local community empowerment might reside.

                Environmental education as a means of generating "embodied" cultural capital within the community, and efforts to create a communal forest, as an "objectified" form of cultural capital around which to create a collective identity, are ways CODECE seeks to empower the local community.  I examine these efforts in chapter 7, where successful local empowerment is confounded, however, by acts of appropriation of these cultural capitals by contending groups with different class interests.

                CODECE's efforts of joining and creating national networks of like-minded organizations gathering a wider source of social capital as a means of empowerment is the subject of chapter 8.  Here I contrast the multiplication of social capital by social movements on the one hand, and their focus on "subtractable" economic capital, on the other, revealing clear differences regarding their effects on local empowerment.

                Ultimately, sustainable development depends on a subjective interpretation of present and future "needs".  For this reason, a critical perspective considers that only through local empowerment can a community define its needs and take action to satisfy them.  In chapter 9 the local rural community defines these needs, giving a particular meaning to sustainable development where local social and cultural capital play an important part not only in sustaining the local lifeworld, but are important elements of what the local lifeworld seeks to sustain.  The ability to express local social and cultural capital are among the important means, but also among the important ends, of sustainable development.

                In the chapter that follows, I review Costa Rica's particular history of development, colored by early tendencies toward the reconciliation of diverse social and political internal differences.  This tendency, along with Costa Rica's marked interest in environmental matters, makes it fertile ground for the early and widespread adoption of sustainable development as the leading national development paradigm.  This sets the context for the main body of this dissertation, which is a case study of the diverse efforts of a community organization to implement local sustainable development.