To Play the Fool: Can Environmental Conservation and Democracy Survive Social Capital?
Two community-based conservation processes in the United States provide comparative case studies to examine how social capital relates to democracy. Following a summary of social capital research, we describe the cases: one designed to preserve an endangered species and the other to restore water quality. We discuss how social capital dampened democratic practice in one case, while invigorating it in the other. We conclude that, by relying indiscriminately on social capital in the absence of complementary state structures, conservationists risk losing the very nature they seek to defend, and all citizens risk losing the energy and space essential to democracy.