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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Disentangling the social net : examining the links between social capital, empowerment and social difference in two ecotourism villages in Ghana Ramón Hidalgo, Ana Elia


Reconciling conservation of natural resources with rural community empowerment is a much-needed goal, and a global challenge. Community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) is one attempt to reconcile such endeavours. Attracted by its promises, social capital has become a focus for policy and research in CBNRM and community development in recent years. However, social capital has been approached as a catchall and a decontextualized concept, rendering the term close to unusable for effective management. Furthermore, the tendency to treat communities as homogenous units has created further confusion when examining the role of social capital and devising appropriate actions. In this context, the goal of this doctoral dissertation was to critically investigate social capital as it relates to empowerment and equity impacts to offer new insights for effective and contextually-driven practices, in particular within the context of community-based ecotourism (CBE). As such, this research borrows from the fields of sociology, feminist political ecology and community development, to investigate if and how social capital plays a role in community empowerment in two CBE projects in rural villages in the Volta Region of Ghana by employing a multimethod and multilevel approach. To avoid confounding terms and to navigate the complexity, I separately analyze different social capital and empowerment components. Employing both qualitative and quantitative data sources and analyses (including social network analysis) and incorporating a feminist perspective, I provide a novel, re-politicized and structured approach for the exploration, in the Ghanaian CBE context, of well-established social capital hypotheses that to date, have been primarily applied in Western societies. Overall, research findings show that social capital, social exclusions and empowerment opportunities are all interdependent phenomena occurring concurrently at different ecological scales and in different participatory spaces. I argue that a comprehensive understanding of the merits of social capital in the context of CBE requires a multilevel and multidimensional analytical approach and an interdisciplinary perspective to develop successful community projects that do not further social inequities but rather, enable collective action in, and shared benefits from, natural resource management.

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