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New Theory or New Dogma? A Tale of Social Capital and Economic Development from Gujarat, India

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The quest to discover the most robust predictors of economic development continues unabated. Social scientists have run the gamut, for instance, from demographic pressure to the degree of price distortion, and savings rate to the rate of technical innovation. Currently, the attention is on "social capital." Although empirical studies operationalize social capital in an almost bewildering number of ways, the shared impulse of these studies, the article suggests, has been to parlay "culture" in a form sensible to economics and policy science: in terms of its capacity to generate economic returns. While there is a pressing need to recognize the discursivity (linguistic and social embeddedness) of economic categories, "culture" translated as "social capital" is a sorely inadequate formulation. Bourdieu's notion of "symbolic capital" is, theoretically and empirically, far more instructive. Employing primary and archival evidence, the article demonstrates how the pursuit of "symbolic capital" by the dominant Patel caste has produced an unexpected trajectory of agrarian change in the Matar subdistrict of Gujarat, India; and, in so doing, it indicates how the analysis of "social capital" could be revised.


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