Social Capital at Work

The Dynamics and Consequences of Grassroots Movements in Urban China

Author: Shi Fayong

Abstract:

The past decade and a half has seen an increase in civil resistance by community-based socioeconomic groups in China's urban neighborhoods. Existing theories of social movements are inadequate to explain the dynamics and consequences of such grassroots movements. This article examines one community-based movement in Shanghai to show that, with the transformation of local governance, protest activists can improve their resistance capabilities by utilizing social capital to mobilize residents horizontally and, at the same time, to enlist support vertically from high-level authorities on the other. Earlier studies have identified mass dissatisfaction and changes in political structures as two vital factors affecting grassroots movements. This article adds a third important factor: social capital. Furthermore, the author finds that conflicts involving sociopolitical forces outside the community can enhance social capital in local communities. The author shows how an exploration of the causal relations between social capital and collective resistance contributes to our understanding of social movements and local politics in urban China.
Regions: East Asia
Countries: China

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June 2008
© 2007 ILO/Crozet M.