Making democracy work in Papua New Guinea: Social Capital and Provincial Development in an Ethnically Fragmented Society

Benjamin Reilly, Robert Phillpot

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    Abstract

    The past decade has seen an explosion of interest in the concept of "social capital"-the term used to describe the complex relationship of norms, reciprocity, and civic engagement that together are thought to promote trust and sustain societal cooperation. Increasingly, academic studies have posited social capital as the "missing link" to explain variations in government performance, both within and between countries. A classic example is the work of Robert Putnam. In Making Democracy Work, Putnam examined differences in provincial performance between northern and southern Italy, concluding that good government is found where social capital and civil society are most developed. The focus on collective action and networks of close engagement raises the question of how social capital functions in divided societies where ascriptive forms of identification, such as ethnicity, represent a fundamental social cleavage. In this article, we attempt to answer this question by replicating Putnam's study of social capital and government performance in the ethnically fragmented, tribally based Asia-Pacific state of Papua New Guinea, a country that in many ways could not be more different than Italy. Nonetheless, Papua New Guinea is one of the few post-colonial states to have maintained an unbroken record of democracy, having held competitive national elections since 1964. If, as Putnam claims, social capital is the key to "making democracy work," we would expect this rare case of a successful post-colonial democracy to provide some evidence of this link.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)906 - 927
    JournalAsian Survey
    Volume42
    Issue number6
    Publication statusPublished - 2002

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