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The American sociologist Robert Putnam has argued powerfully for the importance of social capital – something which is built up collectively through the voluntary activities of individuals participating in community organisations and other community activity – leading to a bonding of the members of society. The ‘positive consequences of social capital [are] mutual support, cooperation, trust and institutional effectiveness’ (2000, p. 22). These are qualities which, he argues, make communities healthy and sustainable.
However, Marilyn Taylor, who starts from a UK perspective, takes a more critical view of the whole discourse about changing communities, and about terms such as social capital. She points out that the assumption that social capital and civil society are automatically good for all citizens is a contested one. She suggests that communities and networks can as easily create exclusion, rather than inclusion, particularly for groups who are already oppressed (Taylor, 2003, p. 62–3).
There are, therefore, different perspectives about the value and effectiveness of intervening in communities. It is important to be aware of these contrasting points of view. As with other approaches to improving the lives of both individuals and neighbourhoods, community development has a number of recognised methods of working.