Community-based approaches to natural resource management have become increasingly popular because of their potential to stimulate rural economic development and promote sustainable natural resource use. The appeal of such approaches have been supported by recent developments in economic theory regarding collective action and common property institutions, which have replaced the long-held idea that resources held in common are doomed to overuse and degradation. In particular, a wide array of empirical and experimental studies have led to the emergence of ‘second generation’ collective action theories which are able to reconcile observed behaviour in social dilemma settings with rational choice theory.
Second generation theories of collective action also encompass the concept of social capital; viewing forms of social capital as the fundamental motivations for collective action. Therefore, based on a second generation theoretical framework, social capital ought to play an important role in the emergence and maintenance of self-driven CBNRM projects. Despite this, there have been limited assessments of the explicit role of social capital in cases of self-driven CBNRM.
Consequently, this study set out to evaluate the role of social capital and its relationship with the performance of a self-driven CBNRM case study in South Africa. In order to achieve this aim, a mixed methods research design was employed to assess the roles and relationships of social capital at different levels of analysis. Qualitative results highlighted the major role of social capital in building various forms of trust at the project level. On the other hand, quantitative results obtained from exploratory factor analysis uncovered a number of latent dimensions of social capital at the household level. In addition, two binary logistic regression models demonstrated both positive and negative relationships between latent dimensions of household-level social capital and indicators of successful collective action in the Umgano Project. The crucial role of traditional leaders in maintaining and mobilizing social capital was a cross-cutting feature of the results in this study. Overall, the findings of this study support the stance of second generation collective action theories regarding the role of social capital in enhancing collective action outcomes.