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Capitalizing on Women's Social Capital? Women-Targeted Microfinance in Bolivia


  • Kate Maclean

    1. is Lecturer in Human Geography at King's College London (Strand, London WC2R 2LS, UK; email: She has worked on women-targeted microfinance in West Africa and Latin America, building on feminist critiques of citizenship, economy and social inclusion, and is currently looking at transnationalism and financial democracy.
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  • Research for this article was funded by an ESRC Studentship Award (PTA 030 2004 00186). I would like to thank Haleh Afshar, Sylvia Chant and Kathy Baker for invaluable comments and encouragement, and the two anonymous reviewers for very helpful feedback.


Both social capital and microfinance are central to mainstream development interventions, and both are predicated on the need to recognize the importance of social factors in development. Microfinance institutions mobilize social capital in the form of a group guarantee, and aim to support the development of sustainable financial institutions and income generation. Women are targeted in part because of the effectiveness of their social capital as collateral. However, although social capital is assumed to support development and income generation, the precise dynamics involved in this are rarely explored. This article examines the construction of social capital and its relationship to income generation, based on a long-term ethnographic study of village life in rural Bolivia and the microfinance institution operating there. The author examines the complexity and gendered contradictions implied in the way that social capital is generally viewed to support economic development. It is suggested that the way microfinance institutions use social capital to support sustainable financial institutions and income generation does not always reflect the way that women's networks support access to resources and ultimately, economic development.