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Keywords:

  • gender;
  • social capital;
  • rural communities;
  • urban communities

In recent years, governments in many post-industrial nations have re-discovered ‘community’. Social capital and neighbourhood renewal are key concepts underpinning policies aimed at building the capacities of communities to respond to the problems facing them. Despite the apparent consensus amongst Anglo-American governments about the use of social capital, and related concepts, as a guide for policy formulation these ideas remain hotly contested amongst social policy commentators. Against a general backdrop of disquiet about the application of social capital initiatives to communities facing significant social and economic challenges, some commentators highlight the curious inattention to gender in debates about social capital. This is all the more troubling given the apparent reliance of social capital initiatives on the informal network-building activities often undertaken by women. In this article we present findings from an empirical study of social capital creation across four geographically diverse communities. We show that the relationship between gender and social capital is complex. We argue that the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to social capital formulation fails to recognise gendered patterns of social capital formulation, but so, too, do analyses of gender that neglect the complex interactions between gender and other factors, particularly location, age and income. We argue for approaches to policy formulation that recognise local differences, including differences between and amongst men and women in social capital creation.