Social Wealth and Exclusionary Politics

Social wealth is the trust, reciprocity and mutuality that inheres to social relationships. It accumulates to the extent that members of different social groups can maintain respect for differences and learn to co-operate, especially beyond the family and clan.

Issue Name : Vol.10. No 18,May 05,(Baisakh 22, 2074)

Social wealth is an evolving concept. It attempts to conceptually capture an integral part of civil society. In the broadest sense, the term encompasses those aspects of social relationships that help people to create and reproduce relationships at low cost (efficiency) and act more effectively than they could as isolated households.

Social wealth is the trust, reciprocity and mutuality that inheres to social relationships. It accumulates to the extent that members of different social groups can maintain respect for differences and learn to co-operate, especially beyond the family and clan.

It is even claimed that social wealth is the “missing link” in development, partly because it adds a new focus to “people-centred development”, and partly because it can be seen as a complement to other forms of wealth (natural, produced, financial and human) to explain how development can occur in some situations and not in others. 

However, it is possible to think of groups of people who may have strong social networks and abundant social wealth but who are unable to turn it to any advantage because of the context in which they live or lack of other resources – Dalits, perhaps, as opposed to members of dominant castes. 

I would make a two-way distinction to separate social relations within groups of similar cultural background and status and between dissimilar groups. “Bonding” ties are needed to give groups a sense of identity and common purpose. However, without, “bridging” ties that cross various social divides – e.g., those based on religion, class, ethnicity, gender, socio-economic status – bounded, closed or strong horizontal ties can become a basis for the pursuit of narrow group interests and hostility to non-members.

Bonding in the absence of bridging can actively preclude access to resources across group boundaries. Thus the same social ties, which enable community members to work together, can exclude non-members.

One of the typical and dependable types of informal networks in Nepal is based on Afno Manchhe.  Afno Manchhe is the term used to designate one’s inner circle of associates. Afno Manchhe is an integral part of Nepalese society because the distinction between the group ‘us’ and the rest as ‘them’ manifests itself in every walk of social, cultural, political and economic life. 

The exclusionary tendency of Afno Manchhe is related to bonding without bridging of human relations in Nepali society. Exclusionary politics derives from intuitive fear by members of the dominant groups that they are losing their privileged position. The recent appointments of ambassadors and judges are clear examples, and this would be repeated in giving “tickets” to the candidates within bonded circle.

The major political parties are not inclusive in Nepal. The exclusionary politics give rise to regional and ethnic parties. Sadly, they are also not inclusive. The exclusionary politics with bonding norms and historical legacies will not likely to ensure inclusion of minorities in governance.

In my view, political restructuring should proceed in parallel with state restructuring. There is a complex relationship between federalism and inclusionary politics. There must be political reform of the current political system in the areas of inclusion, along with internal governance and party financing. The political parties should be more strengthened with national character and devolved structure as the country is headed towards the local elections.

Federalism was introduced in the new constitution to build an inclusive nation by addressing longstanding grievances of the poor and oppressed people. This principle must hold true to accommodate diversity beyond inner circle of bonding towards more bridging of social wealth. Nepal’s development will largely depend on bridging of social wealth that we all are responsible to build, nurture and grow.

Dr. Prabin Manandhar is an expert of international development. Currently, he is working as Country Director of The Lutheran World Federation. He is the Chair of the Association of International NGOs in Nepal (AIN). He is also a visiting faculty at the Kathmandu University. He can be reached at prabin.manandhar11@gmail.com

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