HKS Authors

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Our lives are remembered as an assemblage of overlapping stories – some of them prosaic and unremarkable, others more fraught, contingent and consequential – but most remain unfinished, punctuated only by their telling: to particular people, in particular ways, for particular purposes. In this spirit, a first-person account is provided of the making and impact of what has become the most-cited article in the 50-year history of Theory and Society. Originally drafted as a chapter of the author’s PhD dissertation, the article sought to provide the concept of social capital with an intellectual history, to forge an analytical framework integrating two (heretofore) largely separate realms of scholarship applying social capital theory to economic development, and to suggest some ways in which this framework, grounded in findings from across the social sciences, might be applicable to policy and practice. The paper itself emerged over two years from the generous input of many junior and senior scholars, several of whom were not based at the author’s university (and thus had few incentives to provide it). Pre-publication, the article’s positive reception – first amplified by a high-profile reviewer and then a widening circle of influential development researchers – played a decisive role in helping the author secure the first (and thus far only) opening for a sociologist in the World Bank’s Development Research Group. Post-publication, the paper’s key elements – theoretical, methodological, and substantive – became the foundation for a career at the nexus of (interdisciplinary) research, policy, implementation, evaluation, teaching, and mentoring across an array of sectors. It was an article that changed a life – and by extension, a lot of other lives. The story continues.


Woolcock, Michael. "The Social Life of Articles: Some Reflections on the Making and Impact of ‘Social Capital and Economic Development’." Theory and Society 50.3 (April 2021): 381-392.