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Society & Natural Resources

An International Journal

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Differential Effects of Cognitive and Structural

Social Capital on Empowerment in Two
Community Ecotourism Projects in Ghana

Ana-Elia Ramón-Hidalgo, Robert A. Kozak, H. W. Harshaw & David B. Tindall

To cite this article: Ana-Elia Ramón-Hidalgo, Robert A. Kozak, H. W. Harshaw & David B.
Tindall (2018) Differential Effects of Cognitive and Structural Social Capital on Empowerment in
Two Community Ecotourism Projects in Ghana, Society & Natural Resources, 31:1, 57-73, DOI:

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Published online: 27 Oct 2017.

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2018, VOL. 31, NO. 1, 57–73

none defined

Differential Effects of Cognitive and Structural Social Capital

on Empowerment in Two Community Ecotourism
Projects in Ghana
Ana-Elia Ramón-Hidalgoa, Robert A. Kozaka, H. W. Harshawb, and David B. Tindallc
Faculty of Forestry, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada; bFaculty of Physical Education and
Recreation, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AL, Canada; cDepartment of Sociology, University of British
Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada


Researchers have cautioned against both erasing conceptual complex- Received 16 September 2016
ities and homogenizing communities in community-based natural Accepted 8 July 2017
resources (CBNRM) studies and interventions. Social capital is seen as KEYWORDS
an enabler of CBNRM, yet we argue that differential access to social Community-based
capital and associated outcomes deserves greater attention to avoid ecotourism; empowerment;
oversimplification of community interventions. Drawing upon ethnicity; gender; social
literature on social networks and social capital, we analyze survey capital; social networks
and network data from two community ecotourism cases in Ghana to
advance understanding of the empowering capacities and limitations
of CBNRM through social capital access. Subpopulations within
communities are considered. Results show that residents with greater
access to social capital report greater levels of empowerment.
However, that relationship seems to be conditioned by one’s
involvement, demographics, and by the empowerment dimension
under analysis. Implications of the differing relationships between
cognitive and structural social capital in relation to several
empowerment outcomes are discussed from theoretical,
methodological, and practical perspectives.

Social capital—“resources embedded in social relations” (Lin and Erickson 2010, 4)—has
been recognized for its potential role in enabling empowerment in community-based
natural resources management (CBNRM) (Nath, Inoue, and Pretty 2010) because it can
lower the costs of working together, facilitate knowledge transmission, increase social
mobility, and enable cooperation through shared norms (Pretty 2003; Isaac et al. 2007;
Hunt, Durham, and Menke 2015; Tian and Lin 2016). A growing body of research in
CBNRM explores social capital’s impacts, primarily at the community or institutional level
(Jones 2005; Ballet et al. 2007; Bodin and Crona 2008; Crona, Gelcich, and Bodin 2017).
However, given the multifaceted nature of the concept and that the distribution of social
resources in communities vary across demographic characteristics (Molyneux 2002; Lin
and Erickson 2010), researchers have cautioned against discounting conceptual
complexities and homogenizing residents’ interests within communities (Agrawal and

CONTACT Ana-Elia Ramón-Hidalgo Faculty of Forestry, University of British Columbia,

2424 Main Mall, Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z4, Canada.
© 2017 Taylor & Francis

Gibson 2001). Therefore, differential access to social capital and associated empowering
outcomes at the individual level (Lin 2000; Mayoux 2001; Cleaver 2005) deserve greater
research attention.
Drawing from Lin’s (2001) social capital theory, this paper examines the different roles
that social capital plays in empowering individuals in two community-based ecotourism
(CBE) projects in Ghana, when accounting for demographic differences. Through the
disaggregated measurement and analyses of social capital and empowerment, our analytical
framework illustrates how oversimplified development interventions may be avoided. We
ask: do residents with higher access to social capital show higher levels of perceived
empowerment than individuals with less access to social capital? If so, does this hold true
across different empowerment dimensions? Does it also hold true after controlling for the
effects of one’s gender, ethnicity, or degree of involvement in ecotourism?

In the 1990s, a pro-poor tourism agenda associated with economic development initiatives
fostered the expansion of ecotourism initiatives in the global south (Scheyvens 2002;
Spenceley and Meyer 2012). Oftentimes, these were criticized for being underpinned by
neoliberal development and conservation agendas upon which donors and external actors
rely (Duffy 2006; Fletcher 2012; Büscher and Davidov 2014). However, CBE, borne out of
the principles of CBNRM, emerged as one approach, where communities have a consider-
able amount of input into decision-making processes, including the design, development,
and management of ventures as well as the ability to exert control over the distribution of
benefits (Denman 2001). Such an approach received substantial theoretical support and
established local empowerment as a central goal of CBE alongside conservation (Scheyvens
2002; Weaver and Lawton 2007; Murphree 2009). Despite local empowerment efforts, CBE
studies often report mixed results (Kiss 2004; Manyara and Jones 2007; Weaver and
Lawton 2007; Ahebwa and Van del Duim 2013; Hunt and Stronza 2014; Mbaiwa 2015)
and the idea that these community projects are divorced from internal and external politics
has been challenged (Duffy 2006). Critics have thus cautioned against decontextualizing
and depoliticizing empowerment (Rowlands 1995; Kabeer 2005; Butcher 2010). Existing
power dynamics along the axes of ethnicity, age, and gender have been shown to shape
empowerment in CBNRM (Agarwal 2001), potentially exacerbating social inequities (Silvey
and Elmhirst 2003; Grischow 2007) and reducing community cohesion and capacity for
collective action (Scheyvens 2002). At the local level, ecotourism development tends to
be dominated by elites (Scheyvens 2002; Cater 2006) further supporting the need to
examine the impacts that socio-demographics may have on the relationship between social
capital and empowerment in CBE.
Critics have also identified challenges in the measurement and comparability of
empowerment across disciplines and scales and emphasized the need for contextualized
and multidimensional measures (Zimmerman 2000; Kabeer 2002; Alsop, Bertelsen, and
Holland 2006). With these complexities in mind, and with a specific focus on individual
empowerment, we draw from Zimmerman (2000) who conceptualized empowerment both
as a process and an outcome related to self-conceptions of competence, perceived control,
and self-efficacy (i.e., intrapersonal principle), one’s active engagement in the community
(i.e., behavioral principle), and awareness and understanding of one’s sociopolitical

environment (i.e., interactional principle). We draw upon individual empowerment mea-

sures consistent with this multifaceted definition and adapt them to the local context.

Social Capital
In CBNRM, social capital is important for resource access, knowledge transmission, social
mobility, and to enable cooperation for collective solutions (Pretty and Smith 2004; Prell,
Hubacek, and Reed 2009). Interventions to promote social capital in CBNRM can take
different institutional arrangements. For example, the establishment of regular face-to-face
meetings (see an example from the Ejido Sierra Morena (Mexico) in García-Amado et al.
2012), common goals and enforceable norms, conflict resolution skills, or accountability
and transparency strategies, (Ostrom 1994; Krishna 2000; Westermann, Ashby, and Pretty
2005). These approaches are seen to facilitate communication and foster trust among
community members, thus enhancing cooperation. Also, policy reform has been adapted
to promote social capital in the form of group-based approaches in NRM in India,
Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Australia (Pretty 2003) and microfinance institutions have
helped groups to learn how to collaborate to receive credit (Anderson, Locker, and Nugent
2002). Social learning, a process that increases collaboration, trust building, and network
diversity, is thus a way of building social capital for individual and collective gains (Crona
et al. 2011).
The study of social capital across disciplines and at different scales (individual,
institutional, collective) has led to multiple and contested definitions, measurements,
and applications (Das 2006; Ballet et al. 2007; Bebbington 2009; Floress, Prokopy, and
Allred 2011). In an attempt to bring clarity to investigations of social capital analyses,
researchers have increasingly explored the critical roles that social networks play in the
success of resource management and have begun to clarify when and how the diversity
and strength of social connections may impact a community’s or individual’s ability to
manage their resources (Bodin and Crona 2008; Prell, Hubacek, and Reed 2009). At the
individual level, a theory of social capital centered on social networks (Lin 2001) has aided
these research developments. Under Lin’s (2001) model, social capital are social resources
embedded in social networks that can be used by individuals to achieve specific outcomes.
Such resources include status, power, and wealth which facilitate the dissemination of
knowledge and information, enable influence, render social credentials, and affirm
self-identity. The underlying assumption of the network approach to social capital is that
the better the accessible embedded social resources are, the more they can be mobilized for
expected returns.
Lin (2001) emphasizes that social capital, as a relational asset, must be distinguished
from collective goods (e.g., norms of trust reciprocity, and collaboration). To maintain
this distinction, researchers and practitioners have termed those collective goods as
“cognitive social capital (CSC)” (Krishna and Shrader 2000). Unlike CSC, structural
social capital (SSC) refers to the qualities and characteristics of social networks among
individuals or groups. While cognitive elements of social capital may predispose
individuals toward mutually beneficial collective action, structural elements may facilitate
such action by mobilizing social resources through social networks (Krishna and Shrader
2000). We propose the following hypotheses related to CSC in the context of CBE
projects in Ghana:

H1 The more trusting individuals are of others, the more empowered they perceive themselves
to be.
H2 The more individuals engage in reciprocal behavior, the more empowered they perceive
themselves to be.
H3 The more collaborative behavior individuals show, the more empowered they perceive
themselves to be.

In the context of SSC, network theory distinguishes weak ties (i.e., relationships with low
emotional intensity) from strong ties (i.e., relationships that have high emotional intensity).
Weak ties serve as bridges and are important for the flow of novel information
(Granovetter 1973; Lin 2001). They may facilitate instrumental actions such as getting
a job, becoming more active and/or influential in civic life. Conversely, strong ties
reinforce patterns of trust and reciprocity and lead to expressive outcomes, such as
public recognition, or the maintenance of physical and mental health and life satisfaction
(Lin 2001).
It is important to note that tie-strength functions are context dependent: cultures
distribute and share social resource differently (Lin and Erickson 2010). In CBNRM, only
a few case studies have explicitly articulated empowerment as it relates to social capital
(Mayoux 2001; Okazaki 2008); thus, it is reasonable to assume a positive correlation
between strong and weak ties and empowerment. We propose the following hypotheses:
H4 The higher the number of weak ties that individuals have to other individuals with whom
they discuss ecotourism matters, the more empowered they will perceive themselves to be.
H5 The higher the number of strong ties that individuals have to other individuals with whom
they discuss ecotourism matters, the more empowered they will perceive themselves to be.

The above hypotheses test different aspects of social capital and are stated relative to
general empowerment and generic individuals. However, given the important critiques that
discredit social capital and empowerment analyses for ignoring relationships of power and
difference (Cleaver 2005; O’Neill and Gidengil 2006), we test these hypotheses in light of
multiple empowerment dimensions emerging from the cases while also accounting for
sociodemographics differences.

This study is part of a larger mixed methods and multilevel study concerning social capital
and empowerment in two CBE villages in Ghana1. The colonial roots of ecotourism
development in Ghana have resulted in frequent marginalization of rural communities
(Eshun 2010). Partly to counter this marginalization, between 1996 and 2004, the Nature
Conservation Research Centre (NCRC), in partnership with international agencies and
the Ghanaian Government, supported the development of over a dozen CBE projects that
generated revenues of US$1 million in 2006 from 139,000 visitors (Eshun and Tagoe-Darko
2015). Two of those CBE projects in the Volta region which have been financially
independent since 2004 are examined here. Under NCRC’s CBE model, communities
retain full control in decision-making and revenue distribution while operating through
a locally enacted constitution led by an elected board. Both CBE projects under study share
characteristics such as a similar tourism development history, accessibility by road,

financial investment, similar management frameworks, revenue, and visitation (around

20,000 GHS from approximately 10,000 visitors in 2011). Both villages attract domestic
and foreign visitors for day hikes in the surrounding forests. Domestic visitors are often
school groups while foreign visitors are often young backpackers from Europe and North
America, some of which stay overnight. The projects use a management team and several
tour guides and offer indirect employment to food vendors, stores, transportation provi-
ders, and music groups, among others. Entrance and lodge fees are distributed among
landowners, chiefs, project reinvestment, and a community fund for development projects.
Migration to the communities dates back to at least the 19th century according to local
elders. The two villages have an estimated 3,500 and 2,000 inhabitants, respectively, which
includes members of local clans (hereon locals) and migrant farm laborers living in
surrounding smaller settlements, many from northern Togo (hereon nonlocals).
Surrounded by semideciduous forest and farmland, both communities derive their
livelihoods from multicrop subsistence farming of primarily maize, cassava, plantain,
banana, cocoyam, yam, pineapple, and palm as well as coffee or cacao trees. Many residents
have home gardens and rear chicken or goats and sell surplus farm products.
Residents and the NCRC agree that CBE has allowed the communities to conserve the
forests. Local by-laws (e.g., banning bush fires for meat hunting and agriculture or the
creation and maintenance of fire belts) along with the environmental awareness training
by NCRC have significantly reduced deforestation in areas frequented by tourists since
the beginning of the projects. In addition, reforestation projects have taken place and some
standing trees in the area have been purchased to compensate landowners for lost
opportunities. A former chair of the Ghana Tourism Board stated: “If it wasn’t for these
projects the whole forest would have been cleared by now” (personal communication).

Data Collection
This study draws upon survey data collected from village residents through face-to-face
conversations between February and July of 2013 by the first author and six Ghanaian field
assistants. Conversations were conducted in English or Ewe. When respondents would
prefer to communicate in Ewe, field assistants recorded answers verbatim in English. This
study also draws from ethnographic and secondary data (i.e., participant observation,
informal conversations, NCRC reports, and open-ended questions in surveys) for
triangulation, validation, and interpretation of results.
Two samples were collected in each village: a random sample of the general residents
(S1) and a random sample of residents involved in ecotourism (S2). S1 comprised residents
from both villages (n1 ¼ 132 and n2 ¼ 127) regardless of their involvement in ecotourism.
This sample was collected using random walks within each clan area of the villages
selecting every third house and starting from a different location each day. S2 comprised
residents of both villages (n1 ¼ 53 and n2 ¼ 37) who were involved in ecotourism activities
(i.e., ecotourism board members, traditional leaders, tour guides/staff, food vendors,
motorcyclists, taxi drivers, owners of land in the ecotourism project, souvenir vendors).
The selection of these activities was determined and informed a priori by key informants
affiliated with the project. Proportional allocation sampling was used for S2, which sought
to represent at least 50% of the population involved (directly or indirectly) in ecotourism;
survey respondents were randomly selected within each identified group.

Aggregated Likert-scale questions grounded in previous research (Glaeser et al. 2000;

Westermann, Ashby, and Pretty 2005; Dohmen et al. 2008) were pretested and adapted
locally to assess CSC. Four questions measured trust (in the board, in tourism staff, in
traditional leaders, and in community youth); two questions measured reciprocity by
querying respondents’ willingness to help others in return for past reciprocal help (even
if at a cost); and two questions assessed collaboration by querying respondents’ general
involvement in communal works and festivities’ preparation.
To measure SSC, a name generator network question (Lin and Erickson 2010) was used
to assess the number of strong and weak ties of each respondent: “Who have you discussed
ecotourism matters with over the past year?” After respondents identified individuals, they
were asked whether that person was a close friend and/or shared any of the following
characteristics: lived in the same community as the respondent; were family; or belonged
to the same church, clan, or political party. Being a close friend along with each shared
characteristic contributed 1 point toward tie strength. Since the study takes place in a small
community setting where most people know each other well, a stringent threshold
(a cumulative score of 2 or less) was used to determine if a tie qualified as weak. This is
consistent with the use of multiplex network ties and thresholds to operationalize tie
strength (Leifeld 2013).
Empowerment in this study was measured using 17 statements describing potential
empowering processes that respondents may have experienced related to the CBE projects
(Table 1). Statements were informed by previous studies on empowerment (Scheyvens
2002; Kabeer 2005; Narayan 2005; The World Bank Institute 2007) and reflected
Zimmerman’s (2000) empowerment principles. Statements were piloted with local people
and adapted and framed as discrete visual analog scales ranging from “strongly agree” to
“strongly disagree.” Demographic information was also collected and a control variable
for community was incorporated into the analyses.

Principal components analysis (PCA) was conducted on the 17 empowerment statements
in each sample to uncover latent constructs and to develop empowerment subscales
(Table 1). The empowerment subscales were constructed by averaging responses from
the empowerment questions that loaded most highly on each PCA component. An overall
empowerment scale was also created by averaging all of the scores from the statements that
loaded highly on the final PCA components in both samples. Chronbach’s alpha was used
to assess the internal consistency of the empowerment scales.
We used sequential (hierarchical) multiple regression using three forced entry blocks to
test the relative contribution of each of the three main explanatory sets of independent
variables for each sample. Demographic control variables were entered first, followed by
CSC variables and SSC variables (Table 2).

Results and Discussion

In S1, 46.7% of respondents were men and 57.6% from the local clans as compared to 73%
men and 86.5% locals in S2. Few respondents in S1 (11.3%) and in S2 (17.9%) had
completed secondary education or higher; those with less formal education were

Table 1. Components emerged from two principal component analyses (PCA).

S1: Community sample S2: Ecotourism sample
components components
1 2 3 4 5 1 3 2 4 5 6
Empowerment statements
Because of tourism I have (more/less) opportunities to 0.778 0.584
participate in community decisions
I (don’t) care to attend community meetings about the 0.673 0.830
tourism project
It is (easy/difficult) for me to get information about 0.629 0.874
tourism matters
I am (not) aware of community meetings where tourism 0.455 0.809
matters are discussed
*Since the tourism project came, I have (more/less) 0.63 0.457 0.736
employment opportunities
Since the tourism project came, I make (more/less) 0.798 0.636
Because of tourism I have (more/less) possibilities to do 0.717 0.520
what I want in my life
Since the tourism project came, I have (better/worse) 0.587 0.401
Because of tourism I am (more/less) hopeful about my 0.523 0.681
I (don’t) think that it is important to protect the forests 0.841 0.968
around the village for the future of the community
I (don’t) like seeing tourists 0.716 0.968
*I think tourism has (helped protect/damaged) the 0.675 0.701
forests around
I am (not) afraid to provide my views and suggestions 0.671 0.891
about tourism to the board
I (often/never) bring suggestions about tourism matters 0.406 0.639 0.756
to community meetings
*I (have learned many things/haven’t learned anything) 0.423 0.592 0.808
about our forests as a result of tourism development
Because of my relationship with tourism, I now 0.905 0.854
get along (better/worse) with my neighbors
Because of my relationship with tourism, people respect 0.885 0.875
me (more/less) now
Varimax rotation. Only factor loading above 0.4 reported. PCA explained 61.1% of variance on the community sample, and
71.9% on the ecotourism sample. *Only common components between samples were further analyzed to allow for
comparative discussion between samples. Thus, statements with an (*) were excluded from further analyses and from
the overall empowerment scales. They were not used in the regressions of Table 2. Cronbach’s Alpha: component 1:
0.79, component 2: 0.68, component 3: 0.68, component 4: 0.59, and component 5: 0.82.

predominantly women. One in twenty respondents in S1 (4.8%) reported having high

personal incomes while in S2 that number was 10.4%. While 16% of respondents in S1
indicated that ecotourism had a very positive impact in their lives, 49.4% of respondents
in S2 indicated that.

Overall Empowerment Models

Community model 6 (CM 6 in Table 2) uses overall empowerment as the dependent
variable and shows that each social capital measure makes a significant contribution, even
after controlling for demographic characteristics. Considering that the overall
empowerment scale includes both instrumental and expressive outcomes, it is not
surprising to see that access to strong and weak ties is associated with higher levels of
overall empowerment. The more CSC and SSC villagers have access to, the more
Table 2. Sequential (or hierarchical) multiple regression results for each sample using three forced entry bocks.3
Dependent variables from empowerment components that emerged in the PCA
Forest protection and tourism
S1: Community Decision-making access Socioeconomics satisfaction Having a voice Social credentials Overall empowerment
sample CM 1 CM 2 CM 3†u CM 4 CM 5† CM 6
Gender 0.189** 0.202*** 0.148** 0.089 0.094 0.027 0.114 (*) 0.054 0.06 0.299*** 0.336*** 0.292*** 0.178** 0.191** 0.112 0.235*** 0.243*** 0.167**
Ethnicity 0.411*** 0.341*** 0.3*** 0.356*** 0.298** 0.249*** 0.168* 0.118* 0.12* 0.231*** 0.202** 0.171** 0.185** 0.157* 0.1 0.432*** 0.358*** 0.3***
Community 0.134* −0.012 −0.01 0.217*** 0.084 0.09 0.283*** 0.164** 0.161** 0.064 0.019 0.02 0.057 −0.007 0.001 0.224*** 0.065 0.066
Education −0.029 0.013 −0.015 −0.011 0.018 −0.021 −0.116 (*) −0.047 −0.032 0.054 0.054 0.026 0.022 0.025 −0.024 −0.026 0.014 −0.023
Age 0.042 0.068 0.061 −0.055 −0.053 −0.068 −0.138* −0.067 −0.072 0.208** 0.197** 0.193** −0.02 −0.035 −0.05 −0.013 0.008 −0.002
Trust 0.298*** 0.293*** 0.304** 0.29*** 0.11 (*) 0.097 0.149* 0.15* 0.187** 0.177* 0.337*** 0.328***
Reciprocity 0.145** 0.136** 0.094 (*) 0.082 0.404*** 0.405*** −0.082 −0.087 −0.013 −0.027 0.164** 0.151**
Collaboration 0.201*** 0.185*** 0.066 0.047 0.056 0.052 0.143* 0.13* −0.002 −0.023 0.15** 0.125**
Strong ties 0.156** 0.212*** 0.047 0.111 (*) 0.223** 0.231***
Weak ties 0.08 0.074 −0.148** 0.105 (*) 0.142* 0.085 (*)
R2 0.243 0.406 0.431 0.214 0.314 0.354 0.132 0.314 0.337 0.202 0.246 0.265 0.077 0.104 0.16 0.32 0.492 0.539
Adjusted R2 0.228*** 0.387*** 0.407*** 0.197*** 0.292*** 0.327*** 0.114*** 0.292*** 0.31*** 0.185*** 0.22*** 0.233*** 0.058** 0.075** 0.125*** 0.307*** 0.475*** 0.52***
R2 change 0.243*** 0.163*** 0.024** 0.214*** 0.101*** 0.04** 0.132*** 0.182*** 0.023* 0.202*** 0.044** 0.019 (*) 0.077** 0.027 (*) 0.056*** 0.32*** 0.171*** 0.048***
n 254 251 254 247 251 254
S2: Ecotourism Decision-making access Socio economics Forest protection and tourism Having a voice Social credentials Overall empowerment
sample satisfaction
EM 1 EM 2 EM 3†u EM 4 EM 5† EM 6
Gender 0.352** 0.293** 0.265** 0.198 (*) 0.115 0.108 N/A 0.166 (*) 0.186 (*) 0.166 0.216 (*) 0.197 (*) 0.136 0.342** 0.271** 0.234*
Ethnicity 0.222* 0.244** 0.205* 0.103 0.129 0.127 0.131 0.129 0.092 0.162 0.169 0.1 0.23* 0.255** 0.206*
Community −0.01 −0.008 −0.038 −0.004 −0.005 −0.002 −0.041 −0.026 −0.058 0.08 0.088 0.029 −0.017 −0.017 −0.056
Education 0.117 0.078 0.049 0.01 −0.03 −0.02 0.206* 0.201 (*) 0.164 −0.046 −0.059 −0.107 0.119 0.076 0.04
Age 0.26* 0.185 0.217* −0.166 −0.261* −0.26* 0.493*** 0.477*** 0.506*** 0.045 −0.023 0.044 0.217* 0.128 0.169 (*)
Trust 0.253* 0.241* 0.311** 0.307** 0.017 0.008 0.203 (*) 0.17 0.302** 0.285**
Reciprocity 0.11 0.068 0.191 (*) 0.17 −0.061 −0.085 0.031 −0.067 0.137 0.078
Collaboration 0.225* 0.221* 0.113 0.105 0.198* 0.203* 0.12 0.098 0.221* 0.215*
Strong ties 0.151 0.029 0.124 0.299 (*) 0.2 (*)
Weak ties 0.025 −0.086 0.102 −0.026 0.016
R2 0.25 0.397 0.412 0.083 0.257 0.264 0.296 0.339 0.357 0.077 0.135 0.193 0.231 0.416 0.442
Adjusted R2 0.203*** 0.334*** 0.333*** 0.025 0.178** 0.165** 0.251*** 0.268*** 0.269*** 0.017 0.042 0.082 (*) 0.182** 0.354*** 0.366***
R2 change 0.25*** 0.147** 0.015 0.083 0.174** 0.008 0.296*** 0.043 0.018 0.077 0.058 0.058 (*) 0.231** 0.185*** 0.026
n 85 85 84 84 85
Standardized betas shown. CSC, cognitive social capital variables; SSC, structural social capital variables. (*) p < 0.1,*p < 0.05;**p < 0.01;***p < 0.001; Gender (f ¼ 0); Ethnicity (nonlocal
ethnicity ¼ 0); Cronbach’s alpha: Trust scale 0.782, Reciprocity scale 0.532, Collaboration scale 0.614, Overall empowerment scale 0.814. †Model in violation of the assumption of normality
of residuals. uModels run with the ecotourism sample show moderate heteroscedasticity. N/A: Reponses from the dependent variable in model EM 4 did not vary enough to run the
regressions—thus it will not be discussed.


empowered they are. These results are consistent with the hypotheses. To infer causality,
we draw from prior studies (Nath, Inoue, and Pretty 2010; Floress, Prokopy, and Allred
2011; Constantino et al. 2012) suggesting that trust, reciprocity, collaboration, and
discussion networks enable individual empowerment. However, it is important to note that
the cross-sectional nature of this study precludes any definitive conclusion about the
direction of the social capital–empowerment relationship. Given the evidence of the likely
reinforcing nature of these relationships (Moye, Henkin, and Egley 2005; Wagner and
Fernandez-Gimenez 2008; Tindall, Cormier, and Diani 2012), we assume that those
reinforcements are also taking place in the present context.
The sequential regression models permit the identification of the relative importance
of tie strength for individuals, even after controlling for cognitive elements: SSC
significantly contributes to overall empowerment after controlling for CSC aspects—or
collective goods—which supports Lin’s (2001) perspective of social capital in that these
are separate but related constructs. Likewise, these results support Lin’s contention that
it is within a context of trust, reciprocity, and collaboration that mobilized social
resources (e.g., status, power, and wealth) can be accessed through social networks to
benefit individuals.

Empowerment Disaggregated
An overall empowerment measure may obscure important relationships between social
capital and specific empowerment dimensions. PCA revealed five components common
to both samples accounting for 14 of the 17 empowerment variables. The first component
relates to decision-making access and involvement, including access to knowledge and
information (Table 1) and seems closely related to political empowerment (Scheyvens
2002). The second component relates to socioeconomic opportunities (i.e., individuals’
ability to gain control over their life and future). Component 3 is strongly associated with
increasing respondents’ satisfaction with tourism in their villages and with the protection
of their forest, which relates to individuals’ critical awareness of their environment
(Zimmerman 2000). The fourth component relates to active political engagement and
efficacy in decision-making, such as speaking at meetings. Although conceptually close
to component one, component four relates to the behavioral aspect of political
empowerment. The fifth component is highly correlated with higher scores of social
credentials in the community which relates to interactional dimensions of empowerment
(Zimmerman 2000).
In Table 2, the sequential regression models for each empowerment subscale (models
1–5) indicate that different social capital measures have different effects on empowerment
outcomes. Discussing the effects of each of the significant variables in all models is beyond
the scope of this paper, but some key significant differences are discussed below
highlighting the importance of disaggregated examinations of SSC and CSC in relation
to empowerment dimensions. While CSC and SSC variables have significant effects on
empowerment subscales, the configurations differ depending on the empowerment
subscale analyzed. This is particularly evident in S1 models (CM 1–5): For instance,
reciprocity and collaboration measures do not seem to contribute to higher levels of
empowerment as consistently as trust does across these models; model CM 3 is the
exception, where the higher the reciprocal predisposition of respondents is, the higher is

their satisfaction with tourism and interest in forest protection. A similar correlation has
been reported by Matous (2015) where a lack of reciprocal relationships in Sumatra
communities has been associated with a lack of soil conservation efforts supporting the
idea that positive environmental outcomes in CBNRM are influenced by reciprocal
altruism and long term obligations (Plummer and Fennell 2007). With regard to trust,
results in the disaggregated empowerment models from S1 seem to support prior claims
of its particular importance for political empowerment and socioeconomic outcomes
(Constantino et al. 2012).
As for SSC, the number of strong ties seems to have a more consistent effect across
models. Empowerment scales arising from the PCA are made up of a combination of
instrumental and expressive empowering outcomes. Yet, one could argue that the
empowering outcomes of “increased access to decision-making” and “increased
socioeconomic status” are clearly instrumental outcomes. If this is true, then weak ties
ought to have been significant predictors of these two empowerment outcomes (CM 1
and 2) as per Granovetter’s (1973) theoretical propositions. Given the cultural context
of Ghana and the relatively isolated location of these rural communities, we posit that
access to social capital through strong ties may provide sufficient access to resources
that result in instrumental empowerment outcomes—especially if individuals trust
the ecotourism project and management. Much has been written about significant
kinship ties among Ghanaians; given that definitions of kinship extend beyond the
immediate nuclear family to include multiple clans and marital linkages (Woode
1999; Nukunya 2003), strong ties seem to be critical for the mobilization of resources.
Similar claims have been made elsewhere in this regard, such as job attainment in
China, which tend to be mediated through strong ties (Lin and Erickson 2010). Weak
ties instead were positively associated with higher social credentials and a stronger voice
at meetings (CM 4 and 5) and correlated in unpredicted ways with one’s “satisfaction
with tourist visits and forest conservation.” The different significant correlations found
between social capital components in relation to the specific empowerment models of
Table 2 reinforce the importance of unpacking these concepts in CBE to understand the
possible different social capital contributions (Speer, Jackson, and Peterson 2001) and
elucidate interventions accordingly.

General Community Sample Versus the Ecotourism Sample

Echoing results in Hunt and Stronza (2014), the respondents most involved in CBE
(i.e., S2) offered the harshest and most detailed critiques regarding the functioning of
the ecotourism project – likely due to their familiarity with it. At the same time, they
reported the highest levels of empowerment and social capital2. However, in S2, social
capital seems to be less useful compared to S1 for overall empowerment and for the
disaggregated empowerment components. While all social capital predictors are significant
in CM 6, trust, collaboration, and the number of strong ties are the only variables
associated with higher levels of overall empowerment in EM 6. In models EM 1–5, this
relationship is less clear—particularly with regard to SSC. Although S2 respondents
reported having more strong and weak ties than regular community members, these ties
do not seem to be as useful for empowering residents who provide direct services to
tourists. This reinforces the idea that the kinds of social assets that enable empowerment

are context dependent (Ballet et al. 2007; Lin and Erickson 2010); in this case, they seem to
be dependent upon the villager’s involvement in ecotourism. For instance, other network
measures not captured in this study such as diversity of advice networks, ties to elite
community members or ties to outsiders – often referred to as ‘bridging’ and ‘linking’
(Pretty 2003; Hunt, Durham, and Menke 2015) – may play a stronger role at empowering
those involved in ecotourism than the discussion networks measured (Wagner and
Fernandez-Gimenez 2008; Isaac et al. 2007). As Lin and Erickson (2010) have noted,
individuals connected to respondents in alter-native and unstudied ways may be potential
sources of useful resources, but their potential 390 contributions remain unknown.
Arguably, those most involved in ecotourism occupy higher status positions within the
ecotourism social structure than noninvolved residents, and likely access empowerment
through other networks.
Thus, the relationship between social capital and empowerment seems less apparent
among residents who are more involved in ecotourism. Even if their SSC assets are signifi-
cantly greater than those of the general community (in S1), this might not be as useful for
achieving higher levels of empowerment as they seem to be for the noninvolved. These
results do not negate the important role of social capital in ecotourism, which plays an
empowering role in the general community but rather emphasizes the importance of the

Inequities Revealed
No village effects were found except for model CM 3, where the satisfaction with tourism
and interest in forest protection in one of the villages are significantly higher after
accounting for social capital variables (Table 2). Regarding social inequities, Table 2
shows that women, nonlocals, and younger villagers tend to be significantly less
empowered than their counterparts, particularly when it comes to decision-making in
tourism matters (see models 1 and 4). This is consistent with research that claims that
sociodemographic characteristics make clear axes of differentiation when it comes to
understanding empowerment inequities in CBNRM and CBE (Agrawal and Gibson
2001; Silvey and Elmhirst 2003; Duffy 2006). Bitterness arising from ecotourism outcome
inequalities along ethnic lines was reported in the villages by some respondents. Given
that nonlocals have not been involved in ecotourism decision-making since the initiation
of the project, chances are that tensions may increase. Similar participatory exclusions
have brought tensions and divisions in other contexts (Blaikie 2006; Key and Pillai
2006; Ballet et al. 2007). In S2, age emerged as a significant predictor of empowerment,
especially with regard to speaking in meetings (EM 5 Table 2). Given that most respon-
dents from S2 were local males, this suggests that overall, older local males are the most
empowered cohort, reproducing the patriarchal structures and local elites scenarios noted
elsewhere (Kabeer 2005; Platteau and Gaspart 2003; Belsky 1999). Unequal access to
social capital is seen to begin at birth with culturally constructed structures of status
relations (Lin and Erickson 2010) which, when understudied in development interven-
tions, may reinforce a hierarchy of privilege in relation to empowerment along gender,
ethnicity, or other lines of privilege (Molyneux 2002; Ballet et al. 2007; Wagner and
Fernandez-Gimenez 2008). As gender and ethnic roles in rural Ghana are rooted in
cultural beliefs and traditions, results in this study call for further ethnographic

investigation of the political ecologies of these categories as they relate to networks, social
capital, and empowerment in CBE in Ghana.

Conclusion and Implications

Despite the mostly quantitative focus of the analyses and the limited generalizability of
these results for communities, other than the ones studied, results suggest that investigating
the relationships between disaggregated SSC and CSC components and a diverse set of
empowering outcomes, while considering different cohorts, enhances previous understand-
ing of the complexities in the study of social capital in CBNRM. Although results generally
support previous research, as individuals with higher access to social capital generally show
higher levels of empowerment than individuals with less social capital, results also indicate
that empowerment and social capital are multifaceted constructs and that CSC and SSC
may play different roles in relation to empowerment dimensions according to the subpo-
pulations under study. The analytical approach presented provides a wealth of information
that can be used to design—along with further ethnographic data—social capital interven-
tions to further CBNRM and CBE goals (e.g., discerning during an intervention whether to
focus on increasing trust through transparency or increasing networking opportunities
among community members).
Previous research has proposed interventions to increase social capital access through
the promotion of trust, reciprocity, collaboration, and network exchanges to increase
community benefits from CBNRM (Pretty and Smith 2004; Crona et al. 2011). But our
results suggest that generalized measures may fail to describe important differences and
local realities and result in the deployment of ill-advised development mechanisms that
further disempower minorities.
While our goal in this paper is not to discern how interventions should take place in
these two communities, we suggest that an important starting point might be to identify
key cohorts and well-connected and trusted individuals within, drawing on ethnographic
and historical data, to discuss current decision-making spaces as well as empowerment
opportunities and challenges from ecotourism. For those more involved in ecotourism,
we recommend prior to an intervention exploration of specific networks (e.g., advice net-
works, elite networks), aside from general discussion networks, which may be potentially
more effective at accessing empowering social resources (e.g., status, power, and wealth).
Given the noted participatory exclusions, it is advisable to identify the existing meeting
spaces of marginalized groups. Specific social capital interventions should then be devised
for each group according to the kinds of empowerment they seek. At this juncture, it is
important to consider the idea of purposeful versus accidental social capital. That is, some
people purposely invest in social capital and actively try to create ties for instrumental
reasons; but, social ties can be a by-product of other processes. The production of social ties
is patterned, and some people have more than others, yet this “accidental” social capital can
still be an important resource for individual and collective aims (Feld 1981). Thus, social
capital interventions ought to be rooted in an understanding of the existing local networks
and planned toward the mobilization of social ties that reduce rather than increase
empowerment inequalities. We posit that drawing on already established meeting spaces
in the community (e.g., churches, microfinancing groups, youth cultural groups, communal
labor groups) (Cornwall 2004) to discuss ecotourism benefits and challenges may build trust

and expand discussion networks to be used for individual and collective gains. Here it is
important to note that many community cohorts overlap in some of the abovementioned
groups (e.g., microfinancing groups often bring together local and nonlocal women). Those
intersections may bridge new information and collaboration ideas around the CBE project.

1. We refrain from citing the name of the communities to protect their identity.
2. Preliminary t-tests examining differences between samples regarding empowerment and social
capital variables show that people involved in ecotourism (S2) score higher than the community
at large (S1) by nearly all measures of social capital and empowerment. Exceptions to this include
the trust, reciprocity, and collaboration measures, where no significant differences between S1
and S2 were observed.
3. SE are available upon request.

The authors would like to thank the local communities for their engagement and participation in this

This work was supported by a SSHRC Insight Development (430-2012-0158, UBC BREB H10-
02499), various grants from the University of British Columbia and the UBC Public Scholar

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