basis of people’s inclusion in their territory. Locally-based communities organise social welfare for the needy by mobilising the economic and relational resources of their family and/or local environment. The existence of such roots is the key to understanding how people survive in societies where poverty is often dire and widespread.
The traditions and characteristic features of each people take on their fullest importance in local support networks. In this context, policies to fight poverty must show maximum flexibility in project implementation. In Haiti, for example, voodoo is to a large extent a form of social cement, whereas in Senegal this role is played by brotherhoods or ethnic groups and in Latin America it would probably be assumed by the parishes of the Catholic Church and by networks based on cronyism. In some Brazilian cities a considerable incidence of Macumba/Catholicism syncretism would be observed.
In the suburbs of Dakar we observed that the ground-rules of community life prevented women’s groups from playing a full part in the development process. These groups, which are part of a process of circulation and co-operation based on a tradition of tontines
self-help funds administered by women notables -- pursue a variety of economic
activities which are incompatible with the accumulation process which is indispensable for integration into the market. Sooner or later all the funds injected by development projects disappear into the maze of grassroots support networks.
To turn to another point, we observed that, in Port-au-Prince, neighbourhood associations have begun to keep order in the neighbourhood, overtly taking over from the legal system and the police. This development is to a large extent a response to the non-existence of the State (the current situation of Haitian society) but the fact remains that this use of power could well become totalitarian, as has often occurred. It has been observed on many occasions that neighbourhood organizations can exercise power over inhabitants in a manifestly arbitrary way. This is often imperceptible to an outside observer. In some neighbourhoods of the Argentine capital, for example, we have observed forms of community control that were often incompatible with individual freedom in its most basic form5. These observations must be borne in mind in order to avoid pitfalls linked to an excessively simplistic image of neighbourhood associations6.
5 Observation of this type of phenomenon requires a long-term or ethnographic approach. That said, similar observations have often been made elsewhere in poor neighbourhoods. Mafia-type organizations have often taken refuge in such forms of social control, as in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. However, the explanation for the involvement of individuals in such organizations is sociological rather than moral. Studies of the USA in the 1930s have shown that, in the absence of any other support mechanism, joining the Mafia was a way of surviving and acquiring prestige in the neighbourhood.
6 Any reading in terms of “modernity versus tradition” should be avoided. Local inclusion is sometimes the result of support from a traditional type of sociability (the ethnic group in Africa, for example) but not always (traditionalism has hardly any weight in many countries, e.g. Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, and is crumbling in the large cities). The main characteristic of these forms of inclusion is the local basis of networks and support.