A growing body of scholars in natural resources management have called for the examination of the roles of social capital and social networks in the effective maintenance of community-based projects. Yet, the role of social capital in collective action cannot be effectively understood without studying agency. The goal of this study is to examine how agents’ individual characteristics and their structural social capital, along with broader cognitive social capital elements, shape possibilities for empowerment at the community level. Drawing from an embedded comparative case study of two community-based ecotourism projects in Ghana, we employed a mixed-methods approach combining Lin’s social capital model and Krishna’s agency model to identify and characterize legitimate agents of change in each community, as well as to evaluate the structure of their discussion and nomination networks (i.e., structural social capital). Differences between communities in the network structure of agents, as well as in their types and levels of engagement, resourcefulness, visions and perceptions of socio-ecological context, exposed key barriers to social capital mobilization. Overall, our results indicate that greater community empowerment is reported where greater community trust and a greater cohesiveness of agents with access to external resources are reported. Altogether, this study adds to past efforts in illustrating how a mixed-methods examination of change agents in a CBNRM setting can surface internal opportunities for and constraints on social capital mobilization toward community empowerment.

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