Objectives. This microqualitative case study of a community-based peer education program led by sex workers at a South African mine examined the role of grassroots participation in sexual health promotion. Methods. The study involved in-depth interviews with 30 members of the target community. The interviews were analyzed in terms of social capital, empowerment, and identity. Results. The study yielded a detailed analysis of the way in which community dynamics have shaped the peer education program's development in a deprived, violent community where existing norms and networks are inconsistent with ideal criteria for participatory health promotion. Conclusions. Much remains to be learned about the complexities of translating theoretically and politically vital notions of “community participation” into practice among hard-to-reach groups. The fabric of local community life is shaped by nonlocal structural conditions of poverty and sexual inequality in ways that challenge those seeking to theorize the role of social capital in community development in general and in sexual health promotion in particular
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