This article raises the question of the constitution of rural society in postsocialist countries, and explores the possibilities of participatory approaches in rural development and resource management in face of given social conditions in the local context. The unifying scientific "idea" is currently associated with the concept of social capital. The ability to form social capital can be seen as a central prerequisite both for economic development and the protection of resources (that is, for sustainable development). An important element of this concept is the networking of the actors within the region and with external actors. As a result of historical development the network relations in the rural areas of East Germany have a specific structure. What is especially remarkable is the continuing dominant role of the representatives of the big agricultural enterprises in the important local network structures despite the obvious decline in the economic importance of these enterprises. The structures uncovered in the case studies can certainly be taken to reflect the reality of many local contexts. It is argued that, as far as the creation of the beginnings of participation in rural development and resource management are concerned, that if the peculiarities are ignored there is a danger that the existing network structures wills simply be strengthened through participatory development. Therefore, the important contributions of participatory approaches to the solution of concrete problems must be supplemented by the prospect of its social embedding in the context of rural development. At the same time it also became clear in the project that the success of developed attempts at problem solution can only be ensured if the higher political levels are prepared to devolve downwards.