Based on empirical research in case study areas in six European countries, this paper examines the roles of social capital and identity in contemporary rural development. We argue that a focus on networks of social relationships can help us understand the dynamics of and relationships between social capital and identity. Comparing the case study areas, we draw attention to the position of identity in rural development and focus in particular on area-branding initiatives. Other non-agricultural networks are then presented, prefaced by a brief discussion of the role of governance. We argue that development emerges from a dialectic of existing networking practices and networks that are instigated for the purposes of development. Our research underlines the importance of social process in rural development, particularly in regard to the relationship between continuity and change.