We study the macroscopic mechanical behavior of materials with microscopic holes or hard inclusions. Specifically, we deal with the effective elastic moduli of composites whose microgeometry consists of either soft or hard isolated inclusions surrounded by an elastic matrix. We approach this problem by taking the stiffness of the inclusion phase to be a complex variable, which we eventually evaluate at the soft or hard limits. Our main result states that there is a certain class of non-physical, negative-definite values of the elastic moduli of the inclusion phase for which the effective tensor does not have infinities or become otherwise singular. We present applications of this result to the estimation of effective moduli and to homogenization theorems. The first application involves using complexanalytic methods to obtain rigorous and accurate bounds on the effective moduli of the high-contrast composites under consideration. We also discuss the variational estimates of Rubenfeld & Keller, which yield a complementary set of bounds on these moduli. The best bounds are given by a combination of the analytical and variational results. As a second application, we show that certain known theorems of homogenization for materials with holes are simple consequences of our main result, and in this connection we establish corresponding new theorems for materials with hard inclusions. While our rederivation of the homogenization theorems for materials with holes can be closely related to other known constructions, it appears that certain elements provided by our main result are essential in the proof of homogenization for the hard-inclusion case.