Migrant networks and beyond: Exploring the value of the notion of social capital for making sense of ethnic inequalities
AbstractThis article is concerned with use of the notion of social capital in research into the position and experience of migrants, in particular with regard to the question of inequalities. I start by outlining some key perspectives and debates in the literature on social capital, and argue in favour of Bourdieu’s conceptualization. Here, what defines economic, social, cultural and symbolic resources as ‘capital’, in particular, essentially lies in their convertibility into other resources with the effect of securing advantage or overcoming disadvantage. I then go on to illustrate the argument by drawing on a number of biographical interviews with refugees in Sweden – looking first at the functions played by co-ethnic networks in their accounts, and supporting the argument that many of those functions are not usefully conceptualized in terms of social capital. Second, I suggest that if we are concerned to apply Bourdieu’s conceptualization of social capital to make sense of the position and experience of migrants generally and with regard to inequalities particularly, we need to look beyond intra-ethnic/migrant networks and consider how these are situated in a wider social context and in relation to other social networks. Here, I look at the extent to which my interviewees have emphasized the importance of links to the majority population, and consider the obstacles they have encountered in creating such links. Finally, I highlight that the emphasis Bourdieu puts on power and resource differentials in defining social networks and resources in terms of ‘capital’ also remains important when considering minority–majority relations.