Social capital and migration: Beyond ethnic economies

Ethnicities, 3(1), 29–58 (2003) .


Intercultural traffic and mingling have been vital to economic innovation past and present — witness the role of travellers, migrants and diasporas as cultural brokers. While intercultural exchange is a prominent theme in cultural studies, studies of ethnicity have often been more occupied by group boundaries and antagonisms than by cross-group relations. In discussions of social capital, a central notion has been the ethnic economy. Here this notion is examined and rejected because it refers to national origin rather than ethnicity, and diverts attention from social and economic relations across cultural differences and boundaries. While immigrant groups may play a large part in national and transnational enterprise — formal and informal — this is not conceivable without considerable and extensive cross-cultural relations. This article also considers cross-cultural and interethnic enterprise from a long-term perspective and with a view to policy. The shift of emphasis to cross-cultural enterprise means taking into account the various types of social capital — bonding, bridging and linking social capital — within and across cultural boundaries.

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