Social capital and migration: Beyond ethnic economies
J. N. Pieterse
Full text: http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1468796803003001785
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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Jan Nederveen Pieterse challenges the mainstream frameworks in the study of social capital, emphasizing that cross-cultural interactions transgress the conventional borders of bonding /bridging ties. Too often, though, studies of ethnicity and social capital have focused on animosities, instead of looking (constructively) at cross-group relations, Pieterse notes. The concepts of ‘ethnic social capital’ and ‘ethnic economy’ need reinvention, as they remain rooted in an Orientalist paradigm that equates ethnicity to foreigness, but “a particular kind of foreigness”, and deemscertain nationalities “more ethnic” than others (see Pieterse 2007). Analyses of bonding or bridging ties lack substance in absence of a look at intra- or cross- group economic interactions, and the article provides many examples in this sense – from the Ghanian informal business enterprise in Europe, North America and Asia, to the dynamic presence of Vietnamese enterprise in the Latino shopping centre Tropicana in East San Jose, or to the migration of Korean workforce to Japan.
As in his other works, Pieterse elegantly works with cultural references. He offers a captivating, yet informative, reading, without overwhelming the audience or diverting from the main point of the article. His examples dismantle cultural prejudice and emphasize the catalyzing potential of group enterprise. It may be argued that Pieterse shifts too radically from a stereotype-informed view of ethnicity to an optimistic perspective that leaves aside all intra- or cross group-tensions. Notwithstanding this inclination towards ‘giving the good news’, Pieterse’s article is a key reading for anybody interested in the interplay between social capital and multiculturalism (or preferably “interculturalism”).