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Negative social capital: State breakdown and social destitution in America's urban core

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Abstract

Pierre Bourdieu's concept of social capital is developed and deployed to highlight the major cause of the continued degradation of social conditions and life chances in the black American ghetto: the erosion of “state social capital”, that is, the formal organizations presumed to provide civic goods and services (physical safety, legal protection, welfare, education, housing, and health care). These institutions have turned into instruments of surveillance, suspicion, and exclusion rather than vehicles of social integration and trust-building. Together with the withdrawal of the wage-labor economy in the context of extreme racial segregation, their debilitation has accelerated the shrinking of the ghetto's indigenous organizational basis and helped concentrate in it the most dispossessed segments of the urban (sub)proletariat. This suggests that state structures and policies play a decisive role in the formation and distribution of both formal and informal social capital.

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Loïc J. D. Wacquant is Researcher at the Center for European Sociology of the College de France and an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of California. His interests include comparative urban marginality, racial domination, culture and economy, the uses of carceral institutions in the government of misery in advanced society, and social theory. In 1998–99, he will be a Fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin.

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Wacquant, L.J.D. Negative social capital: State breakdown and social destitution in America's urban core. Neth J of Housing and the Built Environment 13, 25–40 (1998). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02496932

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