Social capital and economic outcomes for immigrants and ethnic minorities

  • Peter S. Li


The ambiguities of “social capital” can be clarified by reformulating it as a group-based resource derived from social relations, the effectiveness of which is contingent upon the extensity and intensity of social ties and the group’s resources, and the creation of which may involve a potential cost to an individual. This paper reviews the literature on immigrants and ethnic minorities to see how ethnic attachment as a form of social capital has affected the economic well-being of immigrants and minorities, and refines the concept of social capital. Studies of “ethnic attachment” and of the “ethnic mobility trap” have stressed the “penalty” of ethnic ties and affinity. However, studies on the ethnic enclave economy and transnational communities have attributed the prosperity of the enclave economy and the economic success of some ethnic diasporas to ethnic networks. The paper concludes that social capital can be enabling for individuals and groups, subject to the level of other forms of capital present. But social capital cannot replace other forms of capital to produce unrealistic outcomes beyond the material limits of its contextual boundaries. Thus, social capital is a useful concept, not as a universal virtue, but as a situation-based capacity bounded in specific social and class contexts.

Key words

Social capital Immigrants Ethnic minorities Ethnic attachment Ethnicties Ethnic affinity 


Les ambiguïtés du capital social peuvent être clarifiées en le reformulant en tant que source dérivée des relations sociales dont l’efficacité dépend de l’extensité et l’intensité des liens sociaux et des ressources du groupe et dont la création peut entraîner un coût potentiel pour un individu. D’une part, cet article propose une critique de la littérature sur les immigrants et les minorités ethniques afin de voir comment l’attachement ethnique en thant que forme de capital social, a touché le bien-être des immigrants et des minorités; et d’autre part, l’article cherche à raffiner le concept de capital social. Des études portant sur l’attachement et le piège de la mobilité ethnique ont accentué la “pénalisation” associée aux liens ethniques. Cependant, les études sur l’écononie de l’enclave ethnique et les communautés transnationales ont attribué à des réseaux ethniques la prospérité et le succès économique de certaines diasporas. Cet article en conclut que le capital social peut représenter une capacité habilitante pour les individus et les groupes, selon le niveau des autres fornes de capital social présent. Mais le capital social ne peut pas remplacer d’autres formes de capital pour donner des résultats irréalisables au-delà des limites matérielles de ses frontières contextuelles. Le capital social est un concept utile, non pas en tant que vertu universelle, mais comme situation de base encadrée dans un contexte spécifique de classes sociales.


Capital social Minorités ethniques Attachement ethnique liens ethniques Affinité ethnique 


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Copyright information

© Springer SBM 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter S. Li
    • 1
  1. 1.University of SaskatchewanCanada

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