This chapter presents an overview of how migrant networks have been researched and theorised. In so doing, we highlight some persistent gaps in knowledge about how migrants, and their descendants, forge networks and generate particular kinds of resources, especially in accessing the labour market and developing careers, and we explain how the chapters of this book tackle these issues. By looking not only at migrants but also at the second generation, we reflect on opportunities, but also enduring inequalities, and the ways in which networks may be mobilised to support employment strategies across different sectors and in different European countries.
The chapter discusses the importance of disentangling social capital and social networks. Relatedly, we discuss the need to look beyond the ethnic lens and simple binaries of ‘bonding’ versus ‘bridging’ capital, to explore how ties to different kinds of actors, in varied social positions, may facilitate or indeed hinder career development. Referring to new empirical data and theoretically informed analysis, in the various chapters of this book, we build upon but also complicate understanding of ‘weak’ and ‘strong’ ties, not as fixed ties, but rather as a continuum of dynamic relationships that may ebb and flow over time.
In the concluding section, we highlight the contribution of this book and also consider the need for further cross-fertilisation of conceptual and empirical innovations beyond migration studies to avoid a silo-effect in social network research.
- Migrant networks
- Strong ties
- Weak ties
- Social capital
- Second generation
- Ethnic lens
There is a long tradition of research into the significance of personal networks in finding jobs (Granovetter, 1973). Surveys such as the EU Labour Force Survey regularly confirm the great importance of relatives, friends and acquaintances (including present and former colleagues) in entering the labour market (Kogan & Müller, 2003; Smith, 2005; Bachmann & Baumgarten, 2013). There is also a consolidated body of research on the significance of networks for promotion and careers within organizations (Burt, 2002; Podolny & Baron, 1997; Palgi & Moore, 2004).
Turning to the field of migration studies, references to social networks have been common – almost standard – over the last 50 years, at least from when Charles Tilly (1974) took up the article on ‘chain migration’, ethnic neighbourhood formation and social networks published by John and Leatrice MacDonald (1964) in a journal little read by social scientists. And there have been enormously valuable contributions to our knowledge of how migrants make the decision to migrate, how they manage to locate a job in an unfamiliar labour market, why there are clusters of migrants from particular places of emigration in particular destinations of immigration, including specific occupations and even workplaces. To say this research is important is an understatement: it is at the heart of migration studies.
Indeed, research on migrant networks has grown considerably in recent years (Bakewell et al., 2016; Bilecen et al., 2018; Lubbers et al., 2020a; Ryan et al., 2015), so at first sight, it might seem there is little need for another volume. However, we argue that research has examined some aspects of networks more than others; and that some of the work on migrants’ networks has simplified them. With regard to the first question of partial coverage, there is relatively little on the children or descendants of migrants (Boyd & Nowak, 2012: 88). Although there is evidence to suggest that networks may be a factor in explaining inequalities in the labour market (Crul et al., 2017; Lancee, 2012; Behtoui, 2008), the significance of networks for access to work and occupational trajectories of migrants and their descendants is in many ways unclear (Brinbaum & Lutz, 2017; Behtoui & Olsson, 2014). In addition, there remain gaps in our knowledge of where social ties are formed and the ways in which they are used to find particular kinds of jobs and build careers (Keskiner & Crul, 2017; Eve, 2002; Ryan, 2016). The chapters in this book engage with these issues and add new research and insights.
Furthermore, many questions remain about the dynamism of networks as relationships ebb and flow over time. To what extent do the contents of migrant networks change with years spent in the destination society? There have been calls for more work on the temporal dynamics of migrant networks (Ryan & D’Angelo, 2018; Lubbers et al., 2020a). Questions also remain about the extent to which highly skilled migrants rely on networks to find jobs, advance their careers and build a life in new places (Plöger & Becker, 2015; Povrzanović Frykman & Mozetič, 2020; Ryan & Mulholland, 2014). The varied relevance of networks across different occupational sectors also merits further attention (Keskiner & Crul, 2017; Toma, 2016). The extent to which interpersonal networks remain important in the age of the internet, especially in accessing the labour market, also deserves more analysis (Thulin & Vilhelmson, 2016; Dekker et al., 2016). This book, drawing on quantitative and qualitative data from different countries, and across varied employment sectors, contributes new knowledge to address these questions.
Much existing migration research, especially on migrant networks, tends to focus on specific countries or particular ethnic groups. This book draws on empirical data from different countries; France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland and UK, as well as different waves and generations of migrants. In so doing, this collection facilitates conversations about similarities and differences across and between diverse contexts and hence avoids assertions about ‘migrants’ as a generic category. The research in this book focuses on experiences and strategies, mainly in destination societies, of migrants and their descendants. Of course, following the transnational turn in migration studies in the 1990s, we are mindful that migrants have connections that span national borders. Indeed several chapters in this volume acknowledge the role of transnational ties. Some participants mobilised resources in transnational networks to support their job or business-making prospects. Nevertheless, while being mindful of the relevance of transnational connections, in analysing how migrants and their descendants navigate local labour markets and negotiate specific opportunities and obstacles in accessing employment and building careers, our focus is primarily on the particular contexts where migrants and their descendants live and work. In so doing, this book offers deeper insights into the content, structure, meaning and dynamism of migrants’ networks within destination societies.
Our focus is mainly on migrants who have become long term residents in destination societies, including over several generations. Nonetheless, we do also include research with recently arrived migrants, such as intra-EU migrants, and those with uncertain or temporary migration plans. In these cases, we show how social networks can play a key role in supporting but also changing migration projects over time. Moreover, the book also engages with studies on internal migrants and considers how research on international migration and internal mobility could cross-fertilise.
Of course, we are not implying that networks alone can explain how migrants, and their descendants, navigate opportunities and obstacles within the destination society. Networks of relationships are located within wider structural contexts framed by political agendas, economic policies and social attitudes. Research evidences the prevalence and persistence of racism and anti-immigration policies across Europe (Yuval-Davis et al., 2019; Sayyid, 2017; Nowicka, 2018; De Genova, 2016) framing the particular institutional contexts and everyday encounters that migrants have to negotiate (Harris & Valentine, 2016). Nonetheless, as the chapters in this book demonstrate, networks may be a vehicle through which migrants’ act to resist and overcome such obstacles. As discussed by many authors in this collection, mobilising resources through interpersonal ties may enhance the job opportunities of migrants, and their descendants, in ways that overcome structural inequality. However, we do not suggest that networks are necessarily positive, supportive and empowering. This book will also highlight the negative aspects of networks (Portes, 1998; Cranford, 2005; Schapendonk, 2020; D’Angelo, 2021). On the one hand, networks can be potentially limiting, for example by channelling migrants into low paid, dead end jobs. On the other hand, networks may also function as closed, restricted or elitist groups that operate in ways that limit access to valuable resources.
While each chapter presents specific data, this book is more than a collection of chapters, it aims to engage with overarching themes and, in so doing, seeks to make a substantial contribution to our understanding of how migrants, and their descendants, utilise networks to navigate diverse employment sectors across varied countries. In the rest of this introductory chapter we now discuss the key themes of the book and indicate how these are further developed in individual chapters. We highlight the importance of disentangling social capital and social networks by scrutinising the flow of particular resources between social ties. We then discuss the need to look beyond the ethnic lens and to explore how ties to different kinds of actors, in varied social positions, may facilitate labour market access and career progression. Relatedly, we then consider the role of social networks for highly skilled and professional occupations. Finally, we turn our attention to the second generation or descendants of migration and reflect on the opportunities, but also enduring inequalities, encountered in career progression across different sectors. In the concluding section we discuss the need for further cross-fertilisation of conceptual and empirical innovations beyond migration studies to avoid a silo-effect in social network research.
But first, we begin by discussing the benefits of delving into the conceptual and methodological toolbox of social network analysis.
1.2 Researching Social Networks
While there is a wide body of literature on migrant social networks, there is a tendency to use the term ‘network’ in broad and rather generalised ways focusing primarily on ties between the place of departure and the place of arrival. It is worth mentioning Douglas Massey’s (1988: 396; 1998: 42) definition of migration networks, since it is cited frequently in the literature: ‘Migrant networks are sets of interpersonal ties that connect migrants, former migrants, and non-migrants in origin and destination areas through ties of kinship, friendship and shared community origin’. But, as the chapters in this volume show, migrants’ networks are far from reducible to persons from the same place of origin, however important such ties may be in some circumstances and, even when such ties are prevalent, the underlying logic needs to be explained. There have been recent calls for migration scholars to probe more deeply into the content, meaning and structure of relationships between ties, as well as providing more scrutiny of the nature and extent of resources circulating between those ties (Ryan et al., 2015). In particular, it has been argued that much could be learned by bringing migration research into conversation with social network analysis (Ryan, 2007; Bilecen et al., 2018; Ryan & Dahinden, 2021).
Social Network research has a long pedigree among anthropologists and sociologists, as exemplified by the Manchester School (Barnes, 1969; Mitchell, 1969). A network lens has been important in enabling social scientists to overcome what James Coleman called ‘methodological individualism’ (1964). In other words, ‘individuals do not act randomly with respect to one another. They form attachments to certain persons, they group together in cliques, they establish institutions’ (Coleman, 1964: 88). This is especially relevant to migration studies. Beyond any simplistic assumptions about a migrant as an atomised ‘rational actor’ whose migration decision-making is informed by an evaluation of individual economic gain, a social networks approach enables researchers to analyse the complex and dynamic web of relationships that shape migration trajectories within prevailing structural contexts. However, in order to fully benefit from the potential offered by social network theories and methods, it is necessary for migration scholars to look beyond broad, generalised and often metaphorical use of the term (for a fuller discussion see Ryan & Dahinden, 2021).
Migration scholars rarely delve into the abundant toolbox of social network analysis (see Bilecen et al., 2018 for a discussion). In fact, despite the rich vein of social network literature, one of the most cited theorists among migrant network researchers is the American political scientist Robert Putnam. Although neither a migration scholar nor a social network analyst, Putnam has proven to be extremely influential among migration researchers (for a discussion see Erel, 2010). His conceptualisation of bonding (ties to people like me) versus bridging capital (ties to people unlike me) has been taken up by countless migration researchers and depicted as inward looking, co-ethnic ties – bonding – versus outward looking ties with natives – bridging (see for example, Nannestad et al., 2008; Lancee & Hartung, 2012).
However, the extent to which co-ethnic ties are necessarily a source of bonding capital, while ties to non-co-ethnics are a source of bridging capital, cannot be assumed. Such narrow dichotomous constructions limit our understanding of what is actually going on within networks (Geys & Murdoch, 2010). As argued elsewhere (Ryan et al., 2015), it is necessary to examine precisely the kinds of relationships and flow of resources between particular interpersonal ties.
In analysing the exchange of resources between types of ties, the work of Granovetter (1973) is especially important. His pioneering research differentiates between a weak and strong tie on the basis of: ‘a combination of the amount of time, the emotional intensity, the intimacy (mutual confiding) and the reciprocal services which characterise the tie’ (Granovetter, 1973: 1361). Strong ties involve more frequency, intensity and intimacy and, hence, include people who may be more motivated to help each other. However, moving in close circles, these strong ties are likely to share similar sorts of knowledge and information, for example about job opportunities. By contrast, ‘those to whom we are weakly tied are more likely to move in circles different from our own and will thus have access to information different from that which we receive’ (1973:1371). Thus, weak ties are important for ‘mobility opportunities’ (p. 1373). These individuals are likely to be ‘only marginally included in [our] current network of contacts’ and may include a former colleague or employer with whom we have only ‘sporadic contact’ (1973: 1371).
However, it is important to acknowledge that Granovetter was not writing about migrants and he did not define weak and strong ties through an ethnic lens. As Ryan has argued (2007, 2016), migration scholars should avoid imposing rather dichotomous ethnic constructions on Granovetter’s categories of social ties. As with the bridging/bonding distinction (Putnam, 2000), there is an assumed conflation with ethnicity; ties with co-ethnics assumed to be ‘strong’, generating bonding capital, ties with persons of a different national background being assumed to be ‘weak’ and connecting to a different social ambiance, generating bridging capital. However, as the chapters in this book show, adding to previously published evidence (e.g. Ryan, 2011), it certainly cannot be assumed that relationships with co-ethnics are strong, and this kind of conflation between tie strength and ethnicity is often misleading. This point is well illustrated in the chapter by Lang, Pott and Schneider comparing the legal and public administrative sectors in Germany. Because of the particular recruitment strategies and levels of bureaucratisation within these sectors, the chapter shows how strong and weak ties played important but distinct roles. For lawyers, for example, Lang et al. show how building up new clients may mean forging new weak ties that are both ‘cross-ethnic’ and ‘co-ethnic’. For those entering public administration jobs, by contrast, weak ties to co-ethnic role models, ‘trailblazers’, may be especially valuable in encouraging migrants, and their descendants, to apply to a sector where they have been significantly under-represented. Through this kind of detailed research, chapters in this book apply a more critical take on the conceptualizations of networks including ‘strong’ and ‘weak’ ties. Indeed, rather than a simple dichotomy, Ryan’s chapter argues for a continuum of dynamic relationships ranging from strong to weak with many shades in between.
Moreover, through rich qualitative and robust quantitative empirical data, the chapters also offer insights into the specific resources that migrants utilise in order to access particular kinds of jobs. These discussions help to develop nuanced understanding of the different kinds of resources being exchanged within networks beyond any generalised notion of social capital.
1.3 Social Networks and Social Capital
Within migrant research there is often an assumed conflation between social networks (relationships) and social capital (resources). The chapters in this book question any such taken for granted assumptions about how social capital may be realised through particular types of social ties (see, for example, chapter by Behtoui).
Rather than assuming the kinds of capital available in dense, co-ethnic networks, it is necessary to critically assess how interpersonal relationships may work in practice. As Portes (1998) and Cranford (2005) have observed in the USA, there may be a risk that over-reliance on migrant networks results in exploitation and downward mobility. Similarly, in Britain, research by Anthias and Cederberg (2009) has shown how migrants may turn to low paid ethnic catering businesses partly because of a lack of other job opportunities but also as a result of kinship networks that channel relatives into these areas of employment. While this may be a useful way of overcoming marginality, including discrimination in the labour market, it also risks concentrating migrants within an ‘ethnic niche’ (Anthias & Cederberg, 2009). Hence, although migrants may rely upon co-ethnic networks to access resources, such networks are not necessarily a source of beneficial social capital (see also Schapendonk, 2020). Accordingly, the link between social networks and social capital merits further discussion (D’Angelo, 2021).
As Reimer et al. (2008) have argued convincingly, social networks do not of themselves equate to social capital. While social capital is ‘effectively an asset based on social relations’, that is not to suggest that it is identical to networks of relationships (2008: 262). Scholars like Woolcock (2001) have cautioned against the tendency to conflate social networks with access to resources. In other words, it is misleading to assume that simply because we may be acquainted with someone who is resource-rich that he or she will share these resources with us (a point further explored in the chapter by Schaer in this book). According to Reimer et al.:
Most discussions of social capital assume that the concept is of a singular nature. As such, there has been a shortage of theorizing on the possibility that social capital is differentially manifested depending on the types of social relations and normative structures in which it is embedded (2008: 260).
Thus, the kinds of social capital operating within small, family-run ethnic catering businesses in London, described by Anthias and Cederberg (2009), may be very different from the social capital circulating in the business networks of highly skilled migrants in London’s financial sector described by Ryan and Mulholland (2014). We will return to the issue of the highly skilled below.
In attempting to distinguish different kinds of social capital within particular networks, Reimer et al. (2008) draw on empirical data from Japan and a group of female friends who got together to set up a new restaurant business. By analysing how the women mobilised particular resources from across their extended kinship and friendship networks, as well as local officials, Reimer et al. differentiate between what they term ‘available’ capital and the actual resources that are ‘used’ by network members. In a similar argument, based on the experiences of Polish migrants, Ryan et al. (2008) have offered the distinction between the ‘latent’ resources adhering within social networks and those resources that are actually ‘realisable’ into mobilised forms of capital. The discussion is further developed by several authors in this book such as, for example, Keskiner and Waldring. In their study of lawyers of Turkish background in Paris, Keskiner and Waldring analyse the kinds of resources that their participants were able to mobilise through different kinds of networks. As newcomers to the sector, without any pre-existing professional contacts, law students of Turkish descent had to develop strategies in order to forge connections and access valuable resources such as internships and finding mentors in well-established French legal firms. That chapter raises the question of how cultural capital can be mobilised to generate social capital.
Attempting to conceptualise migrants’ resources, many researchers have turned to Bourdieu for a more nuanced understanding of networks and different forms of capital (e.g. Erel, 2010; Nowicka, 2013; Kim, 2019). Bourdieu’s theoretical framework has been taken up by researchers to explore how migrants transfer their knowledge and qualifications (cultural capital) from one society to another (Cederberg, 2015; Wahlbeck, 2018). As shown by Kelly and Lusis (2006), in a study of Filipinos in Canada, migrants may experience discrimination, de-skilling and downward labour market mobility as their qualifications and experience are devalued within the destination society (see also the chapter by Behtoui in this book). The role of social networks in enabling migrants to convert or accumulate cultural capital post-migration was a theme explored at length in the edited collection Migrant Capital (Ryan et al., 2015).
However, that is not to suggest that migrants can easily access the kinds of networks that enable cultural capital accumulation or conversion. Bourdieu’s analysis is useful to understand how networks may also operate as exclusionary mechanisms. His essay on forms of capital (Bourdieu, 1986) clearly outlines how networks can be used by elite groups to maintain their privilege. While such ‘closed networks’ (Coleman, 1988) may be high in trust and reciprocity, they are also very difficult for newcomers to penetrate. The chapters in our book examine the efforts that migrants, and their descendants, have exerted to gain entry to resource rich, career enhancing networks. As Behtoui shows in his chapter on migrants in Sweden, the more stigmatised migrants are, the more difficult it will be to build up contacts with the majority population. Behtoui argues that newcomers face particular obstacles to accessing new forms of social capital because they may be living in deprived neighbourhoods and concentrated in de-valued parts of the labour market, where they have few opportunities to mix with the ‘native population’. Moreover, poor, ‘non-white’ migrants from the Global South may encounter prejudice and find that members of the majority population have little motivation to forge new friendships with them. Behtoui’s chapter reminds us that networks are not only sources of social capital but may also serve as exclusionary mechanisms that reduce access to resources. Moreover, as Schaer shows in her chapter on young academics in Switzerland, even when there are occasions to meet and socialise with members of resource-rich networks, there is no guarantee that career enhancing opportunities will be forthcoming. Her chapter shows the continued efforts required to overcome obstacles and build connections within academic networks.
In addressing these issues, attention is needed to which research methods are best suited to examine migrants’ social networks and the social capital that can be mobilised. Surveys which ask respondents how they got their current job usually ask them to tick just one on a list of prescribed alternatives. Yet someone who applies directly to a firm (and so ticks that option in a questionnaire) may do so because a friend told them the firm was looking for applicants, and would not have applied without that information; research which overlooks this tends to underestimate the importance of networks. As a related point, many studies focus solely on the moment of recruitment, yet this can be seen as the final stage of an application process. Networks may be crucial in putting a particular profession ‘on the map’ as something attainable, and in advising candidates how to present themselves. They may also be important in providing information and advice enabling migrants and their descendants to function in an ambiance where they do not know the ‘rules of the game’.
The painstaking analysis undertaken by Smith (2005) in her study of African-American job seekers clearly shows the varied ways in which information about employment vacancies circulate through local networks including kin, neighbours, friends and casual acquaintances. Informing someone about a job opportunity at one’s place of employment involved complex dynamics of trust, obligations, reputation and expectations. As Smith (2005) shows, obligations to recommend relatives and friends to employers had to be carefully weighed against one’s own potential reputational damage if those recommended subsequently proved to be unreliable or dishonest workers. This was especially the case for people who were themselves in precarious employment situations where loss of reputation could seriously impact upon their own job security.
Our book contributes to analysing links between networks and employment by widening the concept of how social ties help both access to jobs and careers in the labour market. We show that understanding the intricacies of how job information is circulated between social contacts requires detailed descriptions to generate new insights. Biographical interviews, with relevant probing, may bring out multiple factors lying behind a job application, as discussed by Ryan in her chapter in this volume. Schaer employed network interviews to explore particular social ties using a name generator and name interpreter. In addition to classic social network techniques such as a name generator, Bilecen also used visualisation to depict networks in diagram formats. In her chapter, Bilecen describes using a network map – sociograms – composed of four concentric circles, to show the range of social ties. Through this visualisation tool, respondents described their relationships in detail and talked about particular ties and the resources exchanged between them. Her chapter includes several examples of these network maps. To supplement these classic social network methods, Bilecen also applied a participant observation technique, over an extended period of time, to enable a better understanding of the relationships between specific research participants.
In presenting such rich and detailed analysis, this book reveals how the extent to which migrants can realise or use social capital within their networks depends on a range of factors including trust and reciprocity (see the chapter by Bilecen), as well as risks and reputation (see chapters by Ryan and Rezai and Keskiner). Moreover, because networks do not exist in a vacuum, we reveal how networks operate within particular sectors of the labour market. For instance, the ways in which jobs are advertised and recruitment procedures are implemented vary enormously not only across sectors but also between countries. For example the chapter by Lang et al. offers an insightful comparison between recruitment processes in the legal and administrative sectors in Germany, as mentioned earlier, while Schaer analyses academic career opportunities and network ties between Switzerland and the USA. In addressing these diverse settings, this book responds to Toma’s call (2016) for more research on how social networks may facilitate access to jobs in different labour market contexts.
In drawing on new empirical data and theoretically informed analysis, this book, offers critical interrogations of social capital within different kinds of networks across varied contexts. Hence, moving beyond Putnam’s dichotomous constructs, the authors in this book are aware of the need to avoid taken for granted assumptions that social capital can be activated through particular types of social ties. These discussions build upon but also complicate our understanding of ‘weak’ and ‘strong’ ties and instead show how these social relationships may evolve and change over time.
Underpinning much of the previous discussion has been the issue of ethnicity. To what extent are migrants’ networks defined through an ethnic lens? In the following section we begin to critically interrogate that issue more explicitly.
1.4 Beyond the Ethnic Lens
Clarifying the social mechanisms underlying the generation of ties with persons of the same, or other ethnicities, our book also makes a contribution to debates on the formation of ethnic boundaries and identities. Although critiques of the ‘ethnic lens’ (Schiller et al., 2006; Wimmer, 2013; Dahinden, 2016) are frequently cited approvingly, and references to the socially constructed nature of ethnicity are almost obligatory, empirical studies often continue to use ethnic categories unproblematically. Brubaker’s complaint of ‘complacent constructivism’ (2004: 3) is not unjustified.
Wimmer reminds us that ‘members of an ethnic group might not share a specific culture, might not privilege each other in their everyday networking practice and thus not form a “community,” and might not agree on the relevance of ethnic categories and thus not carry a common identity’ (2009: 252). However, acknowledging the social construction of ethnicity, and challenging ‘self-evident’, fixed identity markers, does not mean that migration scholars should ignore the enduring salience of inequality and racism. Ethnic boundaries, as Wimmer argues, are defined within particular national contexts circumscribed by specific power dynamics, including labelling processes and stigmatisation, with real consequences for people’s life chances (2009: 266).
In its presentation of the social ties of migrants and their descendants, our book goes beyond a simplistic assumption of solidarity among co-nationals or co-ethnics. As Dahinden (2016) has suggested, a network approach has great potential as an alternative framework that gets away from the ethnic lens. It is in fact an intrinsic part of a network approach that it tries to go beyond ‘categorical’ explanations. As Wellman and Berkowitz put it:
Reversing the traditional logic of inquiry … [network analysts] argue that social categories (e.g. classes, ethnic groups) and bounded groups are best discovered and analysed by examining relations between social actors. Rather than beginning with an a priori classification of the observable world into a discrete set of categories, they begin with a set of relations, from which they derive maps and typologies of social structures. (1988: 3)
As mentioned earlier, this volume avoids conflations between ethnicity and social capital, and between ethnicity and strong ties. The detailed accounts of the relationships that migrants and their descendants form in particular contexts provide elements of an approach that genuinely sees ethnic boundaries as constructed, rather than as automatically the basis of social relations. Our qualitative and quantitative data on the social networks of migrants and their descendants, by analysing how these are formed in different circumstances and at different stages of the life course and the migration process, provide material for a more profoundly constructionist framework on how people form ties with others of varied social backgrounds.
Hence, rather than regarding migrant communities as taken for granted entities defined through shared ethnic, religious or migratory experiences, the presence of such ‘communities’ in destination societies needs to be analysed and explained (see the chapter by Eve, in this volume). In this way, assumptions about intra-ethnic solidarity within migrant networks need to be critically assessed. The very frequency of the term ‘ethnic networks’ in the literature is itself significant; the actual ties that are referred to are generally ties with kin, with friends and perhaps with a series of persons known through family and friends, or acquaintances from a specific town or neighbourhood ‘back home’. Of course, some migrants and their descendants may be concerned to promote ties between co-ethnics generally or for specific purposes such as business opportunities (see chapter by Keskiner and Waldring). But it cannot be assumed that migrants choose to form ties with others just because of their shared country of origin. Identities are multi-dimensional and, therefore, foregrounding nationality or ethnicity alone may overlook how other salient characteristics such as gender, age, class or family life stage influence network-making strategies (Ryan et al., 2015).
The term ‘ethnic network’ gives the impression that ethnicity itself is the basis of ties and exchanges – especially when no other explanation is given. It is worth noting in this context that, since few statistical databases have information on networks, many quantitative studies use, as a proxy, the number of persons of the same nationality in a given immigration locality (often at the national level) as an indication of the size of networks (e.g. Patel & Vella, 2013.; Docquier et al., 2014). In some cases, where migration has a strong chain character, this proxy may be acceptable but it is striking that its validity is so rarely discussed or questioned.
In a discussion of internal migrants in France and Italy, Eve’s chapter explores how newcomers may face obstacles in accessing local networks. In the case of internal migrants it is not their ethnicity, language or nationality that shapes their networking opportunities within specific locales but rather their status as outsiders or, to use Simmel’s (1964) term, ‘strangers’. Faced with difficulties in accessing the somewhat closed networks of the local population, the newcomers in Eve’s chapter turn to fellow migrants from their home villages and towns. These insights on internal migrants could prove salient in considering international migrants and why they may be drawn to particular kinds of networks. Hence, Eve’s chapter makes an important contribution to blurring the boundary between migration studies and research on internal mobility.
This book, going beyond simplistic assumptions of solidarity among migrants, shows instead how co-ethnics may be competitors especially in labour market sectors with highly intensive competition for limited and coveted professional positions. Therefore, this book makes a significant contribution to understanding how aspects of solidarity, reciprocity and mutual support may be negotiated by migrants and their descendants, while also paying attention to potential rivalries and competition for scarce resources. Therefore, since we also focus on the ways these ties enable but also limit careers and social mobility, our book offers further important insights into persistent inequalities. For example, in her chapter based on the Trajectories and Origins survey in France, Brinbaum contrasts how young men and women from different migrant backgrounds, including North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, Turkey and Portugal, access the labour market and the way in which the different use of networks affects the kinds of jobs they get. Moreover, her chapter also indicates the salience of gender differences in educational outcomes, employment patterns and access to jobs. Thus, looking beyond broad ethnic categories, it is important to consider the gendering of labour market experiences and access to particular kinds of social capital. Brinbaum’s chapter indicates that, because of the gendering of labour market sectors, young men and women may rely on social networks in different ways.
Gender is a theme discussed further in the chapter by Bilecen in her study of Turkish migrants and their descendants in Germany. In exploring the links between social networks and labour market access, she demonstrates the significance not only of information and advice flowing through social ties but also practical hands-on support such as child care. Her research shows how women, in particular, may rely on the proximate support of other women to assist with child care and hence facilitate entry into the labour market. However, this can place pressures on women to fulfil gendered caring roles.
While the focus of this book is on networks and the labour market, it is important, as Maurice Crul reminds us in his Epilogue to this volume, not to view networks as purely instrumental. Indeed chapters in this book also highlight the role of friendship, likeability and care within migrants’ social relationships.
While so far we have focused on inter-personal ties as the basis of networks, it is also important to note that networks are not only constituted by informal relations. The role of formal associations, such as faith groups and civic organisations, as forms of sociality, practical support and information to migrants and their families has long been understood (Coleman, 1988). James Coleman showed how Catholic schools and churches working closely together improved the life chances of poor people (including those of migrant background) in the USA. Behtoui’s chapter in this book also shows how Iranian migrants in Sweden have similarly benefited from establishing formal associations. But of course formal associations do not need to be ethnically defined. Mario Luis Small (2009), in his study of child care centres in New York, showed how parents (usually mothers) benefitted not only from the practical support of such groups but also from informal friendship making opportunities. These new connections also resulted in sharing useful information that might not otherwise have been easily accessed. The ethnicity of those new friendships may depend in part on the ethnic composition of these groups and associations. However, as noted earlier, migrants are not free to make new friends as they choose but may be limited by the willingness of others to form friendships with them. Chapters in this book by Eve, Behtoui and Ryan advance understanding of how migrants navigate obstacles and opportunities to friendship-making through both formal and informal associations.
Thus, rather than seeing friendship ties as separate from formal associations, as White et al. (1976) have noted, individuals link institutions to other institutions, and institutions link individuals. This is why, when studying networks, this book seeks to go beyond a simplistic discussion of dyads. While dyadic ties (such as between friends) are of immense importance to many people, taking a network approach allows us to locate these relationships within a wider web of relationships, including formal and informal associations. As Eve says in his chapter in this volume, the formation of a relationship between two individuals is not a purely individual affair: what the two persons talk about and do concerns other people, and so their conversations and activities often would not exist without those other people. In the case of the friendships formed by Small’s (2009) childcare centres, the parents’ children are obviously central. But in all social relationships it is not just the individuals directly involved who are important for the relationship but also others ‘in the background’. As the chapters in this book demonstrate, the advantage of a network approach is in revealing the wider web of relationships and its situatedness within particular socio-structural contexts.
While it is often assumed that the low skilled, or de-skilled, migrants are more likely to rely on co-ethnics, there is growing interest in interrogating the ethnic makeup of highly skilled migrants’ networks (Harvey, 2008; Ryan & Mulholland, 2014; Kõu & Bailey, 2017; Lo et al., 2019; Povrzanović Frykman & Mozetič, 2020). Many chapters in this book focus on the experiences of highly skilled migrants, and highly educated descendants of migrants. In this way, our book advances understandings of diversity among migrants and the varied use of networks to access different sectors of labour markets.
1.5 Social Networks and the Highly Skilled
It is important to avoid the assumption that highly skilled migrants are all well paid, privileged and elite. Indeed, the term highly skilled includes a diverse range of qualifications and professions and many of these migrants may occupy relatively modest positions in the labour market, for example in health and social care, as well as experiencing downward mobility, discrimination and job insecurity (Parutis, 2014; Thondhlana et al., 2016; Baas, 2017).
Beyond a static snap shot, it is necessary to consider how initial downward mobility may be overcome subsequently through activating forms of social capital. More attention is needed to network dynamism over time. The way social ties change through the life course and in different social situations is understudied in the general literature on social ties (but see Bidart & Lavenu, 2005). Within migration studies, an understanding of changing network composition is especially important because, as Ryan and D’Angelo (2018) pointed out, the networks that migrants access or establish on first arrival in the destination society are not static but rather ebb and flow with passing time.
In taking up this challenge, the chapter by Ryan, in this volume, uses a case study method to explore experiences of de-skilling especially for migrants with limited language fluency or those whose family caring responsibilities reduce opportunities to pursue re-training. Focusing on London, Ryan’s rich case studies illustrate how, over time, these migrants mobilise strategies in order to overcome de-skilling, such as developing cultural capital through additional qualifications or building new context-specific social capital through, for example, child-based sociality. Thus, de-skilling may not necessarily be permanent and so it is important to take a longer term view to see what strategies migrants may adopt to bring about change over time.
In her chapter on mobile, early career academics in Switzerland, Schaer explores the diverse networking strategies required to mobilise social capital and obtain new job opportunities. Moreover, her research also reveals the obstacles that these highly educated young people may face in their search for international career building opportunities. Despite their high levels of cultural capital, these academics may encounter precarity and occupational insecurity that can be compounded by gendered hierarchies and persistent gender inequality within academia.
For migrants like those discussed by Schaer, advantageous social connections are rarely defined ethnically. Indeed their ethnicity may be irrelevant. Rather it is their position within occupational hierarchies that is of particular importance. As argued elsewhere, not all weak ties are equally valuable and it is necessary to distinguish between ties that span social distance, vertical ties, and ties that weakly connect those of a similar social positions, horizontal ties, regardless of their ethnic composition (Ryan, 2011, 2016). As noted earlier in this chapter, while weak ties may play a key role in providing direct access to jobs, the specificities of employment sectors also need to be taken into account. For highly skilled migrants, and their descendants, access to professional occupations may be bound by formal recruitment and appointment procedures. Nonetheless, that is not to imply that social networks are irrelevant in such contexts. Chapters in this book, drawing on a range of empirical data, further our knowledge of how social ties can continue to play important indirect roles in enabling the career progression of the highly skilled across a range of employment sectors.
In Ryan’s chapter, drawing on research with migrants from different occupational sectors in London, participants describe the ways in which specific social ties played salient but indirect roles in supporting access to the labour market. For example, for those applying for jobs in the teaching profession, despite its formal, open and transparent recruitment procedures, social connections within the educational sector could provide valuable support such as advice, information and encouragement. Similarly, focusing on rich case studies of corporate lawyers in France, Rezai and Keskiner discuss the key social ties of the second generation who take up the roles of ‘coaches’ and ‘ambassadors’ in helping people function competently in a junior position, which then led to more senior posts, while Lang et al. discuss the importance of role models or ‘trailblazers’ in providing inspiration to apply for professional, public sector jobs that might otherwise seem out of reach for those of migrant background.
Hence, as the chapters in this book clearly show, the relationship between qualifications, skills, career escalation and social networks is varied and complex. As noted earlier, within the wider migration literature references to networks are often generic and indeed metaphoric (Bilecen et al., 2018; Ryan & Dahinden, 2021), the chapters in this book provide empirical examples of what it is exactly that networks do: for example, pass on information, create credibility, build a clientele, enforce norms, exclude competitors, etc. within particular employment sectors. In the same way as Wellman and Wortley (1990) talk of ‘different strokes from different folks’, so the various chapters of this volume show how different kinds of ties are useful in differing situations.
As noted earlier, this book aims to pay particular attention to change over time. One way to do that is by looking beyond the initial generation of migrations, and focusing on the experiences of the next generation; the descendants of migrants, also referred to in the literature as the ‘second generation’.
1.6 The Descendants of Migrants
In recent years, there is growing interest in the changing fortunes of many so-called second generation (Crul et al., 2017). Although coming from positions of socio-economic disadvantage and encounters of discrimination, there is evidence that, despite enduring inequalities, widespread social mobility among descendants of migrants is taking place (Heath et al., 2008). However, as evidenced by contributors to this book, this experience is quite variegated across particular countries and occupational sectors. Unlike the massive literature on migrants’ social networks, little is known about the social ties of second generation or children of migrants in the labour market (Vermeulen and Keskiner, 2017). We present original empirical evidence from Germany, France, Sweden and the Netherlands to explore this issue. In so doing, this book offers new insights into the opportunities, but also the limits, of social networks in enabling the career progression of migrant descendants. It is necessary to pay attention to persistent equalities and discrimination, as well as the active agency of migrants and their descendants to navigate these on-going challenges. The social networks of these generations have been less systematically researched, especially in the European context (Boyd & Nowak, 2012). There is a need for more understanding of the way ‘migration processes’ and the social trajectories of migrant parents may shape social ties of their descendants. There is mixed evidence on the effect of ethnic composition in the social networks of second generation. On the one hand social ties within ethnic communities could lead to a source of social capital for the educational success of second generation (Bankston III & Zhou, 1997; Modood, 2004; Shah et al., 2010; Lee & Zhou, 2015). Thus, it may be more fruitful to stay with children of migrant families if, for example, they spend more time on their homework (Eve, 2010). In Zhou’s study (2014), the homework organisations within the Chinese community in New York City fostered flows of resources and information for immigrants’ descendants. In a Swedish study, Behtoui & Olsson, 2014) showed that making friendships with adolescents from non-immigrant families may lead to ‘downward assimilation’ if those young people have anti-school attitudes or are involved in deviance.
At the same time, it is known that establishing ties with ‘significant others’ in the majority population (teachers, mentors, neighbourhoods, etc.) can provide information about education or other opportunity structures connecting the second generation to beneficial resources (Portes & Fernández-Kelly, 2008; Keskiner, 2015; Rezai, 2017). This is further explored by Behtoui, in his chapter in this volume. Drawing on research from Sweden, his research shows how ‘school-related social capital’, associated with well-resourced schools and highly involved parents, has an effect on the educational results of children. However, in many cases, this social capital reinforced existing social inequalities, since pupils from working-class – including migrant – families were less likely to attend these schools. Nonetheless, as Behtoui found, in some cases young, motivated teachers (some of migrant origin), present in the schools attended by poorer families, were able to produce a pro-educational climate which he explains as the ‘contra-stratification effect of social capital’.
Hence, when studying network ties of the descendants of migrants, it is necessary once again to critically interrogate the ethnic composition of strong and weak ties. Recent evidence on the labour market experience of the upwardly mobile second generation in Europe suggests that social networks within the occupational sector are crucial irrespective of ethnic composition, but since migrant groups are less represented in these professional sectors, the ties that matter are usually with the majority group (Rezai, 2017; Crul et al., 2017; Keskiner & Crul, 2017). However, paying attention to the temporal nature of networks (Ryan & D’Angelo, 2018), it becomes apparent that networks in ethnic communities may also become instrumental in career development over time (see chapter by Keskiner and Waldring). By drawing on both quantitative and qualitative research from several different countries, our book shines new light upon the evolving opportunities, and obstacles, encountered by the children of migrants, and the varied roles played by social networks, in educational outcomes and career development.
Of course, that is not to suggest that all migrants, and their descendants, succeed in achieving social mobility. In contexts of enduring structural inequality and racism, Brinbaum’s chapter provides important evidence regarding the persistent challenges and inequalities encountered by male and female descendants of North African and sub-Saharan African migrants in France. It is apparent that networks that lack social capital and access to resources may exacerbate the high rates of unemployment among the young people of some migrant background in France. The fact that parents and parents’ friends are not able to provide job leads may be of little relevance for highly educated young people, but is important for the less educated since, as Brinbaum shows, many young people obtain their first manual job through this kind of family tie. Such family assistance is facilitated usually through the existence of ethnic niches with labour markets. Keskiner (2019) has shown that the construction sector in Strasbourg, as an ethnic niche, provided job opportunities for the Turkish second generation who dropped out of school without a high school diploma. However, descendants of migrants who attain a vocational diploma, for example to become an accountant, usually cannot rely on the contacts of their family or the ethnic community to find jobs. In her study on second generation youth transitions, Keskiner (2017) has shown that internship experiences, as well as work and study combinations, can assist the second generation to establish social networks during their studies and such resourceful contacts are instrumental in facilitating future labour market entry (as discussed also in this book by Lang et al., Keskiner and Waldring, Rezai and Keskiner).
The data in this book reveal successes but also failures, on-going challenges, discrimination and persistent inequalities. In addition, providing data on the situation in different national and occupational contexts, as well as at different stages in the migration trajectory, presents opportunities for new comparative insights. In this way, we provide material for a new approach towards explaining the social trajectories of migrants, and their descendants, in relation to the social networks that they have access to in the labour market and the social capital that can be mobilised and activated therein.
Like other branches of the social sciences, migration studies have a powerful, if ambivalent, link with social policy and public debates at any particular point in time. Much work deals with aspects of migration seen as socially ‘problematic’. Some of the chapters in this volume may seem rather remote from policy issues: the young academics of Schaer’s chapter or the second-generation lawyers discussed by Lang et al., or the corporate managers discussed by Rezai and Keskiner, for example, may seem a long way from the worries about migrants that surface in public debates. However, as students of social mobility have often pointed out, studying people who do manage to achieve a leap in socio-economic status, compared to their parents, or addressing persisting gendered inequalities, can be a good way of understanding why many others do not manage to achieve such mobility (see chapters by Bilecen and Brinbaum). Understanding the network factors that have enabled ‘success’, but also the enduring obstacles needing to be overcome, or that fix a ‘glass ceiling’, is in fact a fruitful way of understanding the situation of migrants, and indeed the many children of migrants, who are in a disadvantaged position in the labour market.
Likewise, for first generation migrants, understanding how some educated migrants succeed in constructing networks that enable access to professional jobs (see Ryan’s chapter) while others do not (see Behtoui’s chapter) helps to understand general trends shaping the lives of millions of labour migrants stuck in ‘immigrant jobs’ all their lives. We know that over-qualification is common among migrants and that the position of migrants at the bottom of the labour market cannot be explained purely by individual factors (see chapter by Eve). We believe that our evidence regarding the role of networks helps to understand this widespread situation. Underlying all the chapters is an interest in the dynamics of occupational and social mobility, as the crucial ingredient of issues of social integration, against the backdrop of structural inequality and prevalent discrimination.
As well as contributing to understanding migrant integration in local labour markets, our book also aims to contribute more broadly to research on social networks and social capital. Instead of seeing those two concepts as coterminous, the chapters in this book draw on network theories and robust empirical data to explore the content, structure and meaning of social connections and the specific resources realisable therein. Rejecting a simplistic binary of bonding versus bridging or weak versus strong ties, these chapters look beyond the ethnic lens to understand the particular social ties that may support (or hinder) labour market access. As Maurice Crul notes in his Epilogue to this book, the contributors have developed alternatives approaches to look at the networks and resources of migrants and their descendants and in so doing provide important new approaches beyond the ethnic lens in the field of migration studies. In so doing, this book adds nuanced understanding of the obstacles and opportunities that migrants, and their descendants, encounter in accessing and forming social ties in the destination society, including how networks may operate as exclusionary mechanisms.
While this book has focused on migrants and their descendants, there are opportunities for the conceptual and empirical innovations and insights within this volume to inform research beyond migration studies. Although, migrant networks are often studied in isolation by scholars who specialise in migration research, there are opportunities for more shared learning across research specialisms. For example, Eve’s research in France and Italy, discussed in this volume, highlights similarities in the network content and formations of internal and international migrants. Lubbers et al. (2020b) have recently applied their expertise on migrants’ networks to explore the social ties of the urban poor in Spain. There are many more opportunities for cross-fertilisation between migration studies and other aspects of non-migrant network analysis. Therefore, we hope that this volume will also have appeal to network scholars beyond migration research.
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Ryan, L., Eve, M., Keskiner, E. (2022). Introduction: Revisiting Networks: Setting the Conceptual and Methodological Scene. In: Keskiner, E., Eve, M., Ryan, L. (eds) Revisiting Migrant Networks. IMISCOE Research Series. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-94972-3_1
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