11.1 Introduction

In this volume, both qualitative and quantitative scholars describe their findings on the networks of migrants and their descendants and explore the content of their social ties for educational and labor market success in seven European countries. Some contributions cover decades of work in this field, making this one of most comprehensive books on this topic, both theoretically and empirically. Almost without exception, the authors, although describing various ethnic groups, different geographical and professional contexts and different time periods, are critical of a number of the main arguments about the networks of migrants developed in the field of migration studies. Central in their critique is the question about the importance of co-ethnic or inter-ethnic ties and networks, and their importance to enter the labor market and move up. In the field of migration studies, concepts like integration and assimilation have greatly influenced the thinking of its scholars. The idea that newcomers only become fully integrated in a society when they gain a similar economic position and are in contact with people without migration background, or, in other words, become part of the mainstream, has been a strong and dominant view in our field (Alba & Nee, 2003; Alba, 2009; Portes & Rumbaut, 2001; Portes & Zhou, 1993). People who largely interact with co-ethnics and or work in labor market sectors that are dominated by co-ethnics (ethnic niches) are usually seen as not (yet) fully integrated into their new society. And when this also translates to the native-born children (so-called ‘second generation decline’), this is seen as problematic (Ganz, 1992). In this broader framework on integration and assimilation, Granovetter’s (1973) idea of strong and weak ties has entered the field of migration studies. Lang and Schneider, in this volume, rightly state that it is questionable whether the idea of strong ties – for co-ethnics – and weak ties – for ties with people without migration background – was originally intended by Granovetter to be used in this way. But what is clear, however, is that this idea fitted perfectly with broader theories on integration and assimilation. The importance for newly arrived migrants of strong co-ethnic ties in ethnic networks is generally considered one of the starting pieces of the puzzle laying out the process of assimilation in its first phase. The idea of weak ties, also in its symbolic emphasis on ‘weak’, perfectly suited the still scarce and superficial contacts with people of native descent in the early stages of the assimilation process. Since the concept of weak and strong ties fitted so well with the dominant theories about integration and assimilation (classical, neo and new assimilation), much of what was happening with migrants, and even their descendants, in the labor market was seen through, what many would call, an ethnic lens (Crul, 2016; Dahinden, 2016; Wimmer, 2013). Migrants gained a first foothold in the labor market through strong co-ethnic ties and were slowly moving up through their weak ties, making use of information and resources of people of native descent with whom they had only superficial contact. The idea of strong ties also resonated with the notion that their relations with co-ethnics were more meaningful and profound. There was also a dark side to strong ties. Under some conditions, because of the limited information and resources in the co-ethnic network, for some the strong ties could lead to an ethnic mobility trap.

The contributions in this volume correct this simplified view, or ethnic lens, on how migrants and their descendants enter and move up in the labor market. In several contributions, the authors show that it often was strong ties with people without migration background that were important for moving up. Or that initial weak ties, like Ryan shows in her contribution, with people without migration background, over time developed into strong ties. Keskiner and Waldring, in their contribution to this volume, even pose the question ‘Are weak ties really weak?’ in their chapter’s title. At the same time, ties with co-ethnics, are not always strong and deep simply because of sharing a similar ethnic and or cultural background. Ryan rather sees weak and strong ties as points along a continuum of social ties that evolve and change.

Many authors in this volume describe a quite pragmatic view on why people first find employment through co-ethnics or explore and exploit a co-ethnic market. Often, blocked opportunities in society trigger the need to use co-ethnic ties. This is perhaps most dramatically clear in the research among successful second-generation Turkish professionals. As a result of discrimination, or a glass ceiling, some of the professionals of Turkish descent start to explore the possibilities of the upcoming Turkish business world or the Turkish market to get ahead by taking an alternative route. Indeed, some in the low wage labor market get stuck in an ethnic niche. Not because of their preference for co-ethnics, but because entrepreneurs and their middle men (some of whom are co-ethnics) make use of their vulnerable labor market position.

11.2 Alternative Approaches to the Ethnic Lens on Strong and Weak Ties

The authors of this volume, some explicit, some more implicit, have developed alternative approaches to look at the networks and resources of migrants and their descendants. I will highlight five main approaches: the power relations approach; counter stratification of social capital; a sector or professional labor market approach; a gender approach; a mobility approach. These approaches have important consequences for how a research design is constructed, who you choose to approach for interviews and what context will be the focus of your research. These approaches all give us important practical clues on how to get away from the ethnic lens that is so prevalent in the field of migration studies.

11.2.1 Power Relations Approach

With the emphasis on ethnicity, some would say the ethnic lens, the issue of power in relations between migrants and co-ethnics and migrants and non-migrants is largely ignored and even made invisible. A crucial contribution in this volume by Ryan brings power relations back in the discussion by talking about vertical versus horizontal ties in migrant’s networks. The very concept of the vertical ties is important because this implies that we should look at relations in which power differences are taken into account. In many relations discussed in this volume, one or more persons (co-ethnic or not) are positioned in relation to persons who have power over them. The person in a position of power can or cannot – which is equally important to look into – provide information, resources or chances to a person in a lower hierarchical position. With the concept of the vertical ties, the issue of power is put on the agenda and it makes us aware that in the labor market the playing field of employers and employees, and people in high status jobs versus those in low status jobs is not equal. Though your employer is a co-ethnic, still the main characteristic of the relation is likely to be that this person has power over you, not that you share certain cultural, religious or social characteristics. Bringing in the notion of power also problematizes exclusion, discrimination and ethnic segmentation in the labor market. Rather than framing the clustering of certain ethnic groups in certain sub sectors as the result co-ethnic networks, this could also be studied as a form of inequality and as the result of existing ethnic power hierarchies. Labor market outcomes should, in my opinion, always be studied by analyzing the actions of both employers and employees together. A point in case are high skilled professionals that often become deskilled in the migration process. In many places they become, the infamous example, taxi drivers. One could explain this phenomenon by studying how co-ethnic networks provide the resources and contacts to become a taxi driver, but it can also be studied by analyzing how employers in the professional sectors are excluding these high skilled migrants from entering their original professions. However, because in the field of migration studies we tend to look mostly through the ethnic lens we research the migrants and their networks and not the most powerful group in the labor market: the employers. To some extent, this is even true for this book, which is critical of the ethnic lens to begin with. The intentions of the employers are mostly only discussed indirectly, through the experiences of the employees of migrant descent. In the chapter of Schaer we get to know the intentions of the professors in the academic field as seen through the eyes of the early career researchers, but not through interviews with the people who hired them – or not. We get the information on what helped people, according to themselves, to move up in the labor market in London, Stockholm or Paris, but we don’t get a look through the eyes of the employers that did or did not hire them. An essential route to get away from the ethnic lens is to study the people who are in the positions of power to hire or fire other people. Studying the employers means studying employers both with and without migration background. We need to study the intentions of employers, both with and without migration background, to hire co-ethnics more comprehensively. The topic of discrimination is maybe the best example to make this point. We could ask people about their experiences of being discriminated against in the labor market, but this can never convey the complete picture if we fail to scrutinize potentially discriminatory selection processes. The positions of those who can either provide or deny opportunities and resources are understudied.

11.2.2 Counter-Stratification of Social Capital

A sub field of the power relations approach is to look at how migrants and their descendants can turn around existing power relations by counter stratification, making use of family and network resources. Newly arrived migrants are confronted with a range of structural conditions, because of their individual lack of power, or the low status of their ethnic group in the new land, which makes them vulnerable for exploitation. For Behtoui, in this volume, this is the starting point. Existing networks of people without migration background are instrumental in reproducing inequalities in society. These networks, the contacts and resources in these networks, mostly work in favor of people without migration background, who are already in a higher status position. Behtoui introduces the concept of counter stratification, using the Iranian community as the main example, to show how social and cultural capital at the group level can work as a buffer against existing stratification. Some networks and resources, when pulled together by migrants and their descendants, can work to counter the ‘business as usual’ stratification. Behtoui emphasizes that we should not look at the individual level of people’s resources, but at the aggregate level of the resources at the group level. These resources could be seen as collectively owned. Citing Bourdieu (1998) he argues that when a member of the group obtains a better position in the hierarchical social space, the social capital of all others in the group improves too. Marginalized and stigmatized groups can organize themselves and pool resources that challenge the existing balance of power. They can make use of transnational resources, of resources brought from their home country or of resources and positions gained in the new country. One form of capital thus is transferred into another form of capital.

Transferability of capital is also a keyword in the chapters of Keskiner and Waldring and of Rezai and Keskiner who are studying descendants of migrants who are highly successful in professional positions. They studied people with a migrant background that usually started out in families that do not possess a lot of cultural and social capital deemed valuable in the country they reside in. In terms of Bourdieu: they lack the necessary capital to be successful. However, the contributions of these authors uncover the hidden capital in these families, and how this is transferred into educational capital and social capital over time. The emphasis on the importance of education in the family is transferred into educational capital, which in turn is transferred into social capital and informational capital, which helps them to indeed access economic capital. We have described this process in an earlier publication and coined it “the multiplier effect” (Crul et al., 2017). The idea of the multiplier effect fits well with what many authors in this volume describe as the development of networks and resources over time. The multiplier effect shows how, over time, original forms of capital accumulate and are transferred into other forms of capital in each stage of the process of upward mobility. This explains why, taking Bourdieu’s theory of reproduction into account, it is indeed possible for people without the proper cultural and social capital in their families to climb the social ladder against the odds. We showed how with each consecutive step they enter a new social network, which then gives them access to new resources and contacts that in turn propel them to the next step. It turns out that with each consecutive step up the ladder, their cultural and social capital multiplies exponentially.

Rezai and Keskiner introduce the concepts of reliability and likeability to explain more in detail how individual characteristics like competence and drive are transferred into social capital. Rezai and Keskiner analyze the phenomenon of people without migration background in corporate companies who act as ambassadors or mentors for people who come from a different ethnic and class background. This analysis offers an important piece of the puzzle. Many professionals belonging to the second generation describe that they have a mentor or an ambassador in their company who advises and supports them and helps them to ‘understand the rules of the game’. It is an interesting phenomenon that children of low educated migrants, some with parents who are illiterate, end up being coached by captains of industry who sometimes belonged to the upper class already for generations. How these two worlds meet and come together is a fascinating puzzle of counter stratification, as Behtoui would call it. What motivates these people in power positions to become such a mentor or ambassador? What is in it for them? Rezai and Keskiner show that one of the interlinked characteristics of the ‘mentees’ involved is that they are extremely reliable. You can be sure of them doing their job well, which lowers the risks of supporting them. Furthermore, they have good social skills, they are what the authors call likeable, nice people to be around, which makes it easy to introduce them to others in your network. The fact that descendants of migrants are used to step into a new social environment from primary school onwards makes them often very adaptive to new circumstances and environments. This is especially the case for the most successful among them, often being the first in their family to attend Gymnasium, to enter University and to move up into a prestigious professional function. They have learned to function in new settings along the way. It has become a second nature. They are very skilled in reading a new environment, understanding unwritten rules and codes of conduct quickly and they can play around with them. This makes them adaptive and pro-active, characteristics generally liked by the managers above them.

11.2.3 Sectoral or Professional Labor Market Approach

Another important outcome of the volume, addressed by several authors, is that different countries and professional sectors ask for different kinds of networks and ties to become successful. This more detailed approach helps to concretize the sometimes abstract and generalized idea of migrant networks and resources. In some sectors it can be very helpful to have ties with co-ethnics and carve out a niche for an ethnically oriented market. Case in point are lawyers of Turkish descent who work as independent lawyers for a largely Turkish clientele or in corporate law firms for big Turkish companies in Europe. But, as Lang and Schneider demonstrate, they didn’t find any direct correlation between being a lawyer for ‘the Turkish community’ and expressing ‘strong (ethnic) ties’ and identities in their respondents’ private lives. There is also the likelihood of co-ethnics being able to help and support you. In the government’s administration sector, as mentioned by the same authors, people with a migration background are still dramatically underrepresented in higher level functions. This lack of opportunities means that to find an entry into this sector, they have to rely primarily on contacts with people of native descent. However, when more people with a migration background enter the field of the administration in higher level jobs (trailblazers as they are called) the context will change and co-ethnic ties are likely to become more important.

Ryan, in her contribution, also makes the point that the channels to get an entrance into a professional field can be very different according to the different sectors. In the private sector social connections play a key role, while in the public sector formal recommendations are more important. The rules of the game in a professional field, to paraphrase Bourdieu, can be very different. Lang and Schneider, for instance, show how in Germany middle level public administrators often enter the field through vocational training channels (a prominent track for students of Turkish descent) and move up the ranks slowly through internal qualification programs. To enter the law sector, however, you need a university degree and a very competitive state exam that only gives access to high level jobs with high marks. Most people only get high marks after repeating the exam several times and after extra private tutoring. For this you need the financial resources that many children of immigrants lack.

Brinbaum, in this volume, contributes to the labor market approach by studying through which channels migrants and their descendants actually got their jobs. She finds large differences between people of migrant descent with high qualifications and those with low or little qualifications. The last group more often relied on social networks, while the first relied more on direct formal applications. She also points to a gendered pattern, with men relying more on social networks and women on direct formal applications (in part to be explained by the higher levels of education attained by the women of migrant descent). Ethnic differences among descendants of migrants are also found to be important in relation to existing ethnic niches of the first generation, for instance established in the building sector. These sectors can work as a safety net especially for young men who did not manage to get formal educational credentials. Those without such contacts have to rely on public employment agencies as a last resort.

The approaches focusing on the specific sector, professions and segments of the labor market help us to move away from the ethnic lens that analyzes networks primarily by looking at the actions of migrants and their descendants. Taking the labor market context as the starting point already in the research design helps to identity what is asked from migrants to enter a certain field and to be successful in this context. As the editors in the introduction to this volume state: we should rather study labor market relationships (my emphasis) than a priori classifications of discrete categories, like ethnic groups (my emphasis).

11.2.4 Gender Approach

Gender is another important start-off when analyzing labor market careers. Schaer shows in this volume how power relations can take a specific gendered shape. Schaer explores when and under which conditions people in positions of power (usually men) are willing to share their insights and resources to others or not. Taking a gender perspective, she unearths how resources are more elaborately shared between men than between a male professor and a female early career researcher. The gender lens provides an important alternative lens to look through, next to or substituting the ethnic lens. The career paths of new arrivals, as several authors in this volume show, are highly determined by gender roles. And again, we see that networks of women often come into place because gender roles in general work against women gaining a position in the labor market. This form of counter stratification can, for instance, take the shape of solidarity among women, enabling women to combine work and care. There is also a clear intersection of gender and class and educational level. First generation migrant women with low levels of education had very little choice in how they could arrange their lives in the new country. But, as shown by Bilecen in this volume, this does not mean that these women do not fulfill a crucial role in the family network. They provide important basic provisions for their children to be successful through education and again provide assistance taking care for their grandchildren to enable women to enter the labor market.

Gendered hierarchies, like is shown in the example of Schaer for the sector of academia in this volume, can give rise to persistent gender inequalities. It also raises the question how these hierarchies can be shifted. Schaer shows that positions advertised on the worldwide web and hiring procedures being more formalized can help to counter the effect of ‘the old boys’ network’. It makes the playing field more equal and more transparent.

Both for women and for migrants an important question is what happens when more women and migrants – or their descendants – reach positions of power themselves. Will they share their resources and information with other women and migrants? There is not a lot of research into this topic yet. Being the only person of color or the only woman in such a position can make one very vulnerable, which will hinder the ability to help others. But the visibility of these people in these positions is already important as such. Lang and Schneider introduce the concept of trailblazers: those who are the first to enter certain fields function as role models for others to follow. The symbolic importance of seeing women and or people of color in positions of power should not be underestimated.

11.2.5 Mobility Approach

The ethnic lens with its emphasis on similarities between co-ethnics is further challenged through the findings of the study of Eve in this volume. Eve shows that it is not the ethnic background per se that is responsible for certain network patterns but, as his analysis of internal migrants shows, it is more broadly the mobility of people. Like Behtoui, he argues that it is wrong to see friendships as a purely dyadic relationship between two individuals. Relationships are embedded in wider networks of people and take meaning from these networks. It is clusters of people who usually provide the activities, the subjects of conversation, the interdependencies in which we function. Mobility abruptly changes the social configuration of people’s relationships. New people, and new subjects for conversations become important. This leads to the reorganization of social ties. Eve shows that it is a combination of both pragmatic and emotional reasons why people first cluster together with other mobile people from the same regional origin. The pragmatic part is that there are usually limited options of where to find a first home in a new town, or how to find a first job. This brings people in places where other recently mobile people are also present. The housing market is an interesting example since both social housing and private housing sort people out according to waiting lists (years of residence in a city) and available income. We could view the clustering of people through the lens of a preference of living with co-ethnics, but Eve shows convincingly that the sorting mechanisms of the housing market are at least equally important. The emotional part of why people cluster together is that people, maybe especially in a new situation, want to feel safe and want to be understood. This is easier, as Eve explains, based on a shared life story: moving from the same place to the new place. Sharing a similar context in which they grew up enables them to draw on relationships in the past that are known and are understood by others that know that place of origin too. This gives these relationships a depth that the new relationships still lack. And what Eve shows is that these sorting mechanisms have real consequences for the people and even for the opportunities of their children. Living in certain neighborhoods influences which school the children will attend and thus the formation of their peer groups, which in turn will influence their chances on the labor market.

11.3 Final Remarks

The contributions to this book provide important new approaches as an alternative to the ethnic lens which is still used in the field of migration studies studying migrant networks and resources. These alternatives will enable a new generation of scholars to explore other avenues of research through different lenses. This will, no doubt, further complicate the picture we have of migrant networks and resources, but will also make the picture more complete. Maybe even more important: it will lay bare some of the structural barriers that migrants face and show some of the alternative pathways to overcome these barriers. Both are important in tackling existing inequalities that migrants and their descendants face.

In this last paragraph I want to make a few general final remarks about a few topics that are still missing in the conversation. The contributions in this volume largely looked at social ties of people with a migration background with co-ethnics and with people without migration background in the context of Granovetter’s theoretical framework of weak and strong ties. Increasingly, however, people live in arrival cities that are superdiverse in composition (Crul, 2016). Most new arrivals live in neighborhoods together with people from numerous different ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds. In reality, nowadays people with a migration background have often become the most established groups in these cities, while the newcomers are actually those without a migration background who come to live in the city at a later age for study of work. Therefore, many new arrivals with a migration background will also foster ties with people with a migration background who are not co-ethnics. These people can be other newcomers to the city, but often it will also be long-term established migrants or descendants of migrants. There is still very little research into these types of relationships and their function.

The critical reflections on weak and strong ties and the conflation with ethnicity are a very important contribution to the debate on networks of migrants and their descendants. But I want to make a plea not to do away with research that looks at all sorts of crucial solidarity between mobile people (co-ethnic or not) who are arriving in a new place. Almost without exception, mobile people have several stories of (unexpected) solidarity of other mobile and non-mobile people who helped them to feel at home and to settle. Not just practically, but also emotionally these gestures (big and small) usually have been crucial for them to make a home of the new place. They helped them, bit by bit, to also get more control over the new situations they faced. These forms of solidarity might partly be framed as gestures with an expected reciprocal return in the future, but this not always the case. Empathy can also be an important driver for people’s actions. The fact that once someone experienced similar difficulties when settling in a new country can also be a reason to help other people out. It is important to not only see networks, and that what is exchanged in them, in economic terms and as investments or loans that need to be paid back sometime in the future. It can also be satisfying to help someone without getting anything in return, other than a good feeling that you have helped somebody to find their way in a new place.