Social Capital, Migration and Cultural Difference: Beyond Ethnic Economies
Intercultural traffic and mingling have been vital to economic innovation, past and present, witness the role of travellers, migrants and diasporas as cultural brokers. While intercultural exchange is a prominent theme in cultural studies, studies of ethnicity have often been more occupied by group boundaries and antagonisms than cross-group relations. In relation to social capital a central notion has been the ethnic economy. Here this notion is rejected because in effect it refers to national origin rather than ethnicity and diverts attention from social and economic relations across cultural differences and boundaries. While immigrant groups may play a large part in national and transnational enterprise, formal and informal, this is not conceivable without considerable and extensive crosscultural relations. In the interstices of studies of migration and ethnic economies there are sporadic references to interethnic economies. The shift of emphasis to crosscultural enterprise means taking into account bonding, bridging and linking social capital within and across cultural boundaries. Much literature and reporting on ethnicity is fraught with friction, tension, antagonism. Virtually per definition we only hear of ethnicity when it generates problems, oppression, conflict, in line with the media principle "When it bleeds it leads". But what of the situations when ethnicity does not entail conflict or when conflict is only minor? Here the distinction between bonding social capital (strong ties among close relations), bridging social capital (weak ties among people from different backgrounds but similar socioeconomic status) and linking social capital ("friends in high places’") takes on cultural dimensions: each apply within and across cultural settings. The question of cultural difference and social capital arises in three different contexts: immigration and migration, transnational enterprise, and ethnically diverse societies.