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Social Capital in Stressed Communities

Written by: Bill Sherman on Thursday, 17 July 2008, 7:22 AM

How does Social Capital work in stressed communities? That’s a question that researchers asked in two contexts: 1) after Hurricane Andrew and 2) within an economically disadvantaged community.

  • Formal support–support offered by official agencies, governments, etc.
  • Informal support–support from core network (family and closest friends)

A friend of mine, who grew up in Appalachia, describes informal support as “as long as I’ve got a biscuit, you’ve got half.”

Post-Hurricane Andrew

In the post-hurricane environment, researchers found that people with high levels of education were more able to leverage formal support. However, they were much less able to leverage informal support. While “weak ties” might help you learn about disaster assistance and navigate through government paperwork, they won’t help you clean debris out of your yard.

Compare that to people with lower-levels of income and education. These people struggled to get formal support, but kin and close friends banded together to give each other informal support.

Economic Underclass

For years, we’ve heard that people find jobs through their weak ties (outside of their core network). That’s the core of Mark Granovetter’s research around managers. However, these expectations get wildly overturned when you look at people within an economic underclass.

Researchers found that a large percentage of the underclass “found their jobs through contacts who were either employed at the destination firm or used influence on their behalf.” (226) Researchers also found that opposite-gender contacts (gender heterophilous) were more effective than same-sex contacts for finding employment in this environment.

Key Ahas

Forms of social capital that may be useful in one environment may be useless or even harmful in another. (228)

Hurlbert, Jeanne S, John J Beggs, and Valerie A. Haines. “Social Networks and Social Capital in Extreme Environments.” in Social Capital: Theory and Research. ed. Lin, Cook, and Burt. Transaction: New Brunswick, NJ, 2007.

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