Ambivalent Connections and ‘Negative’ Social Capital: Supportive and ‘Problematic’ Ties of Filipinos in New York and London

Rizza Kaye Cases


Overwhelmingly, migrant networks (and social networks, in general) are conceived as largely beneficial to their members. The intimate connection between social capital and social networks partly supports and reinforces this view. The often-celebrated effects of social capital have been problematized by Alejandro Portes, who engaged in sustained explications on what could be the negative and unintended consequences of social capital and the costs of belonging to social networks. Most of the identified undesirable effects of social capital, such as exclusion and constraints on one’s freedom, are the downsides of achieving solidarity, group cohesion, and maintenance of normative order. However, there are also cases when networks break down or weaken and, therefore, fail to provide for the expected support and assistance to their members. It is also possible for networks to be conflictive and fragmented such that they are unable to generate positive social capital. In other words, it is also necessary to move beyond the emphasis on solidarity and cohesion by giving adequate attention to the existence of conflicts and tensions within migrant networks. In this study, I explore the ambivalent role of migrant networks by examining the networks of 134 Filipino migrants in New York and London pre- and post-migration. In particular, compared are three different occupational groups – nurses, domestics, and care workers. I elicited ego-centric networks through the aid of network mapping and visualization embedded within in-depth interviews. The findings suggest that inasmuch as support and assistance flow within networks, so are conflicts, tensions, and exploitations. Ties maybe important but are also not necessarily wholly supportive. Therefore, there is a need to take into account the ambivalent ties that cannot be neatly categorized as either positive or negative. In the context of geographic mobility, the ties that were the most instrumental in reaching a particular destination could also be the most exploitative. For instance, although having generally supportive influence on facilitation of the move and post-migration adjustment and settlement, familial and co-ethnic ties were also found to be abusive to the newly arrived and undocumented migrants. Thus, notions of ‘support’ and ‘assistance’ should also be problematized, unpacked, and critically examined.

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