Portes Meets Zelizer in Azerbaijan: Social Capital As a Byproduct of Relational Work

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 16:24
Oral Presentation
Dustin STOLTZ, University of Notre Dame, USA, Kellogg Institute for International Studies, University of Notre Dame, USA
Aaron PITLUCK, Illinois State University, USA
The unexpected presence of social capital—in the form of almsgiving to social outcasts and resource transfers at mourning ceremonies—in an exceptionally distrustful environment like Azerbaijan, suggests that contemporary social capital theories may be misspecified. In particular, we demonstrate that our two empirical cases are poorly explained by Alejandro Portes' widely-cited four sources of social capital. Drawing on our empirical work and the research program of Viviana Zelizer, we find that trust is neither necessary or sufficient to generate social capital. We propose that all social capital is a byproduct of relational work. More specifically, we find that people identify and ascribe their relationships to others by relying on available cultural conventions to mark economic transactions and other media as appropriate or inappropriate. Social capital materializes when the media exchanged is valuable.

Our argument has important implications for development sociology. Our theory and case suggests that researchers should expect to find social capital in even the most deviant, disorganized, war-torn and despondent places and social situations, where both personal and generalized trust are absent. This is because relational work is universal while trust is not. This also has implications for development practitioners. Social workers, community organizers, and other social capitalists, seeking to help individuals gain access to resources or to increase the social capital of communities, may benefit from interpreting their vocations as ‘relationship work specialists,’ with relationships and relational packages as their unit of practice.