Reproducing Inequalities or Promoting Upward Mobility? a Case of Transnational Asian-Indian Entrepreneurs

Monday, 16 July 2018
Distributed Paper
Manashi RAY, West Virginia State University, USA
Immigrant and ethnic entrepreneurship in developed economies and the US has been the subject of extensive research exploring how ethnic cultural capital and networks act as mechanisms of assimilation in host societies, and how structural challenges arising from discrimination of race/ethnicity, gender, class, religion, and nationality/immigration status shape entrepreneurial performance. With the exception of a small but growing body of research on cross-border entrepreneurship, scholarship on entrepreneurship in immigrant-receiving advanced economies has focused on individual nations. However, new perspectives are needed to understand transnational entrepreneurs and their cross-national businesses as they as they benefit from global resources, opportunities, and diasporas, and the changing nature of international migration.

My research studies how transnational Asian-Indian entrepreneurs’ cultural resources affect the growth and performance of their cross-border enterprises. I analyze how the context of entrepreneurship, language competencies, bi-cultural literacy, and ‘transnational habitus’—that is, shared perceptions, cognitions, and dual frames of reference— cultivated by Indian entrepreneurs enable the conversion of social, symbolic, financial, and cultural capital into desirable goods in diverse societies.

Using data collected through interviews with forty-six Indian immigrant, returnee, and non-migrant entrepreneurs in info-tech, service, and retail sectors in major metropolitan areas in India and the US, I explore a) entrepreneurs’ asymmetrical possession of cultural capital (language competency, knowledge of the society and its ways of doing business), and b) the association of cultural capital with ‘class’ resources, defined as private property, wealth, investment capital, and human capital (Light & Karageorgis, 1994). Class and cultural capital together become significant markers for different types of transnational networking, including multidirectional networks spanning borders beyond those of host and home country, and diasporic and ethnic networks facilitating co-ethnics’ assimilation and risk management in host/home countries. My research shows how these cross-border networks create paths for upward mobility for some while reinforcing inequalities for others.