Nov 072011

Who knows you“It’s not about who you know but about who knows you,” says a business adage. No matter how extensive or impressive your contact list or how many names you can drop, if you aren’t on anyone’s mind for yourself or your service, business success will elude you. Settling in a new country is like that.

The post’s title is a line in “Peg of Old”, the 7th episode in season two of the HBO show Boardwalk Empire. In a main storyline, Margaret Schroeder, an Irish immigrant living in Atlantic City, seeks to reconnect with her siblings living in Brooklyn. For a back-story reason, her brother Eamoinn makes it clear he doesn’t want her in his life. The damning statement comes when he tells Margaret, “Go now, back to your own place. There’s no one here who knows you.”

In those brisk words Eamoinn tells Margaret she has no footing in his community, no one to turn to. She is a stranger there who doesn’t belong. Sure, he and her three sisters know her, but that isn’t enough.

In “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community” Robert Putnam elaborates on the difference between bonding and bridging social capital (social capital being the connections within and between social networks). Bonding social capital develops among families or close friends and serves to hold those groups together. Bridging social capital extends beyond one’s immediate circle to encompass diverse people, link to external assets and information, and generate broader relationships, for example with acquaintances or casual friends. Bridging social capital serves to get things done.

“Bonding social capital constitutes a kind of sociological superglue, whereas bridging social capital provides a sociological WD-40,” says Putnam. The sense of belonging to a community depends on your connections and relationships outside your immediate circle. The more networks you’re a part of, the better off you are.

Eamoinn’s conclusion is, therefore, a succinct summary of an immigrant’s experience. When you first move to a new country, whether it’s for work, education, or love, you’re part of no network. Starting from scratch, you’re a complete outsider, no longer of your old place and not yet of the new. The process of settling and acculturating in your new country is, in large part, a process of establishing social capital and community. That Putnam found social capital in the U.S. on the decline may make your journey difficult. But the journey you still must take.

Image credit: Nimages DR

 Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>