Academic journal article Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal

The Consumer Market of the Enclave Economy: A Study of Advertisements in a Chinese Daily Newspaper in Toronto

Academic journal article Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal

The Consumer Market of the Enclave Economy: A Study of Advertisements in a Chinese Daily Newspaper in Toronto

Article excerpt


Recent research on immigrant communities uses the concept of "enclave economy" to refer to the economic activities and labour relations of immigrant workers and ethnic business employers that often cluster in immigrant concentrated neighbourhoods (Sanders and Nee, 1987; Wilson and Portes, 1980; Zhou, 1992; Zhou and Logan, 1989). (1) Thus far, research has focused on whether blocked mobility in the primary labour market or higher remuneration by ethnic businesses draws immigrants to the enclave economy. There are conflicting evidence and conclusions about whether the enclave economy creates a mobility trap or an alternative opportunity for immigrants; much of the confusion has to do with ambiguities in defining the conceptual and actual boundaries of the enclave economy (Portes and Jensen, 1987, 1992; Sanders and Nee, 1992). In this paper, we argue that research on enclave economy has almost exclusively focused on immigrant workers and employers connected with immigrant firms, and has not considered the immigr ant consumer market as a dimension of the enclave economy. Using advertisements in a major Chinese daily newspaper in Toronto, we describe the features of the Chinese immigrant consumer market as an added dimension to what is known about the enclave economy.

Conceptual Boundaries of Enclave Economy

The enclave thesis, first proposed by Wilson and Portes (1980), postulates that the enclave economy offers new immigrants an alternative mobility opportunity because immigrant minorities in the enclave economy, unlike those in the secondary labour market, enjoy economic returns from past human capital investments similar to those in the primary labour market. Thus, rather than being handicapped by language and cultural barriers, ethnic affinity and cultural distinctiveness form the basis of labour recruitment for immigrant employers and allow them privileged access to the low-cost immigrant labour market, as well as to an ethnically-based consumer market. Accordingly, the enclave economy does not deprive its participants, but rather, the reciprocal obligations between ethnic employers and employees provide new opportunities and alternative mobility for immigrants. The importation of fresh investment and human capital by immigrants, together with the increase in the immigrant population, help the enclave econo my expand.

The claims of Wilson and Portes (1980) have been challenged by Sanders and Nee (1987) on the grounds that the economic returns predicted by the enclave thesis are found to apply only to immigrant employers, and that immigrant workers in the enclave economy experience lower returns than their counterparts in the open market. This conclusion rekindles interest in the idea of ethnic entrapment, which suggests that while ethnic affinity and kinship assistance are functional in placing recent immigrants in jobs in minority-owned establishments, they also become a mobility trap for immigrants who are obligated to remain in economically exploitative relationships (Li, 1977; Rinder, 1958-9).

The conclusion of Sanders and Nee (1987) concerning the exploitation and entrapment of immigrant workers in the enclave economy has been rejected by Portes and Jensen (1989) who found that Cuban enclave enterprises in South Florida did not treat immigrant workers worse than employers outside the enclave, and that engagement in ethnic enterprise can be an effective avenue of social mobility. Furthermore, Zhou and Logan (1989) showed that male enclave workers in New York City's Chinatown enjoyed positive earning returns from education, although the same effect was not found among female enclave workers.

One difficulty in the enclave debate has to do with the way the enclave economy is conceptualized and operationalized. Proponents of the thesis tend to characterize the enclave economy as conceptually distinct from the core and the peripheral economies in that the labour and market relationships in the enclave sector are mainly structured upon ethnic solidarity (Wilson and Martin, 1982; Wilson and Portes, 1980). …

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