Uprooting Children: Mobility, Social Capital, and Mexican American Underachievement

By Robert Ketner Ream | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6

Informal Social Networks and the
Mobility/Social Capital Dynamic

Yeah, moving affected most of my friendships. I was moved
into those places and I didn't know anybody and so I didn't
really want to go and not fit in and feel out of place. I would
usually just go home after school
.

— Iván, second generation Mexican American

I have assumed from the outset of this study that social networks influence school performance and that this idea is not a novel one. Nevertheless, the process by which the resources embedded in social networks become available to students so as to benefit academic performance is less well understood than it should be. For instance, with Melissa, an immigrant from Mexico, her close-knit network of friends took the initiative and deployed their know-how to her benefit. Well aware that she was struggling to complete a difficult algebra assignment, her friends reached out almost instinctively. “They're like…'Do you need help?'” she recalled, “and I'm like 'Yeah— can you?' They really helped me a lot!” This freed her from having to undertake a more costly help-seeking effort beyond the bounds of her intimate peer group, and probably contributed to the subsequent improvement of her algebra grades. There are perhaps too few students fortunate enough to have peers who reach out to them in such a proactive fashion; more consistently the challenge is for students to enact more assertive help-seeking behaviors. Much of the field data in this study serve to uncover the processes by which embedded resources are unleashed, especially via social exchange, among the personal networks that include the social fabric of families and the influence of adolescent peer groups. One of the most obvious costs of student mobility (the example of Ivan cited in my epigraph above is only one such exemplary case) is that it interrupts social networks and sometimes serves to isolate students, impinging on their informal relationship ties and hindering the accumulation of social capital.

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