The Importance of Social Capital in Protracted Displacement


The authors argue that refugees can create ‘bonding’ and ‘bridging’ social capital even in situations of relative vulnerability. In Lebanon, refugees often choose to settle in locations where they have preexisting social networks (leading to strong ethnic/kinship clusters), where they revive and grow their social networks. Bonding social capital can also help refugees to move within Lebanon to access better employment opportunities and/or lower housing costs. Refugees leverage their social capital to access livelihoods (through information sharing and mutual assistance to find jobs, or by looking after each others children to allow parents to work), to save costs (e.g. to find more affordable accommodation through their in-group network), use social capital as a form of basic social insurance (by pooling resources), and protect against exploitation (in-group networks can warn of exploitative or unreliable employers or landlords). The ability of refugees’ to both create and then convert social capital into tangible benefits varies across locations and appears to be determined by the extent to which refugees have other resources to share or invest in the network. In places where immediate needs outweighed any considerations of future benefits, social networks appeared to break down completely—a sign of extreme vulnerability. The authors argue that assessments of refugee populations should examine social capital (e.g. by looking at homogeneity of refugee communities, or density of social networks), and this understanding should be reflected in targeting and programming.