New Thinking in Political Economy series
Edited by Emily Chamlee-Wright and Virgil Henry Storr
Chapter 7: Entrepreneurship and Social Networks in Post-Disaster Environments
Petrik Runst INTRODUCTION 7.1 Hurricane Katrina disrupted and even destroyed social networks. Many New Orleanians were displaced after the storm; tens of thousands spent months and even years in nearby cities like Baton Rouge, Houston and Atlanta before they could return to New Orleans to rebuild their homes. During their time away they were often separated from their families, neighbors, friends and former co-workers as well as members of their church community and social clubs. As such, the networks that they relied on as they went about their everyday lives pre-Katrina were not as readily available to them during the difficult post-Katrina period. This chapter is an attempt to tease out how social networks are reconstituted after a major disaster like Katrina. Burt (1992, 1998, 2000) has described how social networks are constituted in non-disaster contexts. According to Burt (1992, 1998), structural holes represent non-existent connections, or ‘holes’, between clusters of well-connected individuals. If an individual can build a weak tie, as first introduced by Granovetter (1973), in order to bridge one or more holes he controls information flows between the groups and enjoys the accompanying control benefits. The individual who recognizes these ties and actively seeks to utilize them is called tertius gaudens, or the ‘third who benefits’ (Burt 1992). Similar to a market situation, as more and more people attempt to bridge the same structural hole, there are diminishing marginal returns for the individual tertius and profits are finally driven to zero when all holes are closed. However,...
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