Social capital in modern, conflicted Iraq : its characteristics, dynamics and effects at the micro level of Iraqi society
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The thesis reports the results of a study of social capital in the nation state of Iraq. It specifically examines social capital activity at the individual micro level of the ordinary lives of Iraqi citizens. It identifies the dominant social networks within Iraq, and the kinds of benefits obtained from these networks at the individual and collective level. Utilising a qualitative iterative research design that involved focus group discussions with Iraqis in the Australian diaspora, a series of Tele-interviews with selected participants in Iraq, and finally a number of clarifying interviews with selected Iraqis in Iraq and Australia, the study was able produce rich sets of empirical data. It found that virtually all Iraqis are members of up to three different types of social networks: Their Family networks in which they are born and in which they acquire a set of special reciprocal behaviours based on norms special to Iraqis; their separate Personal networks of friends and neighbours; and their Constrained social networks, such as work networks, in institutional settings where organisational rules may also apply. These networks were based on trusting interpersonal relationships of varying strengths. In this process the religious and ethnic backgrounds of the fellow members of their networks were irrelevant. Iraqi social networks crossed sectarian divides. This multiple membership characteristic meant that benefits from one network could be brought into another network in bridging social capital transactions. The study further found that in their social networks, Iraqis exchange a range of benefits which may be unique to Iraqi society. These were classified as qualitatively-different benefits of emotional support, informational and, at higher levels, practical and material support. The determinant of the benefits are the social settings of the transactions – and the external intrusive social contexts which may require help for threatened members of social networks. The study found that these benefits and the underlying willingness of Iraqis to provide them comprised the social capital assets of Iraq. Needy members could access benefits immediately. But as a latent community resource, this social capital could only be mobilised by trusted facilitators for an agreed community benefit. Personal trust was found to be a necessary pre-condition for forming social capital, but a lack of social and institutional trust, common in Iraq today, hindered the mobilisation of the community pools of social capital. Generally social capital transaction activity was found to be vibrantly alive and flourishing in Iraq, but only at the individual micro-level of the society, with consequent implications for Iraqi social planners.
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