Building Bigness: Reputation, Prominence, and Social Capital in Rural South India

  • 29 May 2018

    17:00-18:30, Butler Room, Nuffield College

  • Nuffield Social Networks Seminar   Add to Calendar
Speaker: Eleanor Power

Assistant Professor, The London School of Economics, Department of Methodology

This event is part of the Nuffield Social Networks Seminar Series.

Social scientists have long been concerned with how people's actions and their reputations are co-constituted, and how these reputations may help people gain the help and support of others. Often, this work has focused on the select few who are able to achieve explicit markers of prominence and distinction. Here, I study the support ties among all adult residents of two Tamil villages, asking how reputational standing in each village mediates access to social support. Among the four reputational qualities studied (generosity, good character, advice giving, and influence), all are more strongly associated with providing rather than receiving help. However, the importance of reciprocity in the networks means that those who help others are more likely to receive help themselves. I find that a reputation for influence has the weakest effect on support relationships with others, while a reputation for generosity has the strongest effect. Further, a reputation for influence is not associated with greater connections to people of ''high position'' outside the village. Given the relatively weak effects of a reputation for influence, I turn to a measure of influence based on network position, weighted PageRank centrality, which I interpret as a measure of individual social capital. This too is more closely associated with a reputation for generosity than with a reputation for influence. While persons who are recognized as influential often also have an influential network position, there are many others who have similarly high centrality, notably including many women. In light of these findings, I suggest that much of the anthropological evidence for the benefits of prominence may actually reflect the returns to greater social capital. I further argue that acts of generosity and mutual support are the basis of both prominence and social capital. By studying social capital, then, we can achieve a more complete accounting of the many different social strategies employed by all persons, not simply the few who achieve prominence.

The Nuffield Social Network Seminars are convened by Cohen R. Simpson & Laurin B. Weissinger.