Positive Attitudes ≠ Tolerance

Here’s something that bugs me time and time again: positive attitudes are not the same as tolerance. In my case, I look at attitudes towards immigrants. A person with positive attitudes likes immigrants. A person who is tolerant of immigrants, actually dislikes them, but accepts them and gets along with it. By definition tolerance involves disagreement, but then allowing the behaviour one does not agree with. If we mix the concepts, we’re really saying that nobody really likes immigrants, but there are some who accept the fact that they are here. That’s quite different from having positive attitudes.

Similarly, at the other end of the spectrum, a person with negative attitudes is not necessarily a racist. There are many reasons why a person dislikes or is at unease with immigrants — racism is just one of them.

And if you are interested in tolerance of immigrants as such, here are a couple of papers by Markus Freitag and Carolin Rapp that take the concept seriously.

Freitag, Markus, and Carolin Rapp. 2013. “Intolerance Toward Immigrants in Switzerland: Diminished Threat Through Social Contacts?” Swiss Political Science Review 19 (4): 425–46. doi:10.1111/spsr.12049.
———. 2015. “The Personal Foundations of Political Tolerance towards Immigrants.” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 41 (3): 351–73. doi:10.1080/1369183X.2014.924847.
Rapp, Carolin, and Markus Freitag. 2014. “Teaching Tolerance? Associational Diversity and Tolerance Formation.” Political Studies, n/a – n/a. doi:10.1111/1467-9248.12142.
Rapp, Carolin. 2015. “More Diversity, Less Tolerance? The Effect of Type of Cultural Diversity on the Erosion of Tolerance in Swiss Municipalities.” Ethnic and Racial Studies 0 (0): 1–19. doi:10.1080/01419870.2015.1015582.

The Concept of Capital in Sociology

Inspired by a post by Colin Mills, I decided to post a comment on the concept of capital in sociology — something that has been in the works for ages. Already as a graduate student I was fascinated by the proliferation of different kinds of capital in the social sciences: physical capital, economic capital, social capital, ethnic capital, human capital, cultural capital, linguistic capital, global capital, symbolic capital, political capital, you name it!

As far as I know, capital is defined by two aspects: First, it can be accumulated, second it can be converted into different forms of capital. At some stage I embarked on the ambitious project to seek the mechanisms by which different forms of capital (as used in the social sciences) can be converted. Alas, I abandoned this project, largely because for many of the forms of capital I examined, I failed to identify clear mechanisms for conversion.

When I wrote capital can be accumulated, this means we can have more of it, but also we can have less of it. In this sense, different forms of capital are like resources. When I wrote convertibility (exchangeability), this means that one form of capital can be used in the generation of other forms of capital. This highlights that capital can be invested and used to achieve certain things.

The trouble with most forms of capital as they are used in the social sciences is that they are only convertible under certain circumstances, or that they require no conversion at all — such as when high human capital comes with prestige (symbolic capital).

On the up side, for most forms of capital, there is some convertibility, but usually it is only into economic capital. On the down side, for most forms of capital, such convertibility is limited, contingent on external factors, and subject to substantial transaction costs. In sociology, the focus seems to be on accumulation, in which case there is no apparent difference to using a term like resources. Let’s not hide behind buzz words.

While I would maintain that capital can be useful, much of what’s being offered is conceptual stretch. At least once we’ve reached negative social capital it is clear we’ve gone too far.