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Diaspora 9:3 2000 Thinking and Rethinking Ethnic Economies Antoine Pécoud University of Oxford Ethnic Economies. Ivan Light and Steven Gold. San Diego, CA: Academic Press, 2000. Studies on ethnic entrepreneurship may be reaching a turning point. This is indicated by the high number of reviews of the literature published in the last few years (Barrett, Jones, and McEvoy; Chan and Ong; Rath, "Introduction"; Rath and Kloosterman ). There seems to be a felt need for recapitulations of thirty years of fruitful and dynamic research on the topic. Three or four decades ago, there was no such thing as an "ethnic economy": as a fact, it barely existed; as a concept, the role of ethnicity in contemporary economic life was largely unexplored. The appearance and growth of ethnic businesses, both in North America and in Western Europe, was followed by a large body of research that is today mature and important enough to be surveyed and evaluated, as in this volume, which can also function as an advanced textbook for new researchers. Nearly thirty years ago, Ivan Light published one of the very first books on ethnic entrepreneurship (Light, Ethnic Enterprise). Now, he and Steven Gold have summed up the research done since then: their book is the most important attempt so far to provide a synthetic and coherent description ofwhat is known on immigrants' business activities in the United States, in terms of both empirical findings and theoretical explanations. Ethnic Economies is elegantly written and manages to remain very clear despite the complexity of the ideas discussed and the abundance of empirical data. It thus constitutes a valuable introduction for non-specialists as well as a stimulating and useful tool for those who are familiar with the subject. In their preface, the authors emphasize the importance of ethnicity in Western societies and note that, consequently, social conflicts are increasingly expressed in ethnic terms. In economic life in particular, ethnic ties are often seen as responsible for increased competition, exploitation, and group inequalities. Indeed, ethnic businesses have never drawn more attention than during the riots 440 Diaspora 9:3 2000 and black-Korean conflicts of April 1992 in Los Angeles: on that occasion, mobs deliberately burned and destroyed several hundred Korean-owned shops. The authors acknowledge this dark side but also underline the positive dimension of ethnic economies: many members of ethnic groups find jobs, goods, and services thanks to ethnic entrepreneurship, which thus constitutes an indispensable contribution to social welfare. This preface shows one ofthe fundamental features ofLight and Gold's conception of ethnic economies, namely what could be called their realistic optimism. They never ignore the problems but believe that, all in all, ethnic economies are positive and useful for ethnic minorities. This beliefgoes along with a pragmatic approach: Light and Gold's aim is to evaluate, as precisely as possible, the advantages and disadvantages of ethnic economies, not to judge them from a moral or political point of view. Ethnic economies may embody the questionable values of a capitalist society in which people rely only on themselves in an ultra-competitive environment. Whether or not we approve of these values is not the issue. The issue is whether or not ethnic economies improve the lives of those who participate in them. According to the authors, this is the case, and there is therefore no need to engage in polemical and pointless debates. This positive and pragmatic approach comes back in the authors' arguments throughout the book. While such a take on the topic may look straightforward and sensible, it does, as we shall see, raise a few problems. Defining and Measuring Ethnic Economies Chapters one and two deal with matters of definition, present important theoretical notions, and provide quantitative estimates of the size of ethnic economies. Light and Gold start by going back to the origins of the "ethnic economy" concept and mention early research on the relationship between ethnicity and business. First, both Marx and Weber had theorized "early capitalism," which, unlike modern capitalism, to which a universalist bourgeois rationality is attributed, was defined as embedded in (northwest European) social relations and based on the trust and solidarity that exist between members of a group. Second...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1911-1568
Print ISSN
1044-2057
Pages
pp. 439-462
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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