American University anthropology doctoral candidate, Hope Bastian Martinez, supervised by Dr. Brett Williams, will investigate how individuals of different social groups living in an urban setting use personal networks to resolve everyday socioeconomic challenges encountered in a historic moment characterized by rapid changes, generalized uncertainty, and growing economic inequalities. This research will explore how changes in consumption practices and new opportunities for consumption are affecting social networks, processes of stratification, and emerging identities.

The researcher will map personal networks through methods of participant observation in two sites of sociability central to the active everyday construction and maintenance of social networks, and structured interviews. Research questions query whether there is evidence that ties formed in the period of austerity and re-stratification following the end of the Cold War might connect the new "top" and "bottom" of society. The research design will test whether these networks mitigate the effects of growing economic inequalities by informally distributing wealth and opportunities through personal ties.

This research is important because it will contribute to new theories of social inequality in the contemporary world. The research findings may also be of value to policymakers who are seeking to target social policy to address social inequalities. This research also supports the education of a graduate student.

Project Report

How do people meet their needs in a Socialist country with a limited market, subjected to a trade embargo? Unlike the US, where almost anything can be bought at Walmart, or online and shipped quickly to your home, in contemporary Havana’s limited market, money alone is not enough to meet most basic needs and wants. In order to resolve problems of everyday life there are always two (or more) ways to have access to the goods and services one needs. In the era of Facebook, this project reminds us of the ways in which people use off-line social networks in everyday life. A "social network" is the web of connections that sustain us. Our social network includes relationships with friends, family members, neighbors, work colleagues, and all the people we share our lives with. For access to healthcare and education Havana residents complained that the official paths often do not meet their expectations and many prefer, when possible, to access these services through social networks (using connections with friends, family members, neighbors, work colleagues). Social networks are even more important for access to goods and services not provided by the state, which may or may not be available in the local market (for example: affordably priced high quality clothing and shoes, and specialty goods (like sporting equipment, camera accessories, guitar strings). Connections through social networks also provide a human face and a helping hand to navigate complicated bureaucratic processes (job searching, house sales, tax and business inspection and licenses and other legal issues). In an economy with many limitations, social networks can be used to navigate around these limits. Social networks are an important factor to the success of most new businesses in contemporary Cuba.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (BCS)
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Jeffrey Mantz
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American University
United States
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