Ruth Steinhof

Lansstraße 5-9
14195 Berlin

This study‘s interest lies in the relation of structure and agency. Particularly I put emphasis on the mobilization of resources embedded in ego‘s relationships to various alter through ego’s perception of structural and agential opportunity structures in the context of job search. For this purpose I conducted research on four Evangelical congregations in the South and Middle West of the United States applying various sociological methods like in-depth interviews and participant observation. This exploration was conducted drawing on the principles of Grounded Theory (Glaser, Strauss 1967).

Churches are considered major sources of social capital. Whereas the benefit of churches in providing basic necessities for the poor is obvious, it is not clear to what extent they can be useful as networks of status attainment. Do they offer opportunities to network and provide chances to get ahead for the otherwise socially deprived? American churches are organizations – dependent on the tithing and offering of their members. Because of this dependency, congregations should have an interest in keeping their members employed, enabling them to attain resources and offering them agency options to mobilize them. Yet, it is not clear if and how congregants perceive these offers as opportunities when it comes to getting a job. Many scholars have questioned the ideal of a purposefully acting individual. Small (2009) proved that an individual's social capital does not necessarily result from conscious investment but from "unanticipated gains" through individuals' embeddedness in organizations. Whereas the formation of social capital within religious networks certainly poses an interesting question that has not been satisfactorily answered yet, the specific mechanisms underlying the activation of individuals' resources within religious networks represent an even more important subject. Their study promises to deal with the general lacuna that is mobilization of social resources in social sciences. Once a support network is generated mobilization often seems a mere by-product. Only few scholars have explicitly explored the concrete mechanisms underlying mobilization processes, most often with regards to the conscious omission of any activation (Smith 2010). The exact actions undertaken to activate resources are certainly worth the investigation and not as obvious as often assumed. Hence, when dealing with opportunity structures of Evangelical church networks not only should one look at the structures offered for accessing resources but further investigate the respective agency options provided by that very same cultural and structural frame and how these are used by the individuals. Contemporary research on agency overemphasizes individuals' purpose-fulness, perception of social network and projectivity as necessary preconditions for agential processes and is generally too engaged with the outcome of mobilization processes instead of focussing on the mechanisms underlying the activation of resources. All too often are individuals characterized as passive in their agential attempts because they lack these preconditions. By emphasizing the aspect of agency the implications of "the invisible hand of social capital" (Lin, AO 2008) can be further clarified at least within a context of Evangelical networks.

Dahlem Research School
Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft