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VOLUME 7 (2005), ISSUE 12 (YEARLY)






This article presents an analysis of in-depth interviews and a review of diverse research literatures examining cross-cultural variations in the importance of personal relationships, and the outcomes in fulfillment of such variations. Interviews with twenty two Ecuadorians who live or have lived in the United States, and twenty three Americans who live or have lived in Ecuador focus on perceptions of how everyday, middle-class life differs in the two countries, and what is liked or disliked about life in each place.  The interviews show strong, consistent patterns where both Americans and Ecuadorians prefer the order and ease of life in America, while also preferring the social life and emphasis on relationships in Ecuador. The author makes sense of this pattern in the course of discussing research on the roles of family during economic hardship, and how relationships are used to negotiate poor and often corrupt institutions. The irony noted by some researchers that individuals tend to have poorer social lives in richer societies is explained by the author as follows: as some societies are able to develop institutions that facilitate individual achievement such as public education, democracy, open market regulation, and transparent judiciary systems, there is less of a need for individuals to develop and maintain their own “private social capital” in the form of informal, personal relationships, as they rely instead on their formal relationships within those institutions, their “public social capital.”  Furthermore, as a result of the lesser importance of personal relationships in such societies, individuals there spend less time and energy interacting with each other, but often are thereby deprived of a major source of fulfillment, that which is gained through the individual-level pursuit of non-institutionalized social capital. 


Social Capital - Culture - Corruption - Social Networks - Social Interaction - Quality of Life - Cross-cultural studies - Personal Relationships


Loren Demerath, Ph.D., is Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Sociology at Centenary College of Louisiana, Louisiana,USA. 

He completed his M.A. and Ph.D. at Indiana University, Bloomington. Dr. Demerath's work centers on his theories of culture and aesthetic perception.  His cross-cultural and cross-generational research projects have focused on cultural variations in opportunities to affirm our perceptions through interaction. 


This article is a revised version of a paper presented at the Second International Conference of The Social Capital Foundation, Buggiba, Republic of Malta, 20-23 September 2005.


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