Unanticipated Gains

Unanticipated Gains: Origins of Network Inequality in Everyday Life 
(2009, Oxford University Press) 
   * C. Wright Mills Award for Best Book of 2009
   * Mirra Komarovsky Best Book Award, Honorable Mention (2010)
   * Outstanding Academic Title, Choice (2010) 

Excerpt: Preface and Chapter 1

Social capital theorists have shown that some people do better than others in part because they enjoy larger, more supportive, or otherwise more useful networks. But why do some people have better networks than others? 

Unanticipated Gains argues that the answer lies less in people's deliberate "networking" than in the institutional conditions of the churches, colleges, firms, gyms, childcare centers, schools, and other organizations in which they happen to participate routinely. The book illustrates and develops this argument by exploring the experiences of New York City mothers whose children were enrolled in childcare centers. 

Unanticipated Gains examines why scores of these mothers, after enrolling their children in centers, dramatically expanded both the size and usefulness of their personal networks, often in ways they did not expect. Whether, how, and how much the mothers' networks were altered---and how useful these networks were---depended on the apparently trivial but remarkably consequential practices and regulations of the centers, from the structure of their PTOs, to the regularity of their fieldtrips to amusement parks and zoos, to their ostensibly innocuous rules regarding pick-up and drop-off times. 

Relying on scores of in-depth interviews with mothers, quantitative data on both mothers and centers, and detailed case studies of other routine organizations (from beauty salons and bath houses to colleges and churches), Unanticipated Gains shows that how much people gain from their connections depends substantially on institutional conditions they often do not control, and through everyday process they may not even be aware of. 

From the back cover

  • "In this supreme work, Mario Luis Small does nothing less than transform the way that we understand social capital. With meticulous ethnographic fieldwork and a large body of data, he argues that social capital should no longer be conceptualized as individual action divorced from organizational context. To say that this multi-method case study is necessary reading alongside Coleman, Bourdieu, and Wilson is an understatement.Unanticipated Gains provides enormous leverage in explaining social inequality. Small provides a bold new agenda for sociology." 
    Mitchell Duneier, Princeton University
  • "Unanticipated Gains is a major contribution to the growing literature on social capital. Mario Small's original model of how social capital is influenced by organizational conditions is brilliantly applied to a case study of the experiences of mothers whose children were enrolled in child-care centers in New York. In the process he uncovered mechanisms that produce and perpetuate inequality in personal networks, and thereby provides direction for future research. Indeed, his notion of the 'organizational isolate' will become a key concept in future studies of formal organizations." 
    William Julius Wilson, Harvard University 
  • "In Unanticipated Gains, Small suggests an entirely new way to think about our social relationships, situating them within the organizations that we work for, join, and patronize. Small keenly uncovers how these organizations set the parameters of our social worlds, and with an impressive variety of data, he shows that differences in organizations' brokering power is an overlooked source of inequality. This is a supremely smart book that makes it impossible to go back to the old ways of studying individuals outside of the groups within which they live their lives." 
    Mary Pattillo, Northwestern University
  • "Mixing focused interviews with observations both quantitative and qualitative, Small identifies in exquisite detail the mechanisms by which the simple acts of everyday life--enrolling a child in daycare--enmesh moms in networks of opportunity and obligation, strengthening their social ties with neighbors and others, thereby weaving the dense matrix of the urban landscape. A beautiful and richly conceived study." 
    Peter Bearman, Columbia University