Community cohesion and inherited networks - A network study of two handloom clusters in Kerala, India

Anant Kamath & Robin Cowan

#2012-073

When agents use informal interaction to exchange knowledge, their production relations may develop as emergent properties of their social relations and may exhibit homophily. The Saliyar community cluster in India is an archetype of this. A preceding study by Cowan and Kamath (2012) had shown how, by a study of this community, the conceptual understanding of social embeddedness needed to be expanded to understand these informal knowledge exchanges in environments of complex social relations. In this follow up paper, we see how the homophilous-embeddedness in the Saliyars' networks and an extreme sense of community cohesion worked its way by influencing a variety of economic and cultural factors and lessening the willingness to absorb innovations, driving the Saliyars into decline. We also see the mechanisms through which the absence of these attributes among the other socially-heterogeneous communities of weavers, such as in the Payttuvila cluster, stimulated their rise.

Community and family spirit have, more often than not, assisted and given its own shape to the technology trajectory of handloom in most of India. Community social capital has buttressed the risks of adoption of new technologies and practices in the past, and invigorated information flows. Hence, the 'standard line' in the literature sides with the idea that community cohesion has been, historically, congruent to technological progress and knowledge diffusion among community-based weaving clusters and groups in India. But in the case of the Saliyars there has been a disharmony. This does not question whether or not community social capital and technological progress share a healthy relation, but shows that there are limits beyond which the detriments of community social capital and rigidities associated with inherited networks set in, hindering knowledge diffusion and technological advancement. The Saliyars as a counter example to the 'standard line' demonstrate this.

Keywords: Handloom, Networks, Socio-Technology, Cohesion, Homophilous-Embeddedness, Kerala

JEL classification: O33, Z13

  


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