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Perspectives on networking, cultural values, and skills among African American men with Spinal Cord Injury: A reconsideration of social capital theory

by M. Njeri Jackson, Michelle A. Meade, Phyllis Ellenbogen, Kirsten Barrett

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Abstract

Unemployment among African Americans with SCI poses a serious challenge to successful recovery and community reintegration. Recent research and public discourse about documented racial disparities in employment following injury is often laden with assumptions about the absence of "social capital," including networks of support, appropriate skills, work ethic or viable work history profile. Such assumptions inform social policy aimed at assisting the unemployed, including African Americans with SCI and are embedded in explanations for reducing the role of government or the "state" in addressing poverty and related social issues, one consequence of which has been a reduction in programs and funding for persons with disabilities. Social capital theory has also been used to justify an increased reliance on non-governmental networks and institutions (particularly faith-based) to address concerns of individuals and families struggling with employment, health care or other issues traditionally addressed by the state. The emphasis on individual initiative and cultivation of networks of support assumes the absence of both among those who are unemployed. The purpose of this paper is to describe and discuss the attitudes of African American men with SCI toward work and their perceptions of obstacles and supports in their attempts to seek and secure employment in comparison and contrast to explanations presented in "social capital" theories. Using the qualitative component of a larger project, which used mixed method design, we identify and present the perspectives of African American men with SCI. The results of this study raise questions about assumptions and policies based in social capital theories and suggest a need to reconsider and reframe explanations for unemployment and those social reintegration strategies embodied in related policies.