Date of Award

Fall 2015

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Michele Dillon

Second Advisor

Semra Aytur

Third Advisor

Kenneth M Johnson


Despite major demographic shifts in the nation’s racial/ethnic composition, we know little about how residents of integrating cities and neighborhoods are connected to one another. Research regarding the relationship between neighborhood diversity and ‘social capital’ (ties between individuals) is mixed, often suggesting that diversity reduces trust, close ties, and participation in local civic life. Yet, the extant literature fails to account for ground-level urban social processes underlying social capital formation in diverse neighborhoods. In this dissertation, I reframe the diversity/social capital debate by using ethnographic methods to answer three interrelated questions: How do residents of diverse neighborhoods (compared to less diverse ones) develop ties with one another? What forms do these ties take? (For example, are these ties strong or weak? Do they cross racial and ethnic lines or are they homogeneous?). Finally, what outcomes do these connections result in for residents and their neighborhoods? Several neighborhoods of varying diversity in Manchester, New Hampshire (the states most racially and ethnically diverse city) are the sites for this research. Findings illustrate the role of culture in social capital processes—that is, the cultural frames residents use to make sense of diversity and demographic change have implications for the formation of neighborhood social ties and reciprocity. Some espoused a ‘social justice’ frame, seeing diversity and multiculturalism as enriching life experiences and offering structural explanations for inequality. These residents were from a wider range of racial/ethnic backgrounds, lived in more racially and economically diverse places, and had more racially/ethnically diverse social networks. They were also more attached to their neighbors and engaged more often in reciprocity and helping behaviors across racial/ethnic lines. Other residents used a ‘self-reliance’ frame, arguing that newcomers must assimilate, that Manchester’s diversity reduces quality of life, and that individual failures/behaviors explain inequality. This research also highlights the role of civic organizations. While these groups were sometimes successful in connecting residents to one another (including those of different racial/ethnic backgrounds) this varied by the type, structure, and recruitment strategies of organizations. These same organizational features also helped to reproduce inequality within and between neighborhoods, giving white residents and those of higher socioeconomic status better connections to resources that improve quality of life.