Author's School

Brown School of Social Work

Author's Department/Program

Social Work


English (en)

Date of Award

January 2011

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Chair and Committee

Gautam Yadama


Concentrated poverty is an increasing problem in urban U.S. neighborhoods leading to social isolation and marginalization from mainstream institutions. Conventional thought has argued that the urban poor lack resources necessary for social and economic mobility due to constrained social networks endemic in homogeneously poor communities. However, neighborhood based organizations may be one place where the urban poor can engage heterogeneous resource networks to advance socially and economically. Religious congregations are enduring neighborhood organizations that present the opportunity for social interaction and resource access. Thus, this study examines the role of religious congregations in providing access to resources embedded in congregational social networks. Using survey and network methods, data were gathered on network relations, positional resources, and resource structure of active adult members of two Christian congregations in an urban neighborhood: N=122). The congregations represent two types of urban churches - neighborhood-based: n=59) and one that draws membership from within and beyond the neighborhood: n=61). Exploratory social network analysis is used to assess the network structure and distribution of resources, regression analyses to examine the effect of factors on social and economic returns, and exponential random graph modeling is used to predict the likelihood of ties between congregants of varying resource positions. Resource gatekeepers were more easily identified in the neighborhood congregation and both congregations were densely connected. Congregants generally reached high on the social ladder and reported access to a broad range of resources across four domains. Further, resources were spread widely across networks and not concentrated with any one group or congregants with certain characteristics. Neighborhood congregations offered a place for interactions to occur across upper reachability and income at the neighborhood congregation and across income at the mixed congregation. The mixed income congregation demonstrated less interactions among diverse populations within the congregation. Urban congregations are important neighborhood-based organizations where the urban poor can interact to access heterogeneous resource networks. However, access to resources does not necessarily translate into social and economic returns. Access is a necessary but insufficient condition to produce the returns essential for social and economic mobility. While urban religious congregations may act as brokers of resources, other forces impact the capitalization of those resources to make a significant, measurable difference in the lives of the urban poor.


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