How to Hoard Opportunities

Charles Tilly


What is opportunity hoarding and how does it relate to social exclusion? In this book chapter, Tilly uses examples of chain migration to illustrate how particular groups organise to hoard opportunities, excluding others from certain occupations and business sectors. While opportunity hoarding does not necessarily result in exclusionary costs to society, it is a potential mechanism of categorical inequality. It can couple with exploitation to create damaging differentials in opportunities and rewards among groups in society.

Mamaroneck, Long Island in the United States shares a strong link with a small village in Italy, Roccasecca. The link has been forged by generations of immigrants crossing the Atlantic to start a new life in the US, following a well-defined migration chain that fed individuals and families into a set of economic niches. Indeed, the Mamaroneck story illustrates the creation of a category—Italian-Americans—by the migration process itself. Subsequent generations have used the created category: members of the categorically bounded network gained access to a resource, in this case the landscape gardening business. Once in control, the category fenced off access to that resource from other people, limiting it to its members.

The development of such networks is common among immigrant communities, but, while Italian-American control of landscape gardening certainly excluded other potential workers from the business, it hardly qualifies as exploitation. Rather, the term “opportunity hoarding” describes this successful strategy. Generally, a reliance on categories, ethnic or otherwise, distinguishes opportunity hoarding from other organisations of effort. Opportunity hoarding in general brings together these elements:

  • A distinctive network
  • Valuable resources that are renewable, subject to monopoly, supportive of network activities, and enhanced by the network’s modus operandi
  • Sequestering of those resources by network members
  • Creation of beliefs and practices that sustain network control of the resources

Network, valuable resource, and sequestering combine into effective opportunity hoarding when together they yield advantages in relations with actors outside the network. Such advantages, however, do not necessarily depend on or produce categorical inequality. Family farms, family-run stores, and other types of small-scale enterprise often operate with little or no directly exploited labour, but nevertheless gain from the ‘rents’ provided by exclusive use of a site, stock, and clientele. Professions also organise themselves to secure a monopoly over dispensation of certain services, often supported by state licensing schemes and regulation.

Strong complementarity, however, can develop between exploitation and opportunity hoarding. This occurs when the effort of a favoured minority provides a resource-owning elite with the means to extract surplus from an essential but otherwise unavailable larger population, such as in South Africa under apartheid. Exploitation by powerful people and opportunity hoarding by less powerful people combine to promote the establishment of unequally rewarded categories. Opportunity hoarding can combine with exploitation in one of two ways:

  • Exploiters directly enlist an opportunity-hoarding minority in the exclusion of others
  • Exploiters and opportunity hoarders attach themselves to adjacent, complementary resources

NB: Part of this chapter is available online at Google Books.


Tilly, C., 1998, 'How to Hoard Opportunities' in Tilly, C., 'Durable Inequality', University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, pp. 147-169