Here’s an article by Queensland sociologist Lynda Cheshire, reflecting on the contrast between neighbourly behaviour during the floods in that state last year, and a reported ‘rise in neighbourly tensions’ that apparently characterises contemporary Australian life. Why are neighbours still there when needed, she asks, 'even if their noise, smells and habits are cause for complaint the rest of the time?'
Cheshire notes that the contrast might partly be explained by an increased ability to avoid confrontation by referring difficulties to official intermediaries (like this example I blogged not long ago) and points out that this is ‘a costly habit’:
‘There is a possibility that the wave of goodwill exhibited during the floods will minimise neighbourly conflicts, or at least reduce registered complaints. But it may also create new sets of expectations about neighbours and new forms of conflict if these normative codes are breached.’
I’m reminded that some months ago I wrote about the way supportive neighbourly responses in time of large-scale disasters throw up somewhat nostalgic reflections about how our societies have 'lost' the values that are warmly evidenced in time of adversity. Cheshire’s article does not come into that category, although she does appear at least in this case to reproduce uncritically the received narrative of decline. I'd like to know more about whether neighbourliness in Australia really has declined and in what ways, and how that compares with the UK where similar claims are so often made.