Wednesday, 23 February 2005

Civic engagement, kinship networks, social capital Thanks to Jan Steyaert of Fontys University who has taken the trouble to send the following note about social capital, civic engagement and kinship networks, which I post here with his consent. I received my copy of Halpern’s book Friday, and with the same post came a new research on civic engagement in the Netherlands (it has an English summary starting on page 64) and a newsletter on the first results of a very large long term research on family networks (the Netherlands Kinship Panel Study (NKPS). The three of them together make for an interesting weekend ;-) The interesting aspect of the Dutch study on civic engagement was that it’s not based on population surveys, but on a survey among membership organizations. Results show a decline in membership (on average. Political parties, churches and women organizations see sharp decline, whereas environment, consumerism and sport see an increase) and a development towards more passive membership (those with highest % of active members are youth organizations and sport organizations). Relevant in terms of social capital is also that the organizations report they see less contacts among their members. There is a shift from time-commitment to money-commitment. Membership organizations like the AA may see an increase in members, but that is hardly relevant for social capital as their members almost certainly never meet each other because of their membership. Interesting observation is that the decline of membership of churches and political parties cannot be explained by a decline of interest in religion or politics, as those do not decline. The kinship survey has some interesting findings. The average distance family members live apart from each other is 34 km. The higher the education, the higher that distance. For people having a university degree, the average is 55 km. Parents now live less often in the same city as their children (strange to put it that way, I’d say children move to another city) compared to some decades ago, but change is not spectacular. The average distance to another family member outside the household is 0.9 km for people with only primary education, and 0.2 km for people with university degrees. The 0.9 km can be explained by people with only primary education being mostly very old people, having fewer family members of the same age. I don’t know how to match the 0.2 km with the average distance of 55 km mentioned earlier. The other interesting finding is that mutual help and social support is often between parent and child (both ways) and less so between brother/sister. Reciprocity seems to be of little importance for such help among family members. Not surprisingly, the expectation that family members help each other out in ‘dire straits’. As to Halpern’s book, I can’t claim to have read it this weekend. I only scratched the surface by browsing through some chapters, to come to the assessment that this book deserves to be read carefully. I did linger a bit longer on chapter 8, and the discussion...
Neighbourhood participation in bloom Some of the thousand flowers of civil renewal, community engagement and cohesion are beginning to bloom. Liveability Officers, neighbourhood forums, community caretakers, street stewards, Community Link Officers, walker talkers, Young Children’s Service Area Planners, Township officers, Junior Neighbourhood Wardens… Not sure about the fairy on the cover. You can almost hear them trotting round the nation's neighbourhoods, hopefully not bumping into one another. But anyway you can read some of their work described in Maire Gaffney’s report Civic pioneers: local people, local government, working together to make life better, published yesterday by the Civil Renewal Unit of the Home Office. I think the variety is to be welcomed – we’d be suspicious of standardisation wouldn’t we? But I worry a little that toolkits seem to be sprouting all over the place from these initiatives. It’s hardly surprising: there are so many around that it’s got to be easier, quicker and cheaper to develop your own, than to identify and assess all those that are already out there, and adapt one for your own local needs. People complain about wheel reinvention but there's a logic. What might more justifiably be challenged is the logic that calls for a toolkit every time anyone does anything systematic. What’s also striking, and not at all surprising to some people I’m sure, is the need for this material to link to the recent ODPM proposals on neighbourhood governance. The Active Citizenship Centre has a note about the report here. More here on civic pioneers.

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