Wednesday, 22 November 2006

Neighbourliness, informality, and informal social control The past few weeks have seen the publication of three documents which together, in my view, contribute significantly to the arguments around neighbourliness, informality, and informal social control: a pamphlet by Samuel Jones on conversation, Talk us into it, published by Demos a JRF report on Neighbourhood security and urban change by Martin Innes and Vanessa Jones (Findings. Report) Respect_in_the_neighbourhood , edited by meself and published by Russell House. Samuel Jones's argument resonates on a drum that various people (like Alison Gilchrist, Susie Hay, David Wilcox, Geoff Mulgan, me in my small corner, and others) have been banging for a while now - there ain't enough of the right kind of conversations happening in the public realm. His main point is not that people are talking about public affairs less, but that they are engaging less frequently in the means by which their conversation can become public. The resources that drive the public realm have been channelled to more personal interests, 'draining social capital and bankrupting the public sphere.' So we've hit a crisis which requires us to 'refresh our public realm in ways acclimatised to the new means by which we pursue our personalised preference and our more particular ways of seeking information.' Compare this from the introduction to the Respect book: 'The challenge is to replenish society’s depleted stock of skills in engaging and recognising the legitimate interests of others, of learning to challenge behaviour within a shared understanding; to hone our readiness to show consideration to others, whether we know them or not. It’s not that we don’t do this: it’s just that we tend to avoid doing it with those with whom we have little in common. It’s as if - conditioned to the taciturnity of the supermarket checkout rather than the inevitable greetings of the corner shop - we have abandoned the practice of conducting trivial interactions, because they don’t matter to us. But they do matter, and we need somehow to rediscover the vernacular of mundane encounters.' The Respect book emphasises the importance of informality in terms of neighbourly relations, social capital, and the occupation of public space. There are numerous resonances with the Demos pamphlet: for example in our exploration and explanation of the tensions between local social relations and personal social networks, or in the way we probe the effects of the privatisation of social life. The book has two quite striking research chapters, two practitioners' chapters, a discussion of the notion of respect, an analysis of contemporary neighbouring, a comparative review of UK, Dutch and Flemish policy, and a discussion of the role of policy in local social relations. It argues that there is a profound and enduring connection between neighbouring, civility and a broader understanding of democratic participation. As you would expect, much of the book is concerned with informal social control, which is a key theme in the study by Innes and Jones. Their research looked at how crime, physical disorder and antisocial behaviour shape the ways that places...

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