Wednesday, 07 February 2007

Reciprocity in neighbourliness I'm trying to write a paper about neighbourliness and have been thinking about the reciprocity of acts of neighbouring. Viewing acts of instrumental support in terms of direct reciprocity between two neighbours (rather than as part of a generalised model of exchange with less recognisable returns), research has found that unbalanced (or non-reciprocal) exchange does not necessarily lead to discontinuation of the exchange.* In other words, sometimes one neighbour helps out another without getting much in return, and keeps doing so. (Before I go on, I ought to just admit that in the interests of a little rebalancing, yesterday I baked a wholemeal loaf and took it into my next door neighbour: from previous experience I know that her husband is very fond of it, and I wanted to check out how he's doing). However, the researchers only included instrumental support (or ‘favours’) in their study, and it seems to me that other, intangible forms of interpersonal behaviour which are in some way supportive – for instance a sympathetic chat on the doorstep to provide comfort in the face of bad news, or the sharing of information about local services – are likely to be viewed by neighbours as valid contributions to the same exchange relationship. (So don't we need a piece of work that maps and describes the subtle variety of acts of neighbourliness?) Many years ago I recall rushing out of my house shouting when I saw from my window a neighbour’s toddler stepping into the road, as the mother was getting the shopping from her car. For this simple act I was rewarded almost immediately with a bottle of wine from the shopping bag. It was clear that I had to accept it, not least because there was probably a confused swelling wave of guilt as well as gratitude in her expression of thanks. But it was also, of course, a recognition of the non-obligatory, but potentially vital, role of neighbour. *F Thomése et al, Continuation of exchange with neighbors in later life, Personal relationships, 10 (2003), 535-550.

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