Thursday, 17 July 2008

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Why promote neighbouring? (Updated) Yesterday I was having a conversation about neighbourliness with local government officers and others, at a Young Foundation seminar. One of the fundamental questions was, of course, why would you want to invest in neighbourliness? What's the point in publicly funded agencies putting resources into finding ways of promoting civil relations between fellow residents? I've suggested the bullet-point response to this in various places. Yesterday I put forward just one - the establishment and defense of norms of behaviour - since I wanted participants to come up with others. I remember when I was asked to look at neighbourliness in Manchester a few years ago, one or two councillors felt it could be the key where they had a problem of antisocial behaviour among young people as a result of social norms not being passed on, or being tested and not re-asserted. That doesn't necessarily mean that we know you can make a difference by promoting neighbourliness rather than, say, investing in locks and gates and fences and cameras. But just to remind us that the problem does exist, and to an extent seldom seen before, here's a BBC report this afternoon: Two police officers are on sick leave after being attacked by a mob in south London after they asked a 15-year-old girl to pick up her litter. One officer was dragged to the ground and kicked while the other was bitten by a girl who jumped on his back. Up to 30 people took part in the attack, which happened in North End, Croydon, on Wednesday afternoon. Trouble flared when the 15-year-old threw her food wrapper back on to the ground and became aggressive. It bothers me because I'm the sort of bloke who thinks dropping litter is inconsiderate and uncivil, and from time to time I'll say to someone 'excuse me, you've dropped something.' For sure, there's nothing new about littering and in this respect I don't believe young people are as bad as the generations before them. But how can we have a society where a violent response to a civil request, from officers or citizens, is anything but unacceptable? Neighbouring implies at the very least a modest recognition of the concerns of others, and so does helping to minimise disorder. If children and young people don't learn and test such norms in the neighbourhood, and in community events under the eye of known adults, where are they going to learn them? Postscript: I'm reminded that research into people's readiness to intervene, reported by Hackler et al, suggests that norms have to be held 'nearly universally', otherwise they're likely to be ineffective (Social problems, 1974: 335). No wonder we got problems.

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