Friday, 18 June 2010

Shock news: neighbourliness might or might not be in decline There are two surveys of neighbourliness around at the moment, one I already trailed, carried out by YouGov for Co-Operatives UK, the other carried out by Fresh Minds for Gumtree. It's great to have some data to get to grips with all of a sudden. I'll prepare a more detailed review as there is likely to be an event anounced soon, so just a few thoughts right now. I'm using the Co-Ops report written by Ed Mayo, I can't find the questions that were asked or any other data; and a preliminary summary of the Gumtree research, no final version being available yet. I'm grateful to Gumtree for permission to quote from this document. The big headline from the Co-Ops study is that people in the UK are 'less than half' as neighbourly in 2010 as they were in 1982 when a set of interviews were carried out by MORI. As I mentioned the other day, their 'Good Neighbour Index' is based on 'the total number of people helped by their neighbours divided by the number whose neighbours have given them problems', so the statistic comes as no surprise. You'd want to take account (the report doesn't) of the possibility that in 2010 people might more frequently and readily get some forms of help, like emotional and financial support, from remote others (beyond the neighbourhood) than they did in 1982. You could also speculate that there are more and better opportunities to report nuisance behaviour to authorities now than in the past, which encourages people to describe certain forms of behaviour as giving them problems. At the very least you'd reflect on the fact that the 2010 survey was carried out online and the 1982 survey wasn't. And maybe take account of significant changes in average household size. Points like these are more by way of explanation for the statistic than challenging it directly: but they do raise the question of whether the model of neighbourliness represented by the Co-Ops index is capable of accommodating shifts in the social role of neighbouring. The study presents a chummy model of neighbouring which is essentially about helping each other out. Many people prefer a model of neighbouring which is based on an ongoing respect for privacy coupled with mutual recognition, so that help can be mobilised in case of need. If you were measuring neighbourliness for that model, you'd ask different questions and expect to come up with a different answer. The Gumtree report is determinedly upbeat, with more of an emphasis on attitudes to neighbourhood than on behaviour within it. The main headline is eyebrow-raisingly counter-intuitive: 27% of people with a long commute to work every day know 11 or more of their neighbours, whereas the majority of those who commute less know only 0-3 neighbours. As with the Co-Ops and so many studies, what is meant by 'knowing' a neighbour appears to be 'know by name', which just perpetuates the unfortunate habit of over-privileging strong ties in the understanding of...

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