Thursday, 28 July 2011

17% would not help a neighbour Here are some new data on neighbourliness, from a large US survey conducted for StateFarm, an insurance company. The sample was 17,000 and the project has been overseen by Keith Hampton, so is definitely worthy of attention. To their credit, StateFarm provide more than the usual upbeat press release. Here are some of the things that I noticed on a read-through of the findings. I was most struck by negative responses to the question: 'What would you do to help a neighbor in need?' Seventeen per cent would not help a neighbour in need, and this figure is pretty much consistent across age, gender and urbanicity. So if you thought, say, that older people in rural areas would be nearly universally neighbourly, think again. The survey asked about the channels used where people 'interact with their neighbours on a monthly basis'. It seems to me there's plenty of online contact going on, but the 10 per cent of text interaction is higher than I'd have expected. Almost 40 per cent lend to neighbours and 24 per cent borrow 'at least several times a year' (don't ask me to explain the discrepency, although I note that 7 per cent are disgruntled about neighbours who don't return borrowed items). One other thing. The data suggest that 17 per cent of 18-34 year olds know 'most of their neighbours' by name. I think that's pretty high, at least for under-25s. The graphic seems designed to imply that it isn't. What are our expectations? And here's Keith's take on it all.
Call me old fashioned, but maybe nostalgia isn't the only problem Here's a curiosity. Ryan Shorthouse in Prospect magazine has a go at both Philip Blond (Red Toryism) and Maurice Glasman (Blue Labour - you still with me?) for their 'nostalgia for a "golden age" of British communities'. Quite right too. [Start of short Kev rant, partly lifted from a forthcoming paper] The contemporary media-political rhetoric is partly problematic because it finds 'community' historically still within reach, through the living-memory images from the nostalgia industry. (I often think we would gain greater insight discussing the assumed decline of neighbourliness in early modern England). Our politicians and journalists invite us to do penance before the curling monochrome prints of streets where doors were always left open and everyone knew everyone. The problem is not that this mythology is entirely misleading – it isn’t, not entirely - but that it is packaged as universally flawless, implicitly recoverable, and key to the resolution of expensive problems of social policy. For politicians and political commentators to peddle this rhetoric uncritically is either ignorant or disingenuous. [Rant ends]. Perversely, Shorthouse ends his article by claiming that market forces and private capital 'could sustain and improve public services that people rely on. Revitalised community life will only really come from improving the skills of individuals: boosting education levels and improving employability, for instance.' Well, and one or two other things we can all think of. A reliable economy would help, one that is not held to ransom by the Tories' dear friends in the financial sector and rescued at the cost of public services that are used by people who happen to be below their lofty field of vision. Meanwhile we all have to be patient while the current experiment in 'progressive conservatism' demonstrates quite how education levels and employability will be boosted by cutting education funding and closing libraries. Call me old fashioned, but I too think that it's in society's interests for people to associate more, and more pro-socially, at local level. But we're not likely to achieve that with the current vicious assault on the public realm or by decimating services that people need just to give them the strength to reflect on their own circumstances.

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