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JOS0010.1177/1440783317729762Journal of SociologyRedshaw and Ingham
‘Neighbourhood is if they
come out and talk to you’:
Neighbourly connections and
bonding social capital
Journal of Sociology
© The Author(s) 2017
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/1440783317729762
Sarah Redshaw
Charles Sturt University, NSW, Australia
Valerie Ingham
Charles Sturt University, NSW, Australia
Neighbourly relations have been theorised as ‘friendly distance’ in contrast to connections which
are theorised as strong or intensive ties. The article explores the neighbourly relationships between
residents of a peri-urban regional area outside Sydney in Australia. Strong interview themes emerged
regarding the ways in which residents who were well connected within their locality talked about
their neighbours, and this was in direct contrast to those living with a chronic condition – these
people expressed a lack of connection with their neighbours. The major theme, ‘not in each other’s
pockets’ reflects the negotiated nature of neighbour interactions, while the theme ‘neighbourhood
is if they come out and talk to you’ speaks of isolation. The interactions of neighbours may in many
cases constitute bonding capital as important weak or casual ties. These may not be available to the
chronically ill or socially isolated or adequate without linking and bridging capital.
bonding social capital, community resilience, neighbour relations, strong and weak ties
The importance of neighbourly connections is examined in our research in relation
to everyday life as an indicator of resilience for when disaster strikes. It has been
noted that in disaster situations neighbours will assist each other as much as they are
Corresponding author:
Sarah Redshaw, Institute for Land, Water and Society, Charles Sturt University, Elizabeth Mitchell Drive,
Albury, NSW, 2640, Australia.
Email: [email protected]
Journal of Sociology 00(0)
able to, taking into account the resources available to them (Hawkins and Maurer
In this research, we engage with ‘neighbourhood’ as a small parochial physical locality, and ‘community’ as extending beyond that to encompass a number of neighbourhoods. The article focuses on the voices of interview participants recounting their
neighbourhood relations and interactions.
An emphasis on individual households is driving disaster preparedness policy despite the
focus of research on community resilience. The National Strategy for Disaster Resilience
(Council of Australian Governments, 2011) outlines the levels of preparedness that are
required in times of disaster with emphasis on the need for households to prepare themselves. Within Australia as elsewhere a previous lack of preparedness for the impact of
fire has led to loss of large numbers of homes built and maintained to various standards
without the impact of bushfire in mind (Cretikos et al., 2008; Kapucu, 2008; Levac et al.,
2012). Much effort has been expended by state governments on facilitating household
preparedness and personal evacuation planning. The public are advised that emergency
services are not going to arrive to rescue them (RFS, 2017).
Although the emphasis placed on individual households is pertinent, there are individuals living in the community without the capacity or the resources to manage their
properties or to leave the area when necessary. Older residents, those with chronic conditions or disability and many who lack personal transport options, including women with
young children, may not be able to manage alone in disaster (Aldrich and Benson, 2008).
The need for communities to be prepared has also been flagged in the National Strategy
for Disaster Resilience (Council of Australian Governments, 2011) though it remains
unclear how community involvement is conceived. It can often be confined to the efforts
of emergency services to the exclusion of other community organisations that are familiar with those who may require extra assistance (Ingham and Redshaw, forthcoming).
Preparedness is seen primarily as developing family communication and evacuation
plans, maintaining a disaster supply or emergency kit, and becoming informed about
home emergency preparedness (Diekman et al., 2007). As a key aspect of community
resilience, preparedness is considered by some to include cultivation of well-being and
intentionally engaging in preparedness, so that readiness becomes more than risk management; it becomes an integrative, fluid, and health-promoting state that facilitates
adaptive post-disaster trajectories (Gowan et al., 2014). All of these factors remain centred on individuals and households nevertheless.
The importance of community networks in the complexity of preparedness includes
personal and contextual factors such as health status, self-efficacy, community support
and the nature of the emergency (Levac et al., 2012). Interaction between neighbours has
been shown to be effective in motivating people to prepare for disaster (Paton et al.,
2008). Our research sought to explore the experiences of a range of residents in the Blue
Mountains following the fires in 2013 in which residents were advised to leave the area
early if they were going to leave.
In the following, theorisations of neighbourhood relations and the types of interactions
that are prevalent there will be considered in order to highlight the ongoing importance of
Redshaw and Ingham
neighbourhoods and how vulnerable people might relate to their neighbourhood. Recent
focus in sociology has been on large population studies such as ‘neighbourhood effects’
research. In this article, the importance of closer consideration of community interaction
is emphasised and community resilience and social capital research outlined in connection with neighbourhoods and the types of social capital that are represented at neighbourhood level. Community resilience research has focused beyond individual households to
consider capabilities at community level. The community level is where individual resident’s vulnerabilities can be addressed and accounted for, such as lack of transport options
to evacuate in times of disaster.
Neighbourhood effects research
The focus in sociology has been on the impact of race, gender, socioeconomics, class and
other factors at urban levels through neighbourhood effects research on large urban areas.
Distinctions in socioeconomic level, race, criminality and other factors, and the impact of
these factors on health, and on children and adolescents and the aged, are considered at population levels beyond what we mean by neighbourhood in this article (Mohnen et al., 2011;
O’Campo et al., 2015). Neighbourhood effects research, including neighbourhood dynamics,
has focused to some extent on significant social ties (van Ham et al., 2013) but has not taken
social interaction into account with its focus on broader populations rather than relations.
A focus on variables such as gender, ethnicity and class in quantitative research can look
at large effects, though it takes attention away from everyday interaction (Abbott, 2010;
Crossley, 2011: 21). It is important to maintain and develop ‘methodologies and tools that
foreground interaction, relationships and networks’ (Crossley, 2011: 21). We take a relational and qualitative approach in order to highlight neighbourhood interaction and document the kinds of interaction that are prevalent for those who are most vulnerable.
Neighbourhood interaction has been difficult to place in social theory (Kusenbach,
2006). Neither distinctly private nor public realms, ‘communal worlds are distinct, vital,
and ubiquitous fixtures of everyday social reality, deserving of independent investigation
and theorising’ (Kusenbach, 2006: 280). Following Lofland (1998), Kusenbach offers
the ‘parochial realm’ as suggesting a communal relational form and defines neighbourhood as ‘a normative set of interactive practices that characterises neighbourhoods as
one kind of parochial territory’ (2006: 280).
The focus of the research in this article is the interactions between neighbours and
how these are experienced by different people. Access of particular communities or
neighbourhoods to social capital has been considered through different types of
social capital and how they work at a neighbourhood level. The types of social capital have been investigated in relation to Granovetter’s (1973, 1983) strong and weak
ties. These are outlined in the next section, followed by discussion of neighbourhood
Community resilience and social capital research
Research on how communities can be more resilient has drawn on the social capital
framework in order to include important aspects of community that relate to the capacity
to deal with and come back from disaster:
Journal of Sociology 00(0)
A community that is building capacity is one that plans for positive growth as well as decline,
integrates economic and social goals, and fosters connections across diverse groups within its
borders. (Zautra et al., 2008: 131)
Community resilience and shared responsibility have become important considerations
in many countries in determining how best to prepare and develop communities to deal
with disasters. Social capital has been connected with community resilience by researchers (Aldrich, 2012; Cox and Perry, 2011; Patterson et al., 2010; Poortinga, 2012; Sherrieb
et al., 2010) and with community engagement (Coles and Buckle, 2004; Cox and Hamlen,
2015; Milton et al., 2012; Wells et al., 2013). The importance of social networks and
community participation has been emphasised for health and well-being (Abbott, 2010;
Aida et al., 2013; Akama et al., 2014; Cattell, 2011; Moore et al., 2011; Wagemakers
et al., 2010) and research includes extensive work on social capital and health (Berry and
Walsh, 2010; Kawachi et al., 2008; Mohnen et al., 2011). Strengthening social capital
through community engagement is key to building community resilience (Aldrich and
Meyer, 2015).
Social capital is seen as one of four aspects of community resilience (Norris et al.,
2008; Sherrieb et al., 2010). The four primary sets of adaptive capacities are Economic
Development, Social Capital, Information and Communication, and Community
Competence (Norris et al., 2008). Social capital comprises the networks, together with
shared norms, values and understandings which facilitate cooperation within or among
groups, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
(OECD). While human capital is related to the capacities of individuals established
through knowledge, skills and competences, social capital is relational and arises from
myriad everyday interactions between people (OECD, 2001).
Different types of social capital have also been identified: bonding capital, bridging
capital and linking capital (Healy and Hampshire, 2002; Putnam, 1993; Winter, 2000;
Woolcock, 2000). Bonding capital is seen as connecting individuals with those like
themselves through informal social connections and typically refers to the relations
among members of families, neighbours, close friends and ethnic groups. Bridging capital connects individuals with those unlike themselves, who may be of a different socioeconomic status, from a different generation or a different ethnic group, often through
formal networks based on common interest, such as work or education, sport, church or
voluntary associations. Linking capital enables individuals to have relationships with
people in positions of power such as Members of Parliament, senior government officials
and senior executives of business and philanthropic organisations and draw upon
resources, ideas and information from outside their local context.
In the social capital literature, neighbourhood relations are recognised as a form of
bonding social capital (Beaudoin, 2009; Szreter and Woolcock, 2004). It has been proposed that bonding social capital assists with the diffusion of knowledge and information, maintenance of behavioural norms, promoting access to services and facilities, and
as facilitating social support and mutual respect (Kawachi and Berkman, 2000).
Residents of New Orleans with low incomes relied on, and built upon, all levels of
social capital for individual, family and community survival in the aftermath of hurricane
Katrina. Bonding capital was important for immediate support, while pathways to longer
Redshaw and Ingham
term survival and wider neighbourhood and community revitalisation required bridging
and linking social capital (Hawkins and Maurer, 2010).
Research post-Katrina indicates that poor areas can have strong bonding capital but
lack access to important resources and to bridging and linking capital (Aldrich and Cook,
2008; Elliott et al., 2010; Hawkins and Maurer, 2010). Fewer trailer parks were set up in
areas with high levels of social capital post-Katrina (Aldrich and Cook, 2008), and local
network capacities of poorer area residents relative to those of a more affluent neighbourhood tended to evaporate before, during and after the disaster (Elliott et al., 2010).
Bonding capital and strong and weak ties
Bonding capital has been associated with strong ties and bridging capital with weak ties
(Granovetter, 1973). Frequency of borrowing or exchanging things, visiting with and
assisting with repairs or shopping were considered indicators of neighbourliness and
used to construct an index of bonding capital (Beaudoin, 2009). One of the criteria that
Granovetter (1973) explores is whether people know about each other’s strong ties.
Those who are known to each other would constitute the strong ties of a clique group
whereas those who are from different groups would constitute weak ties. High frequency
of visits and exchanges between neighbours (often or very often) would indicate strong
ties or bonding capital (Beaudoin, 2009). Connections with neighbours may not mean
knowledge of each other’s ties however. Borrowing or exchanging things or assisting
with daily tasks such as shopping or meals with neighbours may not mean that neighbours then know each other’s friends. Leonard and Onyx (2003) considered weak and
strong ties in organisational links and found that bonding often involved both strong and
weak ties. Granovetter (1983) himself revised his position in a later paper, accepting that
neighbourhood ties could be weak ties and emphasising that connections with bridging
capital gave significance to these ties.
Neighbourhood relations
It has been claimed that neighbourhood relations have declined in significance due to the
links formed by people who are away from home through employment, increased mobility and social networking via electronic media (Beck, 1997; Crow et al., 2002; Sennett,
1998). Neighbourhood relations have remained important nevertheless and different
styles of neighbouring identified (Crow et al., 2002). Negotiations of privacy and friendliness appear to have persisted over the decades with these themes being found in subsequent research (Crow et al., 2002; Mollenhorst, 2015; Mollenhorst et al., 2009).
Crow et al. (2002) emphasise the middle ground and the need for negotiation within
norms of ‘friendly distance’. Crow et al. found in the communities they studied that
neighbour relations did not result in either encapsulation or fragmentation, and that
relations between neighbours were important and common. Framing neighbour relations as friendly distance presents a means to understand and consider the experiences
of interviewees.
Social networks and involvement are recognised as important contributors to
health (Cattell, 2011; Kawachi and Berkman, 2001; Valente, 2010) and include
Journal of Sociology 00(0)
participation in formal and informal organisations and leisure activities (Abbott,
2010; Almedom, 2005; Cattell, 2011; Szreter and Woolcock, 2004; Hawe and Shiell,
2000; Wakefield and Poland, 2005). Socioeconomic factors such as education,
income and unemployment, in addition to social support and health behaviours, are
recognised determinants of individual health outcomes (Berkman and Kawachi,
2000; Franzini et al., 2005).
For those who have a chronic condition such as mental illness, learning difficulty
or physical impairment, negotiations of ‘friendly distance’ may be hard to achieve.
In investigating the connection between social vulnerability and community resilience, Bergstrand et al. (2014) found that high levels of vulnerability correlated with
low levels of resilience. Social vulnerability includes many parameters such as socioeconomic status, gender, race, ethnicity and age, and aggregate measures of these
factors (Bergstrand et al., 2014; Cutter and Finch, 2008; Cutter et al., 2000, 2003;
Phillips et al., 2010; Wisner et al., 1994). Community resilience as a whole will be
strengthened when the most vulnerable are strongly connected with community
resources beyond, but including, neighbourly connectedness. Considering how those
with health issues are able to negotiate friendly distance and strong or weak ties with
neighbours and the implications for community level involvement is the purpose of
this article.
Research method
Research context
The Blue Mountains local government area is comprised of a series of villages dotted
along a single major highway, the only road in and out of the region with large areas of
bush land surrounding villages north and south of the highway. It differs from city and
other urban environments in its geographical composition and this is likely to impact on
interactions between neighbours. The majority of residents are white Anglo Saxon
Australians living in suburban, predominantly separate housing. The population consists
of 16.5% overseas born, with 6.2% from non-English-speaking backgrounds (5.5% did
not give birthplace) (ABS, 2011). The region ranks relatively highly at the 68th percentile on the Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas (SEIFA) Index of Disadvantage. There is
some significant variation within the Blue Mountains region itself, however, with seven
villages ranking lower and seven villages above the 68th SEIFA Index of Disadvantage
percentile (ABS, 2011).
The Community Connections research was a partnership between Charles Sturt
University, Blue Mountains City Council, Katoomba Neighbourhood Centre Inc and
Springwood Neighbourhood Centre Co-operative Ltd. Ethical approval was provided
by Charles Sturt University Human Research Ethics Committee in May 2014. The project employed a participatory action framework. This partnership approach provided
access to particularly vulnerable and at-risk community members in a safe and supportive environment.
The study involved interviews with community members held between August and
November 2014. Participants were reached through advertising in a local newspaper and
participating organisations and proceeded through snowballing in the community.
Redshaw and Ingham
Table 1. Interview participants.
40–65 years
65–75 years
75+ years
Interview participants. Details of the 12 interview participants can be seen in Table 1 (11
interviews were conducted, with one couple being interviewed together). Interview participants were from across the mountains, three lived in rental properties and the remainder owned their own homes. Interviews lasted from 15 minutes to one hour, with an
average interview length of 44 minutes, and were recorded and transcribed. Those who
had few contacts tended to have less to talk about and interviews were shorter. Interviews
were conducted in people’s homes (7) or at a suitable meeting place such as a Neighbourhood Centre or local library (4).
The purpose of the research and the interview was explained, permission sought from
each individual for recording of conversations and a consent form signed. An informal
semi-structured approach meant a number of broad topics were introduced, designed to
encourage discussion and elicit comment on neighbourly connections and planning for
emergency situations. Participants were asked about the neighbours they knew, friends
and family they had contact with, and the fires experienced in 2013 and how they had
responded to them.
Data analysis. Data analysis and findings were discussed at regular meetings of the project
working group. Analysis was primarily conducted by one researcher, who conducted all
interviews. This allowed for consistency and a detailed knowledge of participants and the
range of views that were expressed. Interview recordings were transcribed and transcripts
entered into NVivo 10. Key word queries were run in NVivo to extract comments from participants relating to neighbours, neighbourhoods and interaction on a neighbourhood level.
All transcripts were reread and key words extracted following a thematic analysis
process (Liamputtong, 2009). In the first analysis, transcripts were coded and themed in
relation to the broad questions posed. Key themes emerged in the next level of analysis,
when the findings from individual transcripts were correlated across transcripts. The aim
was to include and represent the range of participant views and levels of contact with
neighbours evident in the interviews and to relate these to the demographics and circumstances of participants.
In the following, the interview themes ‘not in each other’s pockets’ and ‘neighbourhood
is if they come out and talk to you’ are illustrated through interviewees’ evident relation
Journal of Sociology 00(0)
to their neighbourhoods. The theme ‘not in each other’s pockets’ was found both explicitly and implicitly in those interviews, where there appeared to be a strong sense of
belonging and sense of inclusion. The theme outlined the form of interaction many
expected with neighbours and illustrated an ability to negotiate ‘friendly distance’ with
neighbours. The theme ‘neighbourhood is if they come out and talk to you’ was common
to interviewees who were less sure of their place and had a weaker sense of belonging.
‘Not in each other’s pockets’
The phrase ‘not in each other’s pockets’ previously found in neighbourhood research
(Crow et al., 2002; Galster, 2001; Kusenbach, 2006) was used by three interviewees in
describing neighbour relations. The expression refers to not spending a lot of time
together or knowing too much about everyone’s business and can be related to the idea
of ‘friendly distance’ outlined by Willmott (1986) and Crow et al. (2002).
The colloquial meaning of the phrase is illustrated in the interviews in this study
through comments such as, ‘you can have a chat over the back fence and things like that’
(Interview 2), knowing each other and watching out for each other’s homes (Interview 5)
and the ‘whole neighbourhood is really community minded so we look out for each other
without being in each other’s pockets’ (Interview 6).
Further elaborations of the theme of ‘not in each other’s pockets’ included not having
regular arrangements to meet up, though they could involve occasionally having a cup of
tea or coffee in each other’s houses, feeding the chickens, bringing in the mail, saying
hello and swapping things. Neighbours were described as acquaintances and not friends,
but ‘friendly neighbours’:
So we just say ‘Hi’ and we swap produce sometimes and help each other out, but we’re not,
we’re not sort of over at each other’s places for dinner type. We just chat in the sun. A couple
I’d call friends. The rest of them are more friendly neighbours. (Interview 6)
Being friendly neighbours might involve knowing who is away and having keys to each
other’s houses in ‘an unwritten rule in the street’. But there is no regular arrangement for
going out for meals together or on holidays together (Interview 5).
A boundary was drawn where more intimate encounters, such as having dinner
together or regular coffee or tea, would not be normal neighbour-to-neighbour interaction. That the latter might occur occasionally with casual talking in the street was more
usual. Watching out when people were away, collecting the mail, looking after animals
and picking up something when out, were common. These were regarded as friendly
activities with neighbours, as distinct from friends.
Not ‘making a point’ (of having coffee) or being ‘over at each other’s places’ (for dinner, for example) are phrases that express a lack of expectation and a respect for privacy
delineating the boundaries of expression of ‘not in each other’s pockets’. People are
acknowledged and make exchanges by collecting each other’s mail when away and chatting in the street, but it is not expected that they know all about each other or have regular
contact. Going into each other’s homes was only occasional and even rare. Even constant
daily interaction could be regarded as informal in this sense. An interviewee in her 70s
had daily contact with at least one neighbour (Interview 3).
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There were special occasions where there was an acknowledgement of sharing more
personal issues:
Her husband’s not very well so on the odd occasion you’d say, ‘Hello, how are you getting on?’
(Interview 2)
Well, like one of our neighbours had a new bathroom so she invited all the neighbours in for
afternoon tea. (Interview 5)
Closer encounters with neighbours were discussed by a number of interviewees. One
related having taken a neighbour to hospital:
Accepting people and being there when there’s a crisis, so [wife] took one of the neighbours to
the hospital. Being aware of people. (Interview 5)
and then when she was in hospital one other time she’d gone off in an ambulance in the middle
of the night and the daughter came in and I took the daughter in, in the night dress and all of
this. So it’s on a needs basis. (Interview 3)
‘On a needs basis’ expresses being prepared to be there when needed, but not to bear
primary responsibility for someone on an ongoing basis: ‘it was having somebody there
more as reassurance that I could ring an ambulance or whatever’ (Interview 3).
Another participant talked about giving additional attention to someone who had suffered a loss:
We’ve had dinner with L a couple of times. She lost her husband a year ago and we started just
sort of dropping in on her a bit more often. We’ve been forever giving her all of our milk
cartons because she uses them for seedlings. So now we just sort of knock on the door and say
hello a bit more. (Interview 6)
Previously known as an acquaintance, this neighbour is nevertheless provided with a bit
more contact though still on a ‘friendly distance’ level.
Looking out for particular neighbours was fairly common:
This morning, the neighbour across the road, she’s a bit older than me, and she’s had a bad cold,
so I phoned her up … I’ve been looking out for her and if I haven’t seen her in her front garden
I’ll give her a call. (Interview 4)
This could lend itself to neighbours becoming or being regarded more as friends:
One or two of them are, B across the road that I phoned today, she’s a friend. S next door is a
friend … the other side of me there’s a family, and they’re quite busy with two teenage children,
so they’re neighbours. I wouldn’t say they’re friends, they’re neighbours, acquaintances …
(Interview 4)
High levels of interaction with some neighbours was not uncommon, but most also had
an awareness of others in the area and of the properties around them. The extent of
Journal of Sociology 00(0)
knowledge that some have of their neighbours can be more intimate, though overall it
was less intimate unless neighbours had become friends. Neighbours were regarded predominantly as friendly, able to keep an eye on things, check mail and carry out other
small activities that required physical proximity, with more intensive encounters on
some occasions.
‘Neighbourhood is if they come out and talk to you’
Two interview participants did not have a very strong experience of neighbours. The first
interview participant had lived in his rented flat for five years, the second had only been
six months in her rented house. Neither were able to describe encounters with their
neighbours in much detail:
Neighbourhood is if they come out and talk to you. That’s the neighbourhood. But you don’t
see anyone, I only see L … I hardly see anyone in this complex. They all keep to themselves.
(Interview 7)
If I see them I say hello, but that’s about it. Next door there’s an elderly couple and they are
lovely and then down below I just occasionally say hello, but that’s about the only ones I speak
to. (Interview 8)
There were not many encounters for interviewees 7 and 8 to describe and the interviews
with them were brief for this reason. Both had chronic illnesses and were clearly less
connected to their communities. The woman had previously lived in the same village but
those she knew from that location were not mentioned as friends or potentially assisting
her if she was in need. She had no family and could not recount stories of friends nearby.
She said she would have difficulty in a disaster getting her dog and cats and trying to get
to the train where she would not be allowed to take her animals anyway. Both of these
interviewees are connected to a local agency providing them with some transport and
social engagement opportunities.
Another interviewee lived in an assisted housing block with about 30 units where not
many had contact with each other:
Often where I live there are a few of us that like to come out, there’s probably about six or seven
of us that will come out and sit around and just have a chat and sit in the garden and have a catch
up. (Interview 12)
She described the occupants of the units as having physical or mental issues or illnesses
and keeping to themselves because they feel powerless and afraid of losing what little
they have. Many have no family or friends to speak of. She herself had family out of the
area and some connections within the Blue Mountains, but is also confined at times
because of her condition. She had some awareness of others in the unit complex though
not a lot of acquaintance with them.
Neighbour relations were clearly common for most people interviewed who could
talk at length about who lived in the street. Those renting and with a chronic condition
are in a different position. They were unable to relate situations where they felt able to
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call on others or were called on to collect mail for example. They were essentially disconnected from their neighbourhood. Whether these relations constitute bonding capital
or strong ties is the subject of the following discussion.
Neighbours are described in most interviews as friendly, but ‘not in each other’s pockets’. Visiting with neighbours and spending a lot of time with them is not the norm in
these interviews, though checking up on each other and helping each other out is seen as
within the norm. Reciprocity is evident though this did not constitute emotional support
of the kind noted in Leonard and Onyx (2003) as a central aspect of strong ties.
High frequency of visits and exchanges between neighbours (often or very often)
have been considered strong ties or bonding capital (Beaudoin, 2009). This does not
necessarily fit with people’s accounts of neighbourliness in our study. Neighbours are
more like acquaintances that do not have knowledge of each other’s ties. When neighbours become friends then there may be more connection with their friendship network.
There was no discussion of broader social networks in the interviews, with people focusing on their neighbours and even neighbours they are friends with.
While ‘not in each other’s pockets’ could be said to be the latent norm of neighbourliness (as defined by Mann, 1954) and an expression of it would be ‘speaking in the street’,
it does require confidence and an understanding of the norms as well as willingness to
engage. ‘Friendly’ is an accepted norm of neighbour relations, though it appears to have
more meaning for those who are more established and connected within their neighbourhoods. No participant spoke ill of their neighbours and many could track who had come
and gone in their street, depending on their length of residence. For those who were less
secure, however, whether through housing tenure or a particular health condition, the
connotations of ‘not in each other’s pockets’ were less clear and less accessible.
The connections with neighbours are more like weak ties than strong ones though
nonetheless important. Granovetter placed more importance on weak ties, characterising
a strong tie as a ‘combination of the amount of time, the emotional intensity, the intimacy
(mutual confiding), and the reciprocal services which characterise the tie’ (1973: 1361).
According to Granovetter weak ties extend beyond a person’s social circle to provide
access to information and resources ‘but strong ties have greater motivation to be of
assistance and are typically more easily available’ (Granovetter, 1983: 209). Strong ties
may be more easily available in the sense that they are family and friends who can be
accessed more freely. Neighbours, however, may also provide easily available access
due to proximity even though not representing strong ties.
Exchanges between neighbours may be more intensive and perhaps more frequent for
certain individuals, such as those over 65 years of age who are at home more and have
more opportunities to become involved in street happenings. Most participants showed
concern for neighbours and those who fitted in with their neighbourhoods found it possible to interpret and relate to the norm of ‘not in each other’s pockets’.
The participants related another aspect of neighbour relations that further reinforces
the idea that these are not generally strong ties. As neighbours, all participants indicated
that they were happy to ‘be there’ for people in times of need, but not to be the primary
Journal of Sociology 00(0)
source of assistance on an ongoing basis. One of the concerns that was raised through
talking with people in interviews was the burden that could potentially be placed on
neighbours in times of emergency. The demands on neighbours and the potential for
exclusion of those who are ‘not like us’ has been noted in other studies (Eriksson and
Emmelin, 2013; Portes, 1998).
People who lack the means to manage for themselves require a community level input
to assist them as governments make it clear that emergency services are not responsible
to act in this capacity during an emergency situation. The importance of ‘community’ is
acknowledged in the National Strategy for Disaster Resilience (Council of Australian
Governments, 2011), but it is unclear what that could mean or how it could function.
Governments devolve responsibility to individuals and households under neoliberal policies, as if each household had all the resources necessary to manage in a crisis when
clearly this is not the case for any household let alone those lacking in basic resources.
As Schmidt argues:
Neo-liberalism conceives of the polity as made up of the individual first, the community
second, with legitimate state action extremely limited with regard to community-based demands
on the individual. (2016: 320)
Local government does not provide services that could assist, though many in local communities who lack the means to manage alone have connections with or are known to
local community organisations. It is this community level that neoliberal policies fail to
recognise or appreciate.
The question of who looks after vulnerable people requires some deliberate consideration and cannot be left to the chances of a neighbour being available and sympathetic.
As we have argued elsewhere vulnerable people have hopes that the community will
look out for them. Some interview participants suggested that the fire brigade know their
location and would come and get them if it was necessary (Ingham and Redshaw ,
Neighbourly relations have implications for theorising community resilience; however
to what extent this is the case, and in what capacities, requires further investigation.
The importance of conceptualising the type of interaction occurring within neighbourhoods has been highlighted in this article. While representing a small sample, our
interviews indicate a strong contrast between those who are comfortable in their neighbourhoods and with their neighbours, and understand the tacit rules of neighbourly relations, and those who find it more difficult to relate to their neighbours, to assume an
interest on the part of others in their well-being and to manage the rules of engagement.
This demonstrates that communities may be cohesive because they have weak ties
between neighbours, although these weak ties do not constitute bonding capital under
current theorisations.
We posit that moving away from conceptualising disaster and resilience from an
event-centred approach, towards a process approach, in which resilience is understood as
Redshaw and Ingham
an evolving quality built through daily living and community connectedness, will expose
the ways in which social capital operates, who benefits from existing forms and how they
are maintained (Elliott et al., 2010). Understanding community connectedness requires
further investigation of interactions and connections where bonding capital is generated
on a neighbourhood level to understand exclusions and the need for engagement of
bridging capital beyond the immediate neighbourhood, especially in times of disaster.
The notions of resilience and social capital can contribute to understanding sustainability
if consideration is given to the complex and varied community, and neighbourhood interactions between state and individual.
This research received funding from Charles Sturt University, Springwood Neighbourhood Centre,
Katoomba Neighbourhood Centre and Blue Mountains City Council.
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Redshaw and Ingham
Author biographies
Sarah Redshaw is a Social Researcher at the Australian Centre for Public and Population Health
Research at the University of Technology Sydney. She has developed and conducted health- and
community-related research projects and has published a book and numerous papers from her
research. Her particular interests are in relational sociology, vulnerable community members and
the contribution of community organisations to social capital and resilience. Health-related projects include Community Connections, B SAFE, Bereavement Support in Community Nursing,
Heartbeads, and Measuring the Outcomes of Case Managed Community Care.
Valerie Ingham is an Associate Professor of Emergency Management at Charles Sturt University.
She has extensive experience in the design and delivery of tertiary level programs in emergency
management, fire services, adult education, and community services. She is a founding member of
the Bangladesh Australia Disaster Research Group and her research interests include perceptions
of risk and resilience in Bangladeshi and Australian communities, building community resilience
and disaster recovery in the Blue Mountains NSW, time-pressured decision making, and the tertiary education of emergency managers and fire investigators.
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