Friday, November 17, 2006

Re-post: Bonding = bad, bridging = good? - Oct 06

From Monday, October 16, 2006

The following are paragraphs extracted from Suzanne Fitzpatrick's 'Poverty of Place' Joseph Rowntree Foundation lecture which constituted one of the briefing papers consulted by Tony Blair in his lecture on Social Exclusion.

"However, a growing body of research evidence suggests that, far from being weak, the sense of community attachment in many poor areas is often exceptionally strong:
It is debatable whether poor areas lack social capital …Close family ties, mutual aid and voluntarism are often strong features of poor areas. It is these qualities that may enable people to cope with poverty, unemployment and wider processes of social exclusion. (Forrest, 2000, p.216) A review of research projects in four disadvantaged neighbourhoods conducted for the Foundation, for example, found that none lacked ‘social cohesion’, with bonds of reciprocity and mutual aid especially strong amongst older women, and informal networks of family and crucial support to many younger women with children (Forrest & Kearns, 1999). The existence of such supportive social networks in many poorer areas has led Atkinson & Kintrea (2003) to argue that: Being poor in a poor area in fact can be regarded as having distinct advantages and being poor in a more affluent area is sometimes seen as producing less preferable outcomes. (p.20) (see also Joshi, 2001).

"It is important at this point to draw a distinction between what has been referred to as ‘bonding’ and ‘bridging’ social capital. ‘Bonding’ capital refers to ‘strong ties’ which typically help people to ‘get by’, whereas bridging capital relates to ‘weak ties’ which, ideally, should connect them to wider social networks and enable them to ‘get on’ (Granovetter, 1973). It seems to be the case that many people living in poorer areas are rich in the former but may lack the latter.

"The geographical and social concentration of many poorer people’s social networks within the immediate neighbourhood, often amongst other people living in poverty, has led to a particular concern about ‘network poverty’ which cuts residents of disadvantaged areas off from informal sources of job information (6, 1997; SEU, 2004). The inward-looking nature of some of these communities can also pose significant ‘psychological’ barriers to residents taking advantage of opportunities in the wider urban area. Moreover, isolation from ‘bridging’ social networks may interact with neighbourhood-based stigma in a (negative) two-way causal relationship: … the external perceptions of areas impact on the behaviour and attitudes of residents in ways which may reinforce cohesive groupings and further consolidate reputations. (Forrest & Kearns, 2001, p.2134).
The complex relationship between bonding and bridging social capital, and neighbourhoodbased stigma, means that, while there is a general dislike of living in areas of concentrated deprivation, poorer people can often express strong attachment to disadvantaged areas with which they are familiar, while strongly rejecting other poorer areas (Fitzpatrick, 2000).

"Like Atkinson & Kintrea (2002), however, I would argue that the heavy emphasis on inwardlooking ‘community building’ in some ABIs [Area Based Initiatives] is highly questionable, particularly in the light of growing evidence of high degrees of (‘exclusionary’) social cohesion and insularity in some areas of concentrated disadvantage; here ‘bridging’ rather than ‘bonding’ social capital has
to be the priority (see also Kearns & Parkes, 2003). Even for areas with lower levels of social cohesion, and more transient and unstable populations, many residents may simply want reasonable social order rather than high degrees of (formal or informal) associational activity and, like middle class people, they should have that choice!"

Ms Fitzpatrick acknowledges the existence of strong social bonds amongst poor people and seems to be identifying this as a bad thing, to be discouraged and even to be legislated against. The thinking seems to be that strong social bonds help people to tolerate economical poverty rather than challenging it. She identifies that social bonds and social bridges (weak social ties) are mutually incompatible - because of course if you have good strong social bonds (i.e. close family, longstanding helpful neighbours) you have less, if any, need of 'social bridges' - weak ties with people from other communities (government employees? health visitors? Sure Start workers? '3rd Sector' [charity] workers?)

So although Tony Blair in his Social Exclusion lecture demonstrates that they fully understand the importance of "affectionate families and adequate attention from parents" as the key preventative factor against social exclusion, for economical reasons they are unwilling to allow this to be supported by natural social bonds.

It all comes down to money, of course. Lack of economic growth can only mean economic decline. The main aim of all governments is to prevent economic decline. To ensure economic growth you have to take all possible measures to ensure people always want more and are never satisfied with what they have. Some of us have long suspected this kind of thinking must be the basis for many government policy decisions, like Sure Start. It seems that we were right.

Weaken social bonds, strengthen social bridges. Make people rely on strangers and state provision. This is how to create economical dissatisfaction and therefore to increase spending and ensure the continual growth of the economy.

posted by Gill at 9:18 AM 0 comments

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