As Bulmer noted in his opening to his book of Abrahams’ 1970s work on neighbours, ‘everyone … has neighbours. Social relations between neighbours are a significant form of social exchange’ (1986:1). The research conducted by Abrahams (posthumously written up by Bulmer) showed the neighbourhood relation as one saturated with altruism and reciprocity but also with inherent tensions given its uneven dynamics of the gift giver and the gift receiver. This ambivalence, as well as neighbourhood change and urban churn, has meant that the neighbour relation has become one that has seemed out of step with contemporary life. While the ‘good neighbour’ remains a tenacious and dominant normative trope, for sociologists it has fallen into the sociological wayside over the last thirty years as research has been drawn to seemingly more current modes of social interdependency such as families, friendships, social networks and community.
The presentation examines how, in this crowded conceptual space, the neighbour – as the most spatialized social relation – remains as a significant site of social exchange and ethical connection. This presentation is based on a mix of empirical work. It draws first, from the ‘early days’ development of a small pilot study of two ethnically diverse, mixed tenure, ‘just gentrifying’ streets in North London and second, it reuses data from a recently completed project on urban multiculture and intergenerational friendship relations generated through primary schools. In this context the presentation provides some tentative exploration of the ways in which the neighbour relationship works as a variety of everyday practices and ambivalent interactions across race, class, gender, generational divisions, time and material spaces. In doing so prises open the micro, contradictory ways in which social solidarities based on propinquity can be concretised as well as (violently) breakdown, but mostly work somewhere in-between, as forms of what might be thought of as unfocussed mutualism.
Bulmer, M. (1986) Neighbours, the work of Philip Abrams. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
This seminar is presented by Sarah Neal.
Sarah Neal is Professor of Sociology at the University of Sheffield. Sarah researches and writes in the fields of race, ethnicity, multiculture, community, belonging and place. Recent publications include Friendship and Diversity: Class, Ethnicity and Social Relationships in the City (with C. Vincent and H. Iqbal 2018 Palgrave) and ‘Community and conviviality? Informal social life in multicultural places’, Sociology (with K. Bennett, A. Cochrane and G. Mohan 2018).
She is co-editor of Current Sociology and an editorial board member of Ethnic and Racial Studies.