Neighbours

What is a neighbour?

Sits at the intersection of a spatial and practice based relationship.

Spatial

Neighbours are people living at a closer distance to us than other people. Even when used metaphorically, as in 'neighbouring countries' it has a spatial quality.

It is related to borders. We erect 'social and symbolic borders.'

It is entwined with the concept of a 'neighbourhood'.

Practice

A neighbour has the capacity to affect our private lives, both positively and negatively.

See Practice theory.

Observers vs members

Both neighbour and neighbourhood are concepts that can be defined from an observer or members perspective.

An observer might define a neighbourhood 'objectively' based on geographical, architectural or social characteristics.

A member defines their neighbourhood as an 'imagined geography'. This might be different from their neighbours definitions.

Similarly, person A might call person B a neighbour without person B calling person A a neighbour.

Hannu Ruonavaara has developed both observer and member definitions based on an academic literature review:

A working observer definition

Ego and Alter are residential neighbours if and only if:

  1. Ego and Alter live in the same residential neighbourhood
  2. They live in dwellings that lie physically so close to each other that
  3. Ego’s home life can affect Alter’s home life, and vice versa.

A working member definition

Ego and Alter are residential neighbours if and only if:

  1. Ego and Alter recognise that
  2. Ego and Alter live in the same residential neighbourhood
  3. They live in dwellings that lie physically so close to each other that
  4. Ego’s home life can affect Alter’s home life, and vice versa.

The clause about recognition is central for members, and so is placed at the top.

The nature of neighbourly relations

David Morgan writes that individuals 'have three sets of people within their personal horizons: intimates, strangers and acquaintances.' Most neighbours are acquaintances, and if they become intimates then the 'friend' relationship overrides the 'neighbour' relationship.

A sense of neighbourly community spirit is not a defining quality, but one that can arise out of neighbourly relationships.

Neighbourliness can thus also be understood as a quality of neighbours’ interaction abstracted from their subjective orientation towards each other. This is similar to Rosenblum’s (2016) argument that neighbourliness is not an emotion, but a practice: ‘a set of hard-won, complicated habits’ (p. 5) that support or increase neighbours’ ‘quality of life’.

A framework to consider neighbourly relations

Again, from Hannu Ruonavaara.

Conditions of neighbouring

  1. (a)  Ego and Alter have to be geographically available to each other.
  2. (b)  Ego’s and Alter’s time-space paths have to be such that they have a possibility of meeting.

Levels of neighbouring

  1. (i)  When meeting, Ego and Alter signal that they recognise each other as living in the same neighbourhood.
  2. (ii)  When meeting, Ego or Alter initiate conversation with each other.
  3. (iii)  Ego and Alter exchange services (like watering the other’s flowers when she is away) or favours (like lending tools).
  4. (iv)  Ego and Alter act together towards a common goal in the neighbourhood in their role as neighbours (organising a garden party, signing a petition against a planning decision, etc.).

Being a good neighbour

There are local laws and cultural norms defining what a good neighbour is.

Many define a 'good neighbour' as 'the absence of negative attributes: noisiness, bad behaviour, messiness and so on' (May and Muir, 2015)

Again, from Hannu Ruonavaara:

Historically, ‘neighbour’ has not only referred to per- sons who reside close to each other, but also to persons who are ‘socially related by specific rights and duties established by custom and, in part, by law – because of the proximity of the dwellings’ (Heberle, 1960: 3). Heberle refers here to Max Weber 1978 (1921), who in his Economy and Society discussed neighbour units in terms of ‘that somber economic brotherhood practiced in case of need’ (p. 363). Neighbours were obliged to help each other when needed, and they were also entitled to a certain degree of hospitality: ‘where a child is baptized, or married, the neighbors must be invited’ (Heberle, 1960: 4). Moreover, the obligations attached to neighbour relations had little to do with emotional ties: ‘Neighbors will do certain things for each other, whether they like each other or not’ (Heberle, 1960: 9). There is evidence showing that this kind of obliging neighbourhood custom does survive in some parts of the world, even in the 21st century...

Neighbourly relationships are managed, to create an appropriate balance between social nearness and distance.

References

  • The Anatomy of Neighbour Relations, Hannu Ruonavaara (2021)
  • Last update: 2022-03-22 10:31