Drawing on data gathered from 70 respondents, this blog reports on a recent study* which examined how residents on a new build estate (referred to here as ‘the Village’) used social media, or more specifically two Facebook pages (referred to here as ‘FB(A)’ and ‘FB(B)’) associated with the Village, to build relationships with one another, develop a sense of pride in place, and, establish ‘rules’ about acceptable neighbourly behaviour.
Both FB(A) and FB(B) had high numbers of members and posts were made on a regular basis on matters usually related to the Village, such as Village events and updates on the next phases of the development, or on issues of interest to its residents and/or members, such as local toddler playgroups and sports clubs. It was also evident that the Facebook pages played a key role in setting standards of neighbourly behaviour and establishing codes of conduct. Although these were informally set and met with varied degrees of conformity. What was clear though was that those who chose to actively use FB(A) and FB(B), found it to be a useful way of being able to create social bonds with other residents and importantly to stay connected whilst physically away from the Village. The Facebook pages also allowed for the development of neighbourhood reciprocity and the strengthening of community spirit in the Village. Many of the respondents were clearly proud of the Village, and engaged in activities which sought to promote its interests.
However, not all members of FB(A) and FB(B) reported positive experiences. This was especially true for members using FB(B), who referred to issues around social media’s anonymity enabling opportunities for abuse, and what they felt were the hidden agendas and self-promotion interests of some of its members. Tensions existed in views about what the neighbourhood rules were, especially in terms of who were considered to be rule-setters and rule-breakers. This appeared an issue given that Facebook allowed more easily for rule-setters and rule-abiders to highlight what they considered to be offending rule-breaking behaviour (or bodies), and in some cases name-and-shame them. It is worth noting that in many ways, the tensions that existed in the Village were linked to the specific difficulties associated with large, diverse new build estates per se – and in many of these cases, social media allowed for support and solutions to be offered to those who reported difficulties.
In short, the study’s findings suggest that neighbouring is still important and brings with it a number of personal and social benefits. But, processes of neighbouring have clearly changed. Specifically, they have moved away from being conducted solely or even largely on a face-to-face basis – not least because our lives are busier, with key commitments (such as sites of employment) occurring in places away from the neighbourhood. In addition, the neighbourhood has grown. It has become more diversified and has come to contain a varied composition of residents whose lives and interests differ enormously from one another. Although this composition issue has not lessened the value of neighbouring, it has nevertheless forced it to change.
It is therefore unsurprising to see neighbouring occurring more regularly in the virtual realm and via the use of social media sites such as Facebook. Neighbouring in this way more readily allows differences to be negotiated, not least because many of these differences can be kept out of view or made relatively insignificant, up to a point at least. Social media, if used considerately, in proportion and with caution, can allow ‘new neighbours’ to initially connect with each other, to build meaningful relationships and to sustain these in ways that a reliance on in-person contact alone could not allow. From this emerge opportunities for healthy and positive neighbourly relations.
* An academic paper based on the study and its findings is currently being prepared.
Dr Tina G. Patel is a senior lecturer in Criminology. To hear more about Tina’s work, you can follow her on Twitter: @DrTinaPatel or in Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DrTinaPatel