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Greeting each other on the street helps to cope with social disorders, researchers claim

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Posted July 28, 2014
Picture: Dutch people talking on the street Source:

Picture: Dutch people talking on the street. Source: jvdkasteele/Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0.

Even a small greeting can significantly improve social cohesion of your neighborhood. This is the conclusion of the recent study carried out by Dutch scientists. Reinout Kleinhans at Delft University of Technology and Gideon Bolt at University of Ultrecht investigated how residents of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and Dordrecht maintain social order.

A problem commonly faced by inhabitants of urban areas is the organization of collective action directed against various social disorders, such as littering. “A well-known concept is collective efficacy, that is, social cohesion among neighbors combined with their willingness to intervene on behalf of the common good,” the researchers say.

Previous research revealed that cooperation among residents is undermined by such factors as poverty, social heterogeneity or residential instability. However, the so called “how questions” remain underexplored. Kleinhans and Bolt conducted detailed qualitative interviews in order to make sense of quantitative data collected previously.

Pre-existing social relations, even if they are very weak, significantly encourage social cohesion. “An important aspect cited by many respondents across all six study areas is that residents are more likely to speak informally to each other if they know each other by sight or at a deeper level,” the scholars write. In other words, public familiarity increases chances that people will coordinate their actions in order to fight various disorders. Interestingly, people reported that this familiarity is created by greeting each other on the street and having a small chat.

The study indicates that public familiarity is negatively affected by social heterogeneities. “People from 60 different nationalities live around here, none of them speak Dutch, they keep to themselves. A family with seven children living next to a single gay guy. They don’t have much to say to each other, do they?” asked rhetorically one of the respondents living in the area highly populated by immigrants. Importantly, this issue was almost exclusively reported by native Dutch residents. Immigrants do not perceive it as a serious problem.

The scientists figured out what personal motives discourage people to participate in collective fight with social disorders. They indicate that these factors are fear, the potential disjunction between individual considerations and collective efficacy, the nature and seriousness of the perceived disorder, the majority effect of groups, the effect of actual earlier experiences versus “hearsay”, and, finally, the free rider issue.

Article: Kleinhans, R. and Bolt, G., 2014, More than just fear: on the intricate interplay between perceived neighborhood disorder, collective efficacy, an action, Journal of Urban Affairs, 36: 420–446. doi: 10.1111/juaf.12032, source link.

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