"Life is still. It is we who are racing by" Yann Martel (on his webpage What is Steven Harper reading)

Kadushin talks about the value of social capital and social connections, using Putnum’s words to explain that “social capital calls attention to the fact that civic virtue is most powerful when embedded in a dense network of reciprocal social relations.” (Kadushin, p. 177). Last Friday’s presentation demonstrated one example using the close connections of the characters in the Big Bang Theory. I realized that I had another example.

Paved roads didn't arrive until after I graduatedThe community where I grew up represented the kind of dense social network that Putnam idealizes and suggests has been lost. There were no paved roads in my hometown, no fences between the yards, no traffic lights. I couldn’t tell you the name of the street that I grew up on because there were no street signs.

My social network included my twin sister, the five or six classmates that comprised my entire grade and a few others two years either side of me. Approximately a dozen youth encompassed my social network from the time I was five until the first of us earned a drivers licence.  There were no secrets and no way to keep secrets in my little town; everyone knew the intimate details of their neighbours’ lives. If a car drove down the street, curtains in every home would flicker with movement as people checked to see who it was. It was a closed social network, where few people arrived or ever left. We knew that old man Langerman’s house was a disgusting mess, where Grampa Weckman used to park when he was having an affair with Maudie Hansen; we suspected that it was Mr Therens who probably poisoned our friend’s dog and caused a huge scandal throughout town. (I wonder now what amount of social capital he lost from these suspicions.)

As children, we roamed the streets and nearby fields freely, our limits set only by the sound of a whistle. Yes, a whistle. My parents started the tradition when they purchased the first whistle to call us home for supper. If we were too far away to hear the whistle, and subsequently didn’t come home in time, we were in trouble. Otherwise our parents had little idea where we might be located. Soon, most parents had followed their example and each of us could detect the unique characteristics of our family’s whistle.

Bridging ties meant bridge club, where mom’s social group would gather for cards and gossip while sipping rye and ginger, and eating crustless sandwiches; before Facebook made such gatherings unnecessary. In the winter, bonspiels and cabarets were social highlights where women from the entire community cooked the meat and potatoes, contributed pies, jellied salads, deviled eggs and homemade buns. Here is Kadushin’s social structure at work – where it would have been social suicide for someone to decline to contribute something from her kitchen. Once when I was young, the power went out in the dead of winter, cutting off the furnace, and necessary heat. Within an hour we were ensconced in front of Maudie Hansen’s wood stove (the same notorious Maudie Hansen) eating bacon and eggs while we waited for the power to return.

Social capital in such small communities is more than Kadushin’s “social asset” (p. 175). It was a shared sense of responsibility and dependence that was necessary for the community to thrive. Some of the anonymity of this  tiny town was lost when a small Canadian comedy series that was filmed in town became popular. Corner Gas earned Rouleau it’s 15 minutes of fame,  but I’m sure that if I went back today, many of the social networks that supported my growing years would still be present. Oh and they finally built a bowling alley (after I had graduated).

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Comments on: "Social capital in a wireless world; or Putnam’s lost ideal" (6)

  1. Oh Joan, you reminded me so much of my own childhood on the farm. I graduated high school with 40 people – most of them I’d known since pre-school. Yes you know everyone and their secrets, their lies but also their triumphs. I remember a few years ago when one of the local insurance agents, a young man with a young family, was diagnosed with cancer and the town threw benefit after fundraiser and even had half of the town come out for swabs to see if they could be a possible bone marrow candidate. As stifling as those small towns and closed social networks can be, there’s not one thing I would change about them and how they shaped my experiences growing up.

  2. I now have a burning desire to live in a small town. Vancouver, as lovely and gorgeous as it is, can be isolating as well. I have a big network… but not in my neighbourhood, which is kind of interesting. I only know one family (the other side of the duplex) and if it was the kind of place where people wanted to connect, I would totally be the ‘Carolyn’ of the community, setting up a group email list for block watch and Christmas gatherings! Hm… maybe I can convince Eric to move to Edmonton for starters? 🙂

    • There’s good and bad in every situation. I envy the social activities and cultural events that you have access to. These were never available to us growing up.

  3. OMG. Were the names changed to protect the innocent? Or not so innocent? I wonder if the web is giving us the tools to reconnect and create social capital that we lost with the distances of urbanization.

    • I mean, I know the web is giving us those tools. The point is more that we hadn’t lost our willingness to be neighborly; we just needed new ways of expressing it.

    • They are long since deceased. I thought it was safe to use their real names. LOL

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