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

Posts tagged ‘social capital’

Social capital in a wireless world; or Putnam’s lost ideal

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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