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Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Stadt- und Regionalsoziologie

Does the urban gentry help?

Does the Urban Gentry Help? Social capital and collective action in a mixed neighborhood
Verantwortlich: Talja Blokland

This book project starts with examples: a Black woman whose son got in trouble, but who did not ask the lawyer she knew in her neighborhood for help, and the collective protest against the Half Way house and an issue around a local school where all worked together. These two examples of neighborhood action provide two of the cases discussed in more detail in the book, of how residents in a mixed neighborhood work together to get things done. As we will see, networks might work for some things and not for others within one locality, raising empirical and theoretical questions about the workings of social capital. Neighborhoods with “mixed” populations in terms of diverse forms of resources, sometimes called “capital” (economic, cultural, social) represent categorical inequalities as meant by Tilly in larger society. Categorical inequalities imply variations in resources, and such variations influence the access of residents, individually and collectively, to the polity, given a political opportunity structure. As a result, other things being equal, they lead to variation in the degree to which politicians and policy makers take notice of and act to solve neighborhood-based problems. The main questions of this book project are, then, twofold: At one hand, what social mechanisms regarding social capital, trust and reciprocity take place in multi-racial, -ethnic and -class groups where neighborhood action occurs? At the other, what do actual social networks of residents of the neighborhood where such action takes place look like, what is the role of the neighborhood in such networks, do such networks reflect the heterogeneity of the neighborhood? This book seeks links with three debates: the debate on social capital and trust, the debate on class, middle class and gentrification (mainly geographers, and the underclass debate in its reversed form) and the debate on physical proximity, identity and place-making. Empirically, the book draws on network survey data collected in New Haven, Connecticut, as well as on observations and in-depth interviewing with residents of various backgrounds of this mixed neighbourhood. As The City Underground, this fieldwork was funded by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Wenner Grenn Foundation, and is the twin brother to the other book.