Are we all less neighbourly, less engaged in politics, less trusting, less generous, less willing to help out at the local school, union or religious organization?
That’s what Robert Putnam appears to think.
In his essay “Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital” (1995) and later in the book, Bowling Alone: the collapse and revival of the American Community, (2000), Putnam argues that in the last third of the 20th century the ‘social capital’ of the American community has taken a dive –
“ … social capital refers to social networks, norms of reciprocity, mutual assistance and trustworthiness. The central insight … is that social networks have real value both for the people in the networks – hence, networking as a career strategy, for example – as well as for by standers. Criminologists, for instance, have shown that the crime rate in a neighborhood is lowered when neighbors know one another well, benefiting even residents who are not themselves involved in neighborhood activities.” p2 Better Together (2003)
Putnam distinguishes between a what he terms as ‘bonding’ and ‘bridging’ social capital:
“Some networks link people who are similar in crucial respects and tend to be inward looking – bonding social capital. Others encompass different types of people and tend to be outward-looking – bridging social capital … Bonding social capital is a kind of sociological Super Glue, whereas bridging social capital provides sociological WD-40.” ibid p2
Apparently ‘bridging social capital’ is the most difficult to cultivate and is the most vital to society because it helps outsiders find their place in the new community.
Backing up Putnam’s theory about the erosion of social capital is a litany of statistics more or less evidencing a 25-50 per cent drop in various forms of civic engagement – from numbers of people who vote, join unions, participate in sport and social groups and who go bowling in leagues.
The factors contributing to this rapid decline, argues Putnam, are – the movement of women into the labor force (women previously being big participants in various community groups); the increased mobility and suburbanization of the population (being uprooted not conducive to forming strong social bonds), other demographic transformations like the implosion of the nuclear family (Putman sites these as more divorces, fewer children, lower real wages etc) – and, that ‘drug of the nation’ – television “there is reason to believe that deep-seated technological trends are radically ‘privatizing’ or ‘individualizing’ our use of leisure time and thus disrupting many opportunities for social-capital formation” (1995) p 75
… but does it resonate with your lived experience and what you understand to be your parents and grandparents stories about borrowing a cup of sugar from the neighbour? In the next few weeks I’ll be exploring some of Putnam’s critics and trying to tease some of these ideas out more fully.
But in the meantime, social-capital is strong in My Tribe – despite the seeming zombie invasion.
The great image featured above was submitted to the Open exhibition by Contributor ssa6789 – view the full entry with accompanying poem HERE. I also highly recommend you check out Contributor emma_judd’s video ‘Zombie Love’ – it’s about her housemate’s love of the video game, ‘Left for Dead’ and how this affects their relationship with their girlfriends. The piece is shot on a mobile phone and while a little rough around the edges captures something funny and insightful (and perhaps universal) about the bonds that bridge and bind.
Image: Lost in Dreams, by Contributor Anayil Liyana
Explore the My Tribe open exhibition and … go in search of the lesbian community in outer suburban Melbourne – get dressed up as a Japanese anime character – clash mallets in a game of bike polo – and remember to treasure what is important – for your tribe is your sanctuary.
My Tribe is humming. This week some great submissions in audio, text and still image and two contributors make a lovely, quite spontaneous, connection between a photograph and a poem.
It’s getting a bit buzzy at My Tribe HQ too – we’re gearing up to our first urban screen showcase. This is a package of My Tribe work for the big screen at Federation Square in Melbourne. The first screening will happen on May 28 at 8pm – so we are urging those interested in developing work for this space to submit it soon. Find event details on our Facebook page.
Work suitable for ‘My Tribe, My Screen’ isn’t limited to video. We are looking to include still image, text and audio and are exploring ways to weave them together. Making content for an outdoor public screen with a transitory audience is different to making work for film/TV – so we’ll be seting up a Pool Forum to share information and discuss the creative challenges and quirks.
Also – what three works should make the next My Tribe Showcase? We need to decide by this Wednesday (May 5, 2010) and want you to help us identify the strongest submissions. Tell us your pick by voting with your thumbs and posting to the My Tribe Facebook page wall.
As all this goes on my bedside table is getting heavy with books and ideas to investigate further. Encouraged by interesting comments on the blog from Sean and Gabrielle – I peered into online communities and somehow found myself at a rather pointy end of the stick – reading Henry Jenkin’s Convergence Culture; where old and new media collide (2007). It was a good read and held quite a few ideas relevant and resonant for My Tribe – particularly theories about how tribes become more than the sum of its parts.
The chapter, Spoiling Survivor; anatomy of a knowledge community – is a detailed analysis of a community which gathers online to figure out who will win the current series of the popular reality TV program, Survivor. The community pools their knowledge and become a powerful source of information that keeps the producers of Survivor on their toes … Jenkins refers to this knowledge as collective intelligence:
No one knows everything, everyone knows something, all knowledge resides in humanity” Collective intelligence refers to this ability of virtual communities to leverage the combined expertise of their members. What we cannot know or do on our own, we may know be able to do collectively. And this organization of audiences into what Levy calls knowledge communities allows them to exert a greater aggregate power in their negotiations with media producers (pp27)
Jenkins explains that when collective intelligence is scrutinised and vetted and finally agreed on – it becomes shared knowledge. A great example of a really successful shared knowledge repository is Wikipedia.
So, who is your knowledge community – what does your brains trust tell you?
Fed Square image by Contributor Tasha Traazil
Contributor julianlow asks this question in his beautiful image, from long ago.
In one group you’re cast as the leader – in another you play the child. It’s fascinating how the chemistry and dynamics of social groups push us into particular roles – encouraging some aspects of our personalities and discouraging others. (Which I suppose is why author and teen-psychologist Andrew Fuller thinks young people should belong to multiple social groups – so they don’t get stuck in any one ‘character’.)
I’ve been reading up about tribal roles within friend circles in Ethan Watter’s, Urban Tribes (2003). The book argues that strong friendship groups or ‘urban tribes’ are ‘becoming the new family’ – or at least performing many key family functions. Watters describes himself as a ‘reluctant trend spotter’ and first put forward his theory in a two-page article which captured the imagination of Good Morning America. The story got a big response from audiences who started sending Watters stories and descriptions about their own ‘urban tribes’ – which Watters collated and analysed.
He draws together an interesting list of tribal roles – can you recognize yourself or other’s in any of these positions?:
>> the ‘organizer’ – also ‘mother figure,’ ‘party planner,’ or ‘social director,’
>> the ‘advice giver’ or ‘therapist’ – also ‘shoulder to cry on’, “Switzerland”
>> also ‘new project innovators’ who come up with the next crazy scheme … ‘assistants in charge of details’ who support the main organiser … the ‘comedian’ the ‘worrier’ who frets about everything and ‘the life of the party’ …
I particularly liked Watter’s description of the ‘children’ of the group:
“There were often two or three ‘children’ in a group. These were not literal children, but adults who seemed always to be in trouble or in need. “The cynic” appeared to be one variation of “the child.” The cynic had the disgruntled demeanor of a two-year-old, and other group members seemed to enjoy spending large amounts of time trying to improve the cynic’s mood. While you might think that groups would avoid such personalities, these ‘children’ appeared to offer something of a group activity. The “child” would show up on a camping trip having managed to pack only hot chocolate mix. While such habits were exasperating, providing the “child” with food and shelter for the weekend made for a challenging, and ultimately enjoyable, group project. The organizer and the assistants in charge of details would rally and prove their acumen. The challenge was made more meaningful by stories told later about the weekend. Often it was the boneheaded actions of the “children” that became the groups most beloved stories to retell. p47
I’m only half-way through reading Urban Tribes – so still working out what I think of it. But the feeling that our friends are our true family is one that resonates in the My Tribe exhibition. Have a look at Home and Family, a recent work by Contributor Emma Judd. It’s a lovely reflection about belonging and housemates who become “the closest things to a family ‘unit,’ that I have had in the past 10 years.”
Who shares your electronic universe, is on your digital radar and is part of your blogosphere?
If you’re lucky your online tribe will be as rich and as diverse as Contributor GB’s community of bloggers. In My blogosphere is a rainbow flavoured ice-cream GB introduces us to the group who inform, inspire and delight her online. GB’s perceptive and playful bios steer us as a good hostess would through a cocktail party of links to poets, artists and writers. It’s a lovely piece; GB has that knack of sounding like a friend when she writes.
This got me all inspired about exploring electronic tribes – so trotted off to the library … I stumbled across a very different approach to the term and quite an interesting definition of an electronic tribe written by Ronald E.Rice:
Tribes are more organized than bands, but less than chiefdoms or communities. Tribes coalesce around conflicts with outsiders over scarce resources. Civilization weakens tribes, increases resources and promotes individualism. Tribes are associated with war, civilization with peace. The rejection of mainstream civilization may also mean racism, stereotyping, eco-brutalism. Tribes self-identify as unique, with shared affinities, and are often narrow, exclusionary, undemocratic, and antagonistic to open debate. Tribes are homogeneous and autonomous with common speech, culture, and territory. Tribes involved extensive hierarchies of status, poser, gender, age, fears, taboos. Tribalism may involve fragmentation, struggles, competition and hostility.
Alternatively, tribes may encourage individual identity; there may be only a little formal structuring, and that passed primarily on frequency of interaction. Tribe members are empowered within the tribe, through collective responses and through projecting identities into the tribal network. Tribalism may reduce hierarchy and inequality. Tribes have fluid boundaries externally, and heterarchies (webs, networks) instead of hierarchies (strict vertical structures) internally. Tribes are not amenable to centralized control and persuasion. Tribes may not have historical reality beyond becoming a conceptual and political artifact of colonial relations with indigenous political elements.
E-tribes may be similar to or different from online discussion groups, forums, and communities. They may represent, in the modern world, a retribalization and return to affiliation groups; they may be quite similar to “lifestyles” or both represent and foster “fictive kinship” ties. E-tribes may consist primarily of those with strong shared interest, and either few ties or strong ties. But people may move from one online tribe to another, or even become members of multiple e-tribes (nearly impossible in their real-life counterparts). Forward pp.viii
This is the definition of an online tribe that emerges in Electronic Tribes: The Virtual Worlds of Geeks, Gamers, Shamans and Scammers – a collection of academic essays exploring a mix of online neo-tribes ranging from World of Warcraft gamers to Skinhead Cybercrews and tribes that form in the social network, Myspace. The book tackles questions like; the difference between online tribes and online communities; the social impact online tribes on offline relationships and how group norms and behaviours develop.
I particularly enjoyed Thomas Brignall’s essay, ‘Guild Life in the World of Warcraft: Online Gaming Tribalism’. Brignall describes his experiences going undercover as a hard core gamer in World of Warcraft (WOW) for over fourteen weeks – all in the name of researching tribal organization and behaviours. Would like to investigate this one further and might see if I can contact this fellow…
If you are interested in WOW I recommend listening to One Big LAN Party by Tribe Contributor Muhdshamir and Stephanie Powell. It’s a documentary about isolation and community in WOW … listen and you will find yourself at a rather unexpected gathering.
so get it while it is hot … Audio: ABC Archive | Life Matters Interview about Teen Tribes
We snaffled it on its way down to the archive …. Now it’s up for reincarnation as a creative My Tribe remix – an interview from ABC Radio National’s Life Matters. Richard Aedy speaks with author Rebecca Sparrow about her recent book on teenage tribes. In Find Your Tribe (and nine other things I wish I’d known in high school) Sparrow talks about the tribes that she belonged to during her adolescence and how teenagers navigate the tricky world of friendships and loyalty.
Listening to it brings back painful memories of my own rather uneventful yet appropriately tortured ‘coming of age’ story. In our teens we are thought to be forging our independent identities and defining ourselves as different from our families. Bring on images of rebellious haircuts and risk-taking accessories. Ironically, our teens can be one of the most conformist periods in our lives – when we look the same as the next one and our peers wield untold power and influence over … OMG – like everything!
A while back I got curious about this and also about what happened to this powerful mix when we fall in with the ‘wrong crowd’ as a teen – so I interviewed family expert Andrew Fuller. I did it as part of a story for the Age’s Sunday Life! Magazine – below is an edited extract:
Fuller is a clinical psychologist and a lecturer in psychology at La Trobe University. He is also author of Raising Real People.
Adolescence is an intensely social period. Young people start forming their identity by thinking about their place in the world outside their family and deciding on who they want to hang out with. Commonly, during early high school kids relate to particular peer groups that share an identity, it might be the computer geeks, the ones who study hard or the cool gang.
During adolescence fitting in is everything. If you want to be seen as part of a group you must adapt the group’s rules, hierarchy and enjoy what they do. Having established a connection and sense of belonging, the individual should then be able to sort out what they want. While parents may feel the group subsumes their adolescent’s identity, this is actually their process of forming individual identity.
Strong peer groups become a concern if the adolescent gets locked into a particular group and can’t break away without destroying all their social networks. It’s also worrying if the teenager is dependent on one peer group that doesn’t accept them. Then the young person will do almost anything to connect with the group and gain their approval.
The best way to protect your child from undue peer influence is to ensure they have access to a diverse range of friendship groups. This means the adolescent is not reliant on one group’s acceptance and they are exposed to a selection of behavioural models they can identify with. In late primary school parents should start engineering these relationships by making sure their child has a couple of friendship groups, perhaps through sporting or cultural clubs.
Parents often say, ‘If it wasn’t for those kids-from-hell my teenager is mixing with – then everything would be fine’. Certainly other kids can encourage and make it easier for your child to behave badly, but it’s also your child’s doing.
Just to shake the parental tone of this post– I’d like to draw attention to a lovely text piece in the exhibition, A Typical Monday Afternoon English Class by Tribe Contributor jesswalker. This work will be featured in the first My Tribe 360documentaries Showcase!
image: by My Tribe Community Manager, Jessica Walker
My Tribe is go!
April 10, 2010 by
new Posts »
My pack, my posse, my people, my network, my mob, my family… my tribe.
A year on from the death of philosopher and anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss, whose seminal work explored the complexities of kinship, mythology and identity, we re-examine this notion of community and self.
In the flesh or via technology the kinship groups we belong to form across intersecting fault-lines in our lives – blood, place, interest, time, happenstance and more. Enmeshed with our sense of self, those we belong to and who belong to us construct, deconstruct, teach, reflect, know or perhaps don’t know us at all.
Explored subjectively or objectively the theme of ‘my tribe’ taps into myth and storytelling traditions along with the rationality of survival and darker implications of drawing a line in the sand between ‘us’ and ‘them’ …
ABC Radio National’s 360documentaries launches ‘My Tribe’ – a participatory project and open public exhibition exploring community, identity and belonging.
In association with the ABC’s town square, the Pool and RMIT University 360documentaries is calling on the public to join My Tribe and share their story:
“Tell us about a group of people or community that you belong to or love or identify with. They might be your relatives, your friends, your enemies, live near you or on the other side of the world. Maybe you share a common interest or you’ve been thrown together by happenstance.”
My Tribe needs your tribe – and makers from all walks and any level of experience are encouraged to submit work in any media – writing, audio, video, photos or any other form via a web link.” (About My Tribe)
All eligible contributions to the My Tribe Open Exhibition will automatically be entered into the competition to be featured on the ABC’s My Tribe Showcase – entered work could be broadcast on radio, screened at Federation Square in Melbourne or may even end up in a touring exhibition on Urban Screens around the world.
Righto – so what’s with the blog, then?
Well, the blog is one way of exploring, keeping track and telling the story of My Tribe. This blog written by me – Kyla Brettle – and represents my point of view. I’m the producer, of sorts, of the My Tribe project – I say ‘of sorts’ because I’m just one node in the network – My Tribe is a collaborative venture dependent on, and pulled together through the efforts and contributions of many.
In this blog I’ll be reporting on work entered into the My Tribe exhibition and drawing attention to pieces I think are really good. I will also be digging through the ABC archives on behalf of My Tribe – looking for theme-relevant programs to add to the overall collection – as well as material that can be remixed by My Tribe contributors.
I’ll also be using this space to develop my own contribution to the exhibition – this will be radio documentary around 50-minutes long, but beyond that, I don’t know much about it … So I’m looking forward to drawing inspiration from the public work submitted to My Tribe and discovering my own program by researching and documenting possible directions it could take. Along the way, I’m hoping to put ideas and materials back into the My Tribe work-in-progress group which in turn may provide some food for thought for another maker.
image: poster created by My Tribe Community Managers; Dengli Lim, Camilla Aurel-Smith, Pei Huan