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Neighborhood - Loss Of The Neighborhood

theory family definition community decline society alienation

The idea that Western societies lose connection to their neighborhoods as they modernize has been a continuing theme in sociology. Ferdinand Tönnies, Georg Simmel, Louis Wirth, and, to a lesser degree, Emile Durkheim, Karl Marx, and Max Weber all concluded that, on balance, the quantity and quality of the neighborhood and community is reduced when a society becomes more urban, more industrial, with fewer connections. Simmel's famous observation that "one nowhere feels as lonely and lost as in the metropolitan crowd" illustrates a common theme of alienation and lost community in classic social theory. Often, then, assessments of modern and even postmodern societies include the "loss of" community and neighborhood (Lyon 1999). The loss of community and loss of connection to the neighborhood can be harmful to the family and children.

Although only a few attempts have been made to measure the decline of relationships and connections to the neighborhood in the United States and other Western societies, there is nonetheless a wide acceptance of this decline. Thus, when sociologists speak of the "loss" of neighborhood and community, two distinct meanings arise. The psychological meaning focuses on the social interaction dimension of the neighborhood and analyzes the alienation that can come from the loss of neighborhood. The territorial meaning focuses more on the specific area and identification of components of the neighborhood definition, with analysis of the economic dependence and political impotence of the local community. Both meanings are related in that they see the same primary source for the loss of neighborhood—the urban, industrial mass society—and both describe similar problems—excessive individualism, alienation, and a resultant lower quality of life for the family (Bateman and Lyon 2000).

Although the two types of neighborhoods that are "lost" can be conceptually distinct and are treated as separate phenomena in most literature, they are, nonetheless, closely related. Robert Nisbet (1976) relates the decline in identification with the place and the territorial neighborhood to the more psychological alienation from close, personal interaction. In short, the decline in the relevance of and identification with the territorial neighborhood is related to the decline in interpersonal relations; both reinforce one another, and both are seen as symptoms of a modern society and the problems of families.

The observation that isolating, alienating, individualism is replacing neighborhood communities typically receives broad popular acceptance. According to Robert Bellah (1996), many of the ills of society result from too great an emphasis on individualism and too weak a commitment to the neighborhood. As individualism, selfishness, and greed in the United States have grown, civic commitment and a sense of responsibility to society have declined. Participation in the neighborhood will reduce alienation and allow neighbors to belong and contribute to the community (Bellah 1996).

Robert Putnam (2000) claims that a decline in the traditions of civic engagement is weakening U.S. society and sense of community and neighborhoods. Putnam documents the noticeable absence of Americans' involvement in voluntary associations and the reduced patterns of political participation. Thus, Putnam (2000) concludes that Americans are less trusting, and the social capital of society is eroding.

Robert Wuthnow (1998) states that neighborhood-mindedness is eroding, civic involvement is indeed declining in voluntary clubs, and "loose connections" now tend to suit people in the United States. People are still connected to some extent, but in different ways. Organizational membership is not necessarily decreasing, but rather shifting from traditional voluntary organizations to new types of groups. A rise in support groups and specialized hobby groups demonstrates that these have become a poor substitute for traditional neighborhoods and the loose connections that define them (Wuthnow 1998).


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