[URBANTH-L]Where IS the Bronx? /Critique of Putnam

Dani Kranz moewe at gmx.li
Wed Aug 15 13:35:44 EDT 2007

Dear All

I haven't read Putman's book yet, however there are some issues that struck me, in particular the one raised by Adeola and one more general observation from my experiences of ethnographic fieldwork in urban areas.

1. What Adeola describes reminds me of my own surrounding in London, and the universities I went to. As an undergrad I went to Middlesex, which was marketed as a local university to the locals (not to us internationals) and it was indeed local and highly international. As  post-grad I went two to University of London colleges, Goldsmiths and LSE. In my MA class at Goldsmiths we were 3 Londoners (two long-term residents, one 'native') and 11 students who had come from abraod for their master's and all left London again. From the PhD students I met at LSE there were those who had come to London for their degrees and stayed on (25%), but about 50% had come in for their PhD and were bound to leave again or work for a high paying job regardless of destination.
My fellow students at Middlesex wanted jobs similar to what Adeola describes for the public institution, LSE in particular eerily resembles the private one. I think what s/he observed is not a phenomema restricted to the US, but one that can be found in any countries with similar inequalities. In those were fees are lower, say Germany, the inequalities find different expressions, but exist very much too. The same goes for her/his observations about the travel to work.

2. Huge urban diverse areas have patterns of social capital/cohesions that are expressed differently to those assumed in small communities. In urban areas the social cohesion between individuals is not necessarily based on proximity, in as much as mobility exists, individuals will migrate towards other individuals with similar interests or likes (I'm not fatalastic enought to quote Tajfel here though there is certainly a lot of truth to what he says). This brings me to the issue of homogenous communities which presumably have a higher social cohesion and based on this higher social capital. What does that entail? Giving to local charity? In the highly diverse East London where I live the locals give to charities too, charities of their choice, which can be found on the local high road - there is an outlet of a charity for the blind, a PDSA (pets in need of vets), and two different outlets for the Kashmiri rescue fund. In Cologne, Germany, where I researched Jews, those gave to several charities, some favoured charities with Jewish or Israeli focus, others were whole-hearted members of Greenpeace and donated to them, yet others donated to local Cologne charities. In as much, giving to charity is a very personal expression of a personal favour. This brings me to the very practical point, which I was going to make: in diverse areas social policies are certainly more difficult to draft, and anything geared at 'the' community is doomed to failure as there are multiple communities, and multiple belongings. I am wondering who has such a problem with this, the locals, or the governemtal agencies who don't know how to cope? These diverse areas are more difficult to govern, and less docile (somebody used the term more resilient, I agree). Furthermore, the assumption of homogenous cities or small villages as having an 'organic community' is rather dubious. It seems to me that this is more a craving for security that is based on nostalgia and the hope to answer every difficult and complex questions very simply. On the extrem side, I just came across the book _Ordnung und Angst_ (Order and Fear) by Susanne Spülbeck, which deals with Russian Jewish refugees in the East of Germany shortly after the collaps of the GDR. Russians. Jews. Germans. Prejudices. Stereotypes. Fear that was built up over years in the GDR. The village she researched had about 1,600 (German) residents, and 70 Jews from Russia who were put there, Spülbeck shows that the fear of the 'other' was often symptomatic and played out social dramas of the homogenous German population. Homogeneity and even a small village is no safe haven, differences and fear find different expressions in such a surrounding, but the nevertheless exist. Projecting them on a stranger or strangers, or the general other is a psychological mechanism to cope, in diverse metropolitan areas and apparently homogenous communities alike.
This finally brings me to the point of crime and fear thereof (I mean crime against a person or property, not white collar crime). Who exactly is afraid of what? I'm sure that residents of diverse rich neighbourhoods are less scared of crime than those living in deprived diverse and homogenous neighbourhoods alike. Crime is not an outcome of diversity, crime is an outcome of poverty.


-------- Original-Nachricht --------
Datum: Tue, 14 Aug 2007 03:07:16 -0400
Von: "OlatokunboAdeola Enigbokan" <enigbo01 at newschool.edu>
An: af31 at nyu.edu
CC: urbanth-l at lists.ysu.edu
Betreff: [URBANTH-L]Where IS the Bronx? /Critique of Putnam

> INEQUALITY is key to understanding the lack of communial solidarity and
> civic involvement that Putnam finds plagues American cities. 
> Residing and teaching in New York City, I am faced with the daily reality
> of travelling between Harlem, where I live, The Bronx, where I teach in a
> public university, and Lower Manhattan, where I teach in a private
> university. (I am paid the same meagre salary for adjuncting at both schools,
> despite the exponential difference in tuition).
> At the public institution my students are working class and working poor
> Black and Latino native New Yorkers many of whom are first generation
> college students, and in Lower Manhattan, I meet a group of upper-middle class or
> rich white students who come to the city from suburbs and sprawl, lured by
> the romance of entertainment and fashion, and "making it" in the big
> apple. ( i use all of the class-identification terms loosely, of course)
> One classroom aims for professions like "nurse", and "accountant" while
> working jobs in retail and fast food service. The other is filled with
> students who aim to command "an empire of beauty," or "work at the United
> Nations" while putting in time at coveted unpaid internships in the publishing
> industry, or volunteering with international NGOs. (from student surveys)
> The distance between these two worlds is more than the
> hour-and-a-half-long subway ride--a fact which became apparent when one (Lower Manhattan)
> student asked sincerely in class one day "Where is The Bronx?" 
> This lack of geographical awareness is no joke. The embodied INEQUALITIES
> of mobility and opportunity, built into the city's landscape, make it
> impossible to even imagine Other spaces, much less communicate and cohere
> civilly across spaces.   
> (Even the overload of mass-mediated imagery, for all its insistence on
> bringing the world to our fingertips, leaves dark clouds of question marks
> hovering over our urban jungles. For Putnam, with the light and magic of
> statistical inference, clouds of question marks transform into unpassable
> chasms--craters of decay in "THE" American civic fabric.)
> Where IS The Bronx? 
> In that simple question there is all of the INEQUALITY of opportunity, the
> disparate histories, the lived reality of urban segregation, though
> hopefully, the promise of its eventual end.
> I HEART my broken city, and all of my geographically challenged students,
> Adeola Enigbokan
> Environmental Psychology
> CUNY Graduate Center
> >>> Allen Feldman <af31 at nyu.edu> 08/13/07 9:58 PM >>>
> We should  not buy we into Putnam's idea of progress model in mounting
> critique. The civil liberty of freedom of movement  and settlement, is a
> foundational  civic value in itself in American society-- one that was intensely
> associated with the development of private life and private property-- and
> was not intended as a motor  for building social trust and volunteerism.
> American diversity has more often than not  been a founded on  inequity. The
> post colonial frontier settlement of the  18th and 19th centuries which
> created mixed settlement patterns of Europeans, displaced Native
> Americans,Mexicans, slaves and later ex slaves,  and mixed race fractions, was not  
> expected to promote communal trust and solidarity or an equitable public
> sphere. Nor is the antithesis  between diversity  and community solidarity
> exceptional. Racist social orders are inherently diverse as are  colonial
> societies.  What is so unique in American society to buck this trend-- the
> faithful guarantee and enforcement of civil rights? Tell that to
> African-Americans who were denied the right to vote in recent national elections or
> subjected to police profiling on the most diverse space in the country-- the
> nation's public road system. Do we have  a study from Putnam of communal
> solidarity and volunteerism on the highways? Are spatial mobility and 
> trans-local communication networks discussed? Is sedentary face to face interaction
> the sole  definition of community here?
> Putnam's study from the summary below assumes, at baseline, an ideal
> Habermasian transparent public sphere  as his definition  of civic community
> with no communicative (media) distortion in which economic  inequity and
> historical  institutional racism play no role in inhibiting communal
> identification. Gemeinschaft was not originally associated  by Tonnies with a 
> culturally, racially and ethnically diverse and economically differentiated
> society with an extreme division of labor, but Putnam has here stood Tonnies on
> his head.
> Allen Feldman
> New York University
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