I think a lot about social spaces, where people meet each other, and connect, even if its for an instance. I am especially interested in connections that go ‘outside the box’, outside of our comfort zone, stretch our understandings. When we have a choice, generally we stick with people who are similar to us – similar often in education level and class, age, family status, political opinons, ethnic background etc.
There’s been a lot written on social capital and Putnam’s concepts of Bonding and Bridging. While we rely more heaving on our bonding relationships, it is actually our bridging relationships that can move us forward in life, transform us, help us in finding new jobs, new ways of thinking etc etc.
I think a lot happens, individually and socially, when we’re in spaces with people who we don’t know, who we aren’t comfortable with, who come from a different ‘walk of life’. I am currently teaching at my local community college, and what I love most about it is the diversity of my students, and seeing this interaction and conversation happening. The learning feels so much deeper when experience and points of views are so drastically divergent. And if I, as a teacher, can keep the space safe so that everyone can speak freely, then it feels like transformative learning can happen.
A few examples of bridging social capital:
1. Social media – explosion of bridging – this is an amazing example of a Prof showing the power of bridging and social relationships through twitter with a 1.5 contest – http://tinyurl.com/l469bop!
2. One of the many unsung benefits of volunteering is the opportunity that volunteers have of building their social capital, through meeting people they otherwise wouldn’t meet. The most interesting example that I have seen is in a Meals-on-Wheels program. For Meals-on-Wheels, I recruited ‘drivers’ and ‘runners’. The drivers need to own their own car, have time in the day and drive to deliver the meals. The runners go with the drivers, sit in their cars, and deliver the meals. The drivers were VERY hard to recruit, because we needed to find people who owned their own cars but had time during the day to volunteer. So – I recruited mainly retired middle-class people and people who ran their own business (with flexible schedules). For example, I recruited my real estate agent, who has loads of money and owns a big chunk of the west-end of Toronto! The runners were easy to recruit, and many of our runner volunteers faced barriers to work and social participation for a variety of reasons. To be a runner, you needed to be reliable, friendly and polite. That’s it – you didn’t need to read or write English or possess other skills that other volunteer roles required. SO – bridging social capital was happening in those cars every day. My real estate agent actually spoke with me a few times about the learning that she had, meeting people who she would not otherwise meet and understanding the challenges they faced in life. It was an eye-opener for her, not just delivering the meals but through the meeting of other volunteers.
3. I love this – I don’t know that it really counts as building social capital because I’m not sure if the relationships in any way continue after the photo is taken. But I love that this photographer is challenging the norms of ‘strangeness’ and creating intimacy in the moment – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cORC_HWBHGo!