Examine the Argument That “Good Fences Make Good Neighbours.”

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In this essay I will attempt to show that social “fences”, although a necessary part of social life, can lead to conflict and the need for resolution if they are too rigid or too unclear, particularly within larger communities. Modern communities are divided into neighbourhoods, streets and homes. Homes are usually occupied by couples, families or groups of associates, who assume a collective identity as occupants of the dwelling. They will also assume a collective identity along with the occupants of other nearby dwellings as members of a neighbourhood community, and relational identities as each other’s neighbours. Their membership of the former may on occasion clash with their identity as members of the latter, particularly if there are cultural or racial differences involved, as members may share a sense of loyalty to their group identity as members of the family. According to Erving Goffman, we need to look at small-scale social activity in order to understand society as a whole. (Taylor, 2009, p172), and therefore understanding how neighbours relate to each other can help us to understand how whole communities also relate to each other. Neighbours are expected to be friendly and approachable without intruding on each other’s private space or private business, as observed by both Wilmott (Byford, 2009, p253) and Crow et al (Byford, 2009, p254). In fact, the entire concept of being a “good neighbour” seems to revolve around knowing where the boundaries are between “just enough contact” and “too much contact”, with most disputes between neighbours being caused by excessive intrusion, either in the form of too much noise, taking up too much space (boundary disputes, parking disputes), the “reverse intrusion” of forcing one’s neighbours to be a party to one’s private life by making excessive sexual noise or marital arguments, or by pursuing too much contact and not respecting privacy. The best neighbours, it seems, are a paradox – friendly, helpful, but so quiet...
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