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Securing respectBehavioural expectations and anti-social behaviour in the UK$

Andrew Millie

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9781847420947

Published to Policy Press Scholarship Online: March 2012

DOI: 10.1332/policypress/9781847420947.001.0001

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‘The feeling’s mutual’: respect as the basis for cooperative interaction

‘The feeling’s mutual’: respect as the basis for cooperative interaction

(p.139) six ‘The feeling’s mutual’: respect as the basis for cooperative interaction
Securing respect

Peter Somerville

Policy Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter reviews the current understanding of mutual respect and recognition, identifying it as a general form of cooperative interaction and identifying is as practices of civility, sociability and intimacy. The chapter also differentiates the ‘thick’ and ‘thin’ variants of civility and sociability and offers a new perspective on solidarity. It aims to determine the correlation between disrespect and social inequality and attempts to illustrate how disrespect stems from the latter. It also provides a critic on the government approaches to respect, particularly the Respect Action Plan which is believed to be disrespectful and counterproductive. The chapter also examines the issue of ‘informal social control’ as an alternative to governmental approaches. The concluding discussion focuses on suggestions on how mutual respect and recognition may be better promoted in communities.

Keywords:   mutual respect, recognition, cooperative interaction, civility, sociability, disrespect, social inequality, informal social control, government approaches

This chapter reviews our understanding of mutual respect and recognition, identifying it as a general form of cooperative interaction, underpinning practices of civility, sociability and intimacy. It distinguishes between ‘thin’ and ‘thick’ variants of civility and sociability, and throws new light on the nature of solidarity. It makes a connection between disrespect and social inequality, and attempts to show how the latter leads to the former. It criticises governmental approaches to respect, specifically the Respect Action Plan, arguing that these approaches are inherently disrespectful and therefore counterproductive. It explores the issue of ‘informal social control’ as an alternative to governmental approaches, arguing that this is better understood as a type of self-governance. It concludes with suggestions on how mutual respect and recognition may be better promoted in contemporary communities.

Respect, recognition and styles of interaction

Respect is about ‘how people value themselves and others’ – what Sayer (2005: 948) has called ‘lay normativity’ or ‘lay morality’. Sayer elaborates on this point as follows:

We are normative beings, in the sense that we are concerned about the world and the well being of what we value in it, including ourselves. The most important questions people tend to face in their everyday lives are normative ones of how to act, what to do for the best, what is good or bad about what is happening, including how others are treating them. The presence of this concern may be evident in fleeting encounters and conversations, in feelings about how things are going, as well as in momentous decisions such as (p.140) whether to have children, change job, or what to do about a relationship which has gone bad. (Sayer, 2005: 949)

Respect therefore means valuing, caring about and being concerned for oneself and others. Such valuing and concern assumes a prior identification of the self and others that are valued – otherwise, the respect would have no object or focus. Respect, then, is not action in itself but a disposition to judgement. The action of paying or giving respect is recognition, that is an act of attributing value to a person. Recognition goes beyond respect in clearly signalling a degree of participation in social or public life.

This chapter is concerned with mutual respect, that is where individuals respect and are respected by others. Strictly speaking, however, since mutuality involves acts of exchange, this is really mutual recognition (the exchange of respect). Mutual recognition is a form of cooperative interaction, which depends upon what Burns (1992: 74) calls a ‘capacity for interpersonal concordance … which comes directly not so much from a propensity to identify with others as from an ability and readiness to assume their point of view and interpret their intentions’.

In most cases, if respect is shown to someone who has the capacity for interpersonal concordance, they will return that respect. In this way, as Sennett (2003) and many others have noted, respect is maintained, reproduced and reinforced. For example, the civil inattention that I give to strangers tends to be returned by them; if I look at them and happen to catch their eye, I look away – and if they look at me and catch mine, they look away. Here, mutual recognition, even though unregistered in the sense that neither of us acknowledges the presence of the other (Harris, 2006: 7), reinforces a particular form of mutual respect, namely respect for each other’s privacy.

As Burns (1992: 248), following Goffman (1961; 1974), explains, all cooperative interaction requires a shared agreement on the ‘frame’ of the moment, with a frame being a set of assumptions about how the world works in situations of a particular kind, together with normative expectations about how people should behave in such situations. For cooperative interaction to work, each participant has to trust the other, with trust being understood, in Luhmann’s (1986) terms, as a willingness to assume risk – here, the risk that another participant may be using a different frame from one’s own. People use different strategies and tactics to maintain such trust, which depend partly on the nature of the situation and partly on the roles available for them to play (cf Bourdieu’s (1984) concept of habitus). Goffman (1961) points out that (p.141) the more roles there are available, the more freedom the actor has in selecting the style or form of interaction and, consequently, the greater the facility for shifting frames and the larger the space for informality (by the same token, the greater the risk and, correspondingly, the trust required). Misztal (2000) relies, in part, on Goffman’s (1961) concept of role distance (the distance between the person and the role she or he adopts in an interaction) to arrive at a classification of styles of interaction, with civility, sociability and intimacy signifying large, medium and small distances respectively. She argues that each of these styles is a way of balancing the informality and formality of interactional practices, so that interaction is neither too rigid nor too loose, neither too structured nor too formless, neither too solid nor too liquid.

Civility involves the paying of respects in everyday accidental and momentary encounters and is therefore a form of recognition – it is social action contributing to the (re)production of civil society, and therefore different from respect, which is a psychological disposition of individuals. Arguably, civility is the practice or habit of recognition, whether this is registered or unregistered, and whether this is of strangers or of those who are familiar to us. It recognises people’s right to privacy, and so protects their autonomy, their ability to develop and realise their projects in their own ways. According to Misztal (2000: 78), being civil means striking a balance

between the demand not to violate others’ privacy and the demand for the articulation of individual desires and opinions … [or between the] freedom to shift frames to avoid the empty routinisation of manners[and]the necessity of some restraints to avoid ‘in civil’ society, that is, society suffering from the deficit of respect.

Boyd (2006) makes an important distinction between ‘formal’ and ‘substantive’ civility. According to Boyd, formal civility refers to practices of everyday life, involving conventional manners and courtesy, which form part of a shared moral community or public. This is close to Misztal’s conception of civility, but entirely misses the dimension of informality (for example, in shifting frames) that is so crucial for civility as a style of interaction. It also appears to tie civility too closely to specific kinds of community or society – specifically, bourgeois or ‘respectable’ society. In reality, the everyday mutual monitoring that is characteristic of civility has a universalising character. This means at least two things:
  • (p.142) first, civility is potentially cosmopolitan, extendable to all of humanity, not restricted to any particular moral or political community (an idea explored further by Andrew Millie in Chapter 8);1

  • second, civility is not unique to encounters between strangers but is required for cooperative interaction of all kinds.

Substantive civility, on the other hand:
  • first, involves mutual recognition between people in their role as citizens;

  • second, signifies commitment to a common set of rules that describe their mutual rights and obligations.

These rules are developed internally in the process of interaction, and trust relationships help to monitor and sanction them (Ostrom, 1990: 185–6). For Boyd, substantive civility is a weak form of solidarity (where ‘solidarity’ is defined as ‘commitment that subordinates individual interest to a larger social whole’ (Misztal, 2000:116)).2 The role distance is shorter than in Misztal’s concept of civility, meaning that Misztal’s (everyday) civility is relatively ‘thin’, while substantive civility is relatively ‘thick’. To simplify, therefore, I shall call these styles of interaction ‘thin’ civility and ‘thick’ civility. ‘Thick’ civility goes beyond the mutual but non-solidaristic recognition associated with ‘thin’ civility, to the extent that it involves forms of popular self-organising based on trust in the specific performance of other citizens beyond all accidental, momentary encounters. It assumes the existence of constitutions and institutions of various kinds, and it combines the formality of these with the informality of trust in fellow citizens.3

A similar distinction is made by Dobson (2006) between ‘thin’ and ‘thick’ cosmopolitanism. ‘Thin’ cosmopolitanism refers to the obligations we owe to one another as members of a common humanity – that is, we recognise one another as having equal value as human beings. This is effectively equivalent to ‘thin’ civility, because it does not commit us to act in any particular way apart from being polite and considerate towards one another. Here, however, it is conceived as a (weak) moral obligation rather than as a style of interaction. In contrast, ‘thick’ cosmopolitanism requires us to overcome the ‘tyranny of distance’ (Linklater, 2006) that separates us from one another, and Dobson argues that this is to be done by recognising our ‘causal responsibility’ (Dobson, 2006: 172) for one another – that is, we recognise the obligations we have to one another as a consequence of the foreseeable effects of our actions upon one another. Like ‘thick’ civility, this is a form of weak solidarity, but it goes (p.143) beyond everyday interactional practices in committing participants to a variety of courses of action in pursuit of a programme for global social justice (Dobson examines the particular issue of global warming). Yet it seems to be a logical development of the universalising character of everyday mutual recognition.

One way of transforming thin into thick cosmopolitanism could be through deepening sociability. For Bourdieu, sociability is the ability and disposition to sustain networks (of ‘more or less institutionalised relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition’), and is the constitutive element of social capital (Bourdieu and Wacquant, 1992: 119). Sociability involves reciprocity, understood as a continuing relationship of exchange that ‘involves mutual expectations that a benefit granted now should be repaid in the future’ (Putnam, 1993: 172). It involves a balance between informality, with partners having freedom to choose, shape and model the main features of their particular relationships, and formality, with reliance on universal and more or less codified norms such as ethical codes and occupational rules (Misztal, 2000:81). Boyd argues that civility actually promotes sociability because it makes interaction more pleasant (Boyd, 2006: 865), and so can lead to mutual granting of favours (in the case of thin civility) or to the formation of civil associations (in the case of thick civility). Whether pleasant or not, it does seem that ‘dense iterative social situations’ (Pennington and Rydin,2000)characterised by thick civility can foster sociability. Misztal (2000:83) emphasises the importance of sociability in expressing both instrumental and non-instrumental motivations, thus contributing to the collaboration and integration of society; sociability is ‘capable of creating a feeling of belonging and providing people with social acceptance and position’ (Misztal, 2000: 94), and is essential for collective action because of its role in the formation of identity and public opinion. Sociability therefore both is facilitated by and informs and makes possible thick civility as a style of interaction.4

Like civility, sociability has ‘thin’ and ‘thick’ variants, which can be understood as involving forms of weak and strong solidarity, respectively. At the thin end, we have rudimentary forms of exchange and reciprocity, while at the thick end we have Habermas’s concept of civic solidarity, with its associated notion of ‘thick communicative embeddedness’ (Habermas, 2001:108–9). An example of thin sociability is neighbourliness. A neighbour can be understood not only as someone living in the same area as me (whom I recognise as such) but anyone with whom I interact sociably, that is have communication and action that involve exchanges that go beyond the interactions of civility (whether thin or thick). Neighbourliness is produced by ‘repeated (p.144) informal encounters over time’ (Harris, 2006: 54), which could apply to any kind of space where communication networks (whether face to face or through media such as the Internet) can develop – for example, not only a residential neighbourhood but also a school or workplace or shop, or virtually, in the space of the World Wide Web. Neighbourliness therefore seems to represent a first step towards a deeper level of involvement than the payment of respect to strangers: in becoming neighbours, people cease to be strangers to one another. This involves a stronger form of solidarity than that associated with civility, though it is more limited in scope. It leads to communitarian (sociability networks as ‘in-groups’) as opposed to cosmopolitan perspectives (based on notions of generalised interdependence).

Thick sociability is perhaps more controversial and difficult to define. What I have in mind is something like Ratner’s (2007: 14) concept of ‘co-operativism’, where ‘people work toward a common goal that benefits the participants, and that expresses common interests which they impart to the collective, co-ordinated action’.5 This goes beyond neighbourliness but remains a form of sociability. It represents a stronger form of solidarity, in which cooperative interaction is more extensive and intensive, and communicated through more extensively and intensively shared values and identity. Such solidarity can be forged in a number of ways, for example, through participation in an association; belonging to the same community; working with others towards a common purpose; or having substantive interests in common – for example, working for the same organisation, in the same occupation or belonging to the same social class or ethnic group. Neighbourhood itself can form a focus for such thick sociability, where local people identify common issues relating to local services, particularly housing (Watt, 2006; Livingston et al, 2008).

With apologies to Tönnies (1988), two kinds of thick sociability can perhaps be distinguished, corresponding roughly to whether the solidarity concerned is identified with Gemeinschaft (an imagined moral or political order of mutual rights and obligations) or with Gesellschaft (understood as shared experience of action and struggle). There is a degree of overlap between these kinds of solidarity, but the former goes beyond interactional practices (it involves imagined forms of interaction), while the latter is nurtured through the actual organisation of interactional practices. Gesellschaft or associational solidarity seems to be rooted in everyday experience, while Gemeinschaft or community solidarity suggests imagined ties among people who are largely strangers to one another but are presumed to hold the same substantive values, norms, culture, way of life, and so on. In practice, (p.145) there is often a symbiotic relationship between the two, with mutual aid and community identity/attachment being mutually reinforcing.6 Interestingly, associational solidarity can be fragile and fragmented, split as it is among different associations, many of which are changeable, transient and divided within themselves; while community solidarity, despite its imagined character, can be stronger and more durable.7

The strongest bonds of solidarity are those between members of the same family, in other words love ties of different kinds between sexual partners, between parents and children, between siblings, and so on. Such ties can be so strong that they subsist even in the absence of frequent interaction or acts of mutual recognition (for this reason, civility is less important in such relationships). In this respect, they have some of the character of community solidarity – indeed, community solidarity can to some extent be understood as an extension of family solidarity to a wider group of people with whom one is not so familiar. This has implications for the role of civility, and its precise nature is important for understanding the issue of mutual respect in the community.

To simplify what are very complex interactional processes, Table 6.1 shows different realms of interaction, based on the work of Misztal (2000: 71). Interactions range from accidental encounters through to pure relationships. What is important to observe, however, is that mutual respect is crucial for all styles of interaction (civil, sociable or intimate). Mutual respect also implies democracy, at least in principle (equality among persons and recognition of the value of each person’s contribution), whether these persons be recognised as fellow human beings, citizens, neighbours, members of the same association or community, or one’s own kith and kin. On the other hand, democracy requires mutual respect; as Harris (2006: 124) has noted: ‘We expect a society that is civil to have a democratic culture that has pertinence for all citizens and reflects an unspoken principle of the respectful recognition of others as its basis.’ Democracy requires a capacity to respect different views and interests in order to arrive at a sense of the common interest. In a democracy worthy of the name, therefore, citizens have a right to be respected and an obligation to respect their fellow citizens.

Disrespect and shame; incivility and false civility

If respect is the valuing of oneself and others, then disrespect must be the devaluing of the same. Mutual respect presumes equality of persons, so perhaps the commonest cause of disrespect is the existence of (p.146)

Table 6.1: Realms of interaction

Accidental encounters

Non-accidental encounters



Pure relationships

Style of Interaction

Thin civility

Thick civility

Thin sociability

Thick sociability


Partners’ identity



Network members






Individual goals

Collective goals


Normative Regulation

Non-codified general rules

Frames, some codified rules

Rules and norms, some codified

Rules and norms, many codified

Individualised rules

Content of Relation




Association or community


Quality of relational tie

Recognition only

Instrumental trust

Weak or thin obligations

Strong or thick obligations


Source: Adapted from Misztal (2000: 71)

(p.147) in equality. In equality leads to the devaluing of some people in relation to others, in that they are seen as being of lower status, less deserving (of respect). As Sennett (1998) eloquently argues, a meritocracy, for example, in which those who succeed are deemed to be the most deserving, creates a pattern of mutual disrespect: first, those who are less successful lose respect for themselves and consequently disengage; later on, their children disrespect the social practices and institutions that so disrespected their parents.

Sayer (2005: 954) argues that: ‘The worst kind of disrespect, the kind that is most likely to make one feel shame, is that which comes from those whose values and judgments one most respects.’ As noted in Chapter Three by France and Meredith, in a society dominated by the work ethic, for example, the person who cannot find suitable employment is likely to feel shame, which is a sense of failure to live according to one’s values or commitments. Disrespect from society is reflected in disrespect for self, in the sense of believing oneself to be of lower value than others. However, this happens only if one agrees with the judgements made by the disrespecters. Those who are said to be ‘shameless’ reject these judgements, even though this rejection increases others’ disdain or contempt for them (Bourdieu, 1984). This helps to explain why practices such as ‘naming and shaming’ cannot work in relation to people who already feel disrespected by the very authorities who are proposing to ‘name and shame’ them.

The labelling of people as capable or incapable of shame (what might be called ‘shameful’ and ‘shameless’, respectively) echoes traditional class-based divisions between so-called ‘respectable’ and ‘rough’ or ‘disreputable’ people. Broadly speaking, ‘respectables’ are those who adhere or aspire to dominant or conventional norms, values and modes of behaviour. They believe that in this way they will be more highly respected and thereby distinguish themselves from people in ‘lower’ classes. In contrast, ‘roughs’ are those who frequently flout the rules, show lack of consideration for others, let their children run riot and appear to reject dominant values such as the work ethic, or at least to be unable to live up to them (for more detail, see Watt, 2006). Evidence of both ‘respectable’ and ‘rough’ behaviour is considerable, but the identification of distinct groups of people has never been clear cut, with the boundaries between the two groups being highly contestable – see Watt (2006) for examples from Camden in London; or Reynolds’ (1986) earlier, unsuccessful attempts to identify the ‘problem tenants’ on one council estate. By exaggerating the inequality between groups of people, the drawing of this distinction is itself disrespectful because it devalues one group in relation to another.

(p.148) In striving for and maintaining respectability (for oneself), civility can be used as a weapon for disrespect (of others). In general, civility can function as a veneer or mask (Misztal, 2000: 74), concealing a lack of respect for those seen as ‘uncivilised’. More specifically, it can be part of an elite culture, an instrument of social control that works not only by constructing differences (like that between ‘respectables’ and ‘roughs’), but also by instituting ‘the regularity, predictability and sameness that makes society possible under conditions beyond the level of the primary group’ (Boyd, 2006: 869). Among equals, therefore, civility tends to be positive, but among unequals, or among those attempting to make themselves valued more highly than others, civility can reinforce both the inequality of the relationship and the social order in which such inequality is embedded. Civility among unequals therefore tends towards false civility, with the double emphasis on sameness (‘people like us’) and difference (‘people like them’) (see Butler, 1997)producing and sustaining forms of social inclusion and exclusion. Those who are disrespected by this false civility, and who recognise it as false, are liable to become angry, and their anger may be expressed in acts of rebellion (Boyd, 2006: 870).

The nature of false civility is well described by Sen (2007: 54):

[In a society or community ruled by norms of ‘civility’] there is – by definition – little or no room for deviants, for sections that do not follow the rules of being civilised, which is a rule that is in turn also set by those who consider themselves to be civil and civilised. To the contrary, the civilised feel threatened by those who do not conform (and who they therefore term ‘anti-social’, ‘deviant’, ‘wild’, and ‘uncivil’) and by the very existence of the uncivil, and so they seek to subjugate it, convert it, tame it, civilise it; if it becomes sufficiently docile and domesticated, then to ignore it; and on the other hand, if it is too assertive, to attempt to destroy it, exterminate it. (Only in the most civilised of ways, of course.)In short, it is –in their understanding – the historical task of those who arrogate this term to themselves, to ‘civilise’ society and to establish a civil order – which most centrally means to establish hegemony over all those who (and all that) they consider to be uncivil.

What Sen is exposing here is the false claims of the powerful to be civil (false because they are seriously disrespectful of the powerless). However, he also draws an interesting distinction between two groups: the (p.149) ‘incivil’ and the ‘uncivil’. Both groups are disrespected by the so-called ‘civilised’ and attempt to combat this, but in different ways. The incivil build insurgent associations, challenging power structures dominated by the civil, while the uncivil are far more limited in their activity, being generally ‘criminal and exploitative’ (Sen, 2007:60). This distinction, however, seems to risk reproducing, on a global scale, the traditional distinction between the ‘respectable’ and the ‘disreputable’ working class, with the former struggling to advance the interests of the downtrodden, while the latter are simply reciprocating disrespect with disrespect. It is also concerning that Sen has nothing to say about the nature of the civility that might be required of the incivil.

This argument concerning false civility can be extended to sociability and even to intimacy. Differences of class and status become organised into contrasting and conflicting networks of associations, with accompanying mutual obligations and commitments, so that people become sociable and intimate only with others who seem like themselves (see, for example, Blokland, 2003). In this way, social differences become stabilised and institutionalised. False sociability, however, can occur even among equals, where one person pretends to be interested in or concerned about the affairs of another, with no serious intention to enter into a relationship of exchange. Similarly, one could identify relationships of false intimacy, where people are bound together by, for example, jealousy, fear, emotional blackmail, and so on.

Governmental approaches to respect

The government’s Respect Action Plan states that: ‘Respect cannot be learned, purchased or acquired, it can only be earned’ (Respect Task Force,2006:30). As Harris (2006:6) points out, this is ‘a theoretically disempowering premise’. Arguably, its most serious flaw is that it devalues, and therefore disrespects, all those who have not managed, for whatever reason, to ‘earn’ the respect of others. Further, the Plan has nothing to say about the government’s responsibility in ‘earning’ the respect of others, and particularly of those whom it is precisely disrespecting by its policy approach. Consequently, there is simply no basis here for a principled development of mutual respect between the government and its citizens. Instead, what we have is a patronising, top-down and arbitrarily punitive approach that ignores the causes of disrespect and attempts to appease the feelings of what could be called the ‘respectable’ classes (‘decent, law-abiding, hard-working people’, and so on). Whatever may be the merits of particular policies drafted (p.150) in pursuit of this approach, we can be sure that the approach itself is doomed to failure.

Harris (2006) lists at least four other, more specific, problems with the government’s approach in relation to respect in the neighbourhood alone:

  1. 1) Civic absence, that is, in some poorer areas, the lack of visible state authority, poor quality of services and lack of response to calls and complaints. Consequently: ‘Residents feel disempowered and they are subject to systematic and legitimised disrespect, but it goes unregistered’ (p 13).

  2. 2) Its emphasis on shaming. Basically, as argued above, ‘Shaming doesn’t work because it’s not based on respect’ (p 14). Public shaming in particular is just legitimised disrespect.

  3. 3) It ignores ‘the sanctioned disrespectful behaviour of “respectable” citizens’ (p 14). On top of the institutionalised disrespect already heaped onto people by patterns of inequality, ‘respectable’ people add to this disrespect in at least two ways: first, through self-indulgent and socially and environmentally damaging consumption: ‘Our officially sanctioned respectable way of life – consume more, only engage with others at your own discretion – seems to work in precisely the opposite direction to the trumpeted intentions of the respect agenda’ (p 16); and second, what Harris calls ‘professional disrespect’: ‘People with power and responsibility within society are routinely abusing it in minor ways by not showing respect to those in their charge’ (p 16).

  4. 4) It ignores the role of informal support systems (p 123), particularly in setting standards and managing the behaviour of children (Barnes, 2006: 19), and relies solely on a mixture of legal enforcement and enforced ‘support’ such as parenting classes. The problem with this is that ‘Norms of behaviour are being asserted from the top down without acknowledgment that they need to be mutually accepted and owned at local level’ (Harris, 2006: 123).8

One could add that the Respect Agenda actually encourages disrespectful behaviour by people who believe themselves to be respectable. The Respect Agenda is part of a wider culture and politics that encourages people to complain about others, report their transgressions to the authorities, ‘take a stand’, and so on, rather than attempt to communicate, mediate, negotiate, and so on. In short, it encourages people to adopt the status of a victim rather than a citizen. It is perhaps no accident, therefore, that it has been found that:’” Respectable” people such as (p.151) the middle-aged and elderly were the most likely perpetrators of an everyday incivility, not minority youth’ (Phillips and Smith, 2006: 898).9 Indeed, Bannister et al (2006: 923) suggest that the respectable city (with its zero tolerance of anti-social behaviour) and the revanchist city are closely related. They argue further, that the purification of the public realm, in eliminating the possibility of engagement with the ‘other’, results in increasing fear and intolerance, though it is by no means clear why this should be so (Bannister et al, 2006: 932; see also Bannister and Kearns, Chapter Seven, this volume).10

There is one final, and general, problem with governmental approaches to respect. This is that mutual respect requires equality of persons, whereas government demands compliance. The basic inequality between a government and its citizens can make it very difficult to achieve a respectful relationship between the two. The emergence of community and contractual governance (see for example, Flint and Nixon, 2006) does not change the fundamental asymmetry of the relationship. Contractual governance binds citizens by means of specific performance contracts instead of by law or general employment conditions, and community governance binds citizens through their roles as parents, tenants, service users, and so on.11 The main point, however, is that they are bound by government rules and regulations. Whether it is only a ‘passive desistance from incivility’ that is required or ‘a series of positive actions’ (Flint and Nixon, 2006: 952), the intended effect is that citizens should be what Althusser (1970) called ‘interpellated’ (or ‘hailed into place’) as subjects of governmental authority. Being required to act positively is actually more demanding of citizens, and therefore potentially more oppressive (in the sense of an unjustified restriction of freedom), even though (and perhaps especially because) it is intended to be for their own good.

Informal social control – or self-governance?

Mutual respect and recognition is therefore crucial for all forms of cooperative interaction. It is stimulated by the general desire among human beings to get on with one another, assisted by what Dean (2003) calls ‘cultural parenting’. It is fragile and finely balanced, however, and can be undermined by any one of a myriad of factors: misunderstandings, mistakes, misrepresentations, harmful acts of commission and omission, and accidental combinations of circumstances, as well as more systematic injustices and institutionalised disrespect. This section considers how mutual respect and recognition, and the order to which it gives rise (p.152) (which Goffman called the ‘interaction order’), is or can be maintained in the face of such threats.

Much of the literature in this area talks of ‘informal social control’ as a mechanism by which such order is produced and reproduced. On closer examination, however, what is called ‘informal social control’ turns out not to be completely informal, nor does it seem necessarily geared towards social control. Atkinson and Flint (2004: 335), for example, describe informal social control as involving collective norms and values within a ‘community’, and the ability of the community to regulate its members and realise collective goals. The terms ‘norms’ and ‘regulate’, however, suggest the existence of codes and rules, which are formal, and the term ‘social control’ raises questions of who is in control and what they are in control of, which are not explicitly addressed.12 The focus here, therefore, seems to be on a mechanism (or set of mechanisms) that allows people to organise or regulate or govern themselves in ways of their own choosing. People may, however, choose to organise themselves in ways that involve disrespect of various kinds,13 so it is not clear what this approach contributes to our understanding of how mutual respect (as opposed to disrespect) is maintained.

Mechanisms to support mutual respect are, of course, to be found in the cooperative interactional practices discussed in earlier sections of this chapter. Civility, sociability and intimacy are all of key importance in securing such so-called ‘informal social control’. These styles of interaction all involve action that occurs spontaneously, according to the free will of individuals. They therefore correspond with a particular kind of social order maintenance that Kooiman (2003: 83) calls ‘self-governance’. Self-governance in the case of a collectivity is essentially democratic, because it implies that each member is able to contribute freely and equally towards producing the order of the collectivity as a whole.

At one level, self-governance can be equated with the shaping of civility, particularly thick civility. Indeed, it is a key motivation for non-accidental encounters between citizens. It represents a development or deepening of the capacity for interpersonal concordance discussed earlier, which requires mutual judgement, or weighing in the balance, of the needs, interests, dispositions, expectations, and so on, of the various parties in any particular interaction. It derives, in Sayer’s (2005: 952) terms, ‘from the ongoing mutual and self-monitoring that occurs in everyday interactions with others, imagining what our behaviour implies for others and how it will be viewed by others, and generalising from one kind of moral experience to other situations which seem similar’ (see also Jacobs, 1961). It is, first of all, governance of the self, (p.153) and then governance of one another through the development of codes of behaviour and mutual monitoring of one another’s behaviour.14

Self-governance therefore involves a balance between the formality of codes of behaviour (for example, queuing – see Misztal, 2000: 121) and the informality of everyday processes such as those of Sayer’s or Jacobs’ mutual monitoring and surveillance or ‘the grapevine’ (informal dissemination of information).15 This conception suggests that the term ‘self-governance’ can be applied to the shaping of sociability (and, by extension, intimacy) as well as civility, depending upon the nature of the codes and the content of the communication concerned. However, the deepening interdependence that accompanies increasing sociability tends to be associated with a diminishing scope of the self-governing ‘community’ – that is, the circle of people with whom one is sociable is, perhaps inevitably, smaller than that with whom one is civil. Self-governing collectivities, therefore, where sociability is the dominant style of interaction, tend to be small in comparison with civil society, where civility predominates. Indeed, and unsurprisingly, deepening levels of mutual involvement correspond with shrinking numbers of involved people: from thin civility at one end of the continuum, involving the whole of humanity, through thick civility (members of the same civil society), to sociability (members of the same network or association or community), to intimacy (members of the same primary group). Self-governance therefore operates on a number of different levels, according to the style of interaction and the size of the self-governing collectivity. Each level has its own codes and communication content, its own combination of formality and informality.

A key disposition for self-governance is the willingness and readiness to intervene where an uncivil (or possibly anti-civil) or unsociable (or anti-social) act occurs. What is required is a deliberate encounter that results in a restoration of the balance of mutual respect that has been disturbed by the act. Harris (2006: 65–6) emphasises the importance of opportunities for encounter generally, especially in situations where one is required to interact cooperatively, such as shopping areas and meeting places. Such spaces are not only essential for thick civility but are important for promoting sociability. Readiness to intervene, however, is related to many different factors (see Harris, 2006: 63), such as whether the perpetrators of the uncivil act are known to the witness or whether the witness is known to them,16 whether it occurs in the witness’s own immediate neighbourhood (Harris, 2006: 64), whether fellow bystanders are seen as people like them (Levine et al, 2002: 3),17 whether the authorities are perceived as responsive, supportive or trustworthy, the perceived risk of harm to themselves, (p.154) and the perception of one’s own responsibility/duty or of the value of intervening (Barnes and Baylis, 2004: 101).

Interestingly, most, if not all, of these factors relate to sociability, not just civility.18 This strongly suggests that civility in itself, no matter how ‘thick’, is not self-supporting. Civility sets conditions that are necessary for sociability to flourish but, at the same time, sociability seems to be required for reasonably stable and enduring self-governance. One result of this, however, is that self-governance is limited by the boundaries of particular social networks rather than, as with civility, being extendable to large political communities, and even to global society. Different networks may operate by different norms and have different values (for example on what counts as a fair or legitimate exchange), rather than the universalising norms and values required for civility. This raises the question of which particular group norms and values might be more supportive of mutual respect generally.

This question is perhaps not as difficult to answer as some people have suggested. Sociability can indeed create divisions between in-groups and out-groups, leading to the disrespect of the latter. However, if people respect one another’s beliefs, opinions, modes of appearance, ways of communicating, and so on, then there does not seem to be any good reason why they should not be able to be sociable with one another, even if they disagree on major issues of politics, religion and morality. For example, in relation to the care and control of children, Barnes (2006:31–2) concluded, from a study of four English neighbourhoods, that self-governance was more likely where people felt that parents were effectively monitoring their own children in a way they agreed with; there were shared norms about parenting and discipline; and there was greater sociability generally, in the sense that parents knew more of their neighbours and supported them in small ways, sharing information, looking after keys, and so on, or otherwise socialised with them. Sociability and shared norms of everyday sociable interaction are therefore key to effective self-governance.

Problems arise, however, where people hold to contradictory norms of interaction and do not respect one another sufficiently to negotiate compromises. The disrespectful behaviour that results is displayed by a wide variety of people: not only people whose behaviour can be described as arrogant, rude, tactless, uncaring, prejudiced, bigoted, and so on, but also by people in positions of power, authority or status whose behaviour devalues other people. In the context of such wider social inequality and disrespect, sociability tends to encourage more particularistic forms of self-governance that reinforce existing social divisions based, for example, on class or ethnicity or ‘tribe’. In this (p.155) context, there is a risk that the universalising character of civility can become lost.

The concept of cohesion is useful here, understood as ‘a collective ability to manage the shifting array of tensions and disagreements among diverse communities’ (Gilchrist, 2004: 6), because it recognises that, in practice, disrespectful behaviour will occur, both within communities and across communities, but the problems it causes can, in principle, be resolved through self-governance. Cohesion across networks therefore has the potential to universalise sociability and produce less particularistic forms of self-governance, in which diversity itself is respected and valued. ‘The challenge … is to think about “difference” in ways in which it becomes the basis of affinity rather than antagonism’ (Brah, 2007: 136).

An acute but unfortunately not uncommon example of lack of sociability at the neighbourhood level, giving rise to failure of self-governance, is provided by Barnes (2006). Her research findings appear to indicate that people’s willingness to intervene to protect their neighbours’ children or correct their misbehaviour was strongly associated with confidence that such intervention would not result in retaliation from the children’s parents. Fear and distrust of other parents was therefore a key feature of the unsociability of interaction in certain areas. Barnes (2006:32) suggests that this has developed partly because governmental policies have had the effect of putting most parents on the defensive, making them feel that ‘the child is now more often someone to be defended at all costs’. In this respect, governmental approaches (along with other factors such as housing market changes) have contributed to the weakening of community solidarity and the undermining of self-governance.19

In general, current forms of state intervention do not effectively promote self-governance, not least because they do not understand the bases of self-governance. They favour enforcement approaches to encouraging mutual respect and recognition, without appreciating that such approaches may in themselves be disrespectful and without attempting to ensure that the enforcers themselves are respected. They strengthen hierarchical governance, for instance through the ‘extended policing family’ (that is, the extension of policing from the public police to include agencies such as police community support officers, neighbourhood wardens and private security companies), new technologies of surveillance, new forms of court order, new kinds of contract, multi-agency partnerships, and so on,20 but without attempting in advance to gauge what the effects of these innovations might be on forms of self-governance. They fail entirely to heed the (p.156) warning of Jacobs (1961: 32) that ‘No amount of police can enforce civilisation where the normal, casual enforcement of it has broken down’.

Two other kinds of government policies, however, appear to hold out more promise. First, there are policies that involve supporting and conferring powers on community associations such as parish councils, neighbourhood policing panels and Neighbourhood Watch organisations. The style of interaction in such associations is that of sociability (of various degrees of thickness) and, insofar as they are inclusive of the whole community, they have the potential to be genuine forms of cohesive self-governance. In practice, however, most of them fall short of this ideal, so they need to be guided and assisted in their development.

This leads to the second kind of policy, where the government (as it usually is)works in partnership with the community as a whole in forms of co-governance21 – for example, through reassurance/neighbourhood policing (eg Millie and Herrington, 2005) where the sociability tends to be thin, based on forms of reciprocity between certain community members and individual representatives of the state (such as community support officers and neighbourhood wardens);similarly, in community cohesion or intercultural initiatives, between members of different ethnic groups in processes orchestrated by the state – for example, interculturalism (eg Hussain et al, 2006; see also Chapter Eight by Millie). The readiness to intervene found in self-governance situations is echoed here in the readiness to summon assistance from enforcement agencies, with the degree of readiness being an inverse function of the effectiveness of self-governance and a direct function of the trust placed in the agencies concerned. Each form of reciprocity has to be considered on its own merits, but the main point is that it has to be allowed to work with the grain of existing mechanisms of self-governance, insofar as those mechanisms are broadly supportive of processes of mutual recognition. If they are not so supportive, co-governance cannot work, and old-style policing approaches may be required, along with a panoply of interventions of other kinds.

It can be concluded, therefore, that mutual respect and recognition are supported and sustained in a complex variety of ways, which can be summarised in terms of processes of self-governance and co-governance. Self-governance involves the spontaneous mutual shaping of styles of interaction, through a balance of formal codes and informal communications operating on different scales. Effective self-governance requires sociability but, paradoxically, sociability can reinforce social divisions that result in mutual disrespect. To counteract (p.157) this, measures are required to reduce social inequality and to increase cohesion and solidarity across sociability networks. To some extent, these measures can be developed spontaneously, through specific learning processes that result in more liberal and outward-looking forms of self-governance. In addition, however, there is considerable scope for forms of co-governance in which different self-governing associations work together or in which hierarchical organisations such as governments learn to work cooperatively with self-governing associations of different kinds.

Promoting respect

As Pahl (2006: 184) says, ‘the important goal is to provide the social framework in which a culture of mutual respect may take root and flourish’. There are problems with attempting to stimulate respect directly, through legislation or enforcement or other hierarchical means, since these are all based on assumptions of moral superiority (for example, ‘I show respect but you do not’ or ‘I am respectable but you are not’) which devalue and disrespect the other (see further discussion in Boyd, 2006: 875–6; see also Sennett, 2003). In general, approaches that seek to control the behaviour of others are disrespectful insofar as they deny people’s freedom to make their own choices as they see fit and reject the democratic principle of equality of voice. To be controlled means that one follows a rule or obeys an order because one cannot perceive an alternative, or because the hazards associated with non-compliance or disobedience are seen to be too great. A ‘respectful’ society, however (see Sennett, 2003), is one whose rules are followed by the people because they respect their authority, which, in a democratic society, derives from the people themselves. Such respect for authority is earned through showing that it is authorised by the people and exercised fairly, impartially, accountably and transparently.

Misztal (2000: 230–1) concludes that there are basically two ways in which people’s desire for a ‘respectful’ society can be realised. The first is through an expansion of formalisation, conventionalisation and rationalisation, and the second is through reliance on trust. Policy to promote respect, therefore, needs to focus on strengthening the ‘right’ norms of civility, sociability and intimacy, and on acting in such a way that trust is created and nurtured rather than diminished and undermined. This means a wide range of policies, from community development to wealth redistribution, that on the one hand encourage, extend and deepen sociability in particular and, on the other hand, ensure that policy decisions enjoy the support of the people and (p.158) are implemented in a respectful manner. In promoting respect, the government needs to take a lead in showing respect.

Policy to promote respect may focus on civility, sociability or intimacy, and on building self-governance or developing co-governance. For example:’ Fostering [thin] civility may be more related to enhancing the conditions, both physical and social, that allow people to co-exist and interact through promoting tolerance and respectful indifference amongst loosely connected strangers’ (Crawford, 2006: 974). Encouraging sociability, in contrast, needs something more richly detailed – for example, Harris (2006: 122) has suggested something similar to the Highway Code for a wide variety of types of (thin) sociable interaction. For thick sociability, people need to value one another for their intrinsic human worth, irrespective of whatever partial identities they may hold related togender, ethnicity, sexuality, andsoon. Indeed, to see someone only in terms of such a partial identity is itself disrespectful, because it diminishes their value as a human being. Social constructions such as patriarchy, neocolonialism, heteronormativity, disablism and ageism can therefore all be viewed as disrespectful insofar as they devalue or oppress certain human beings in relation to others (see Spalek, 2008). Rules for intimacy are something else again, and traditionally have been left to be negotiated by the parties concerned, with intervention occurring only in cases of bodily harm and neglect – although intervention has also occurred in support of oppressive norms, such as heteronormativity.

With regard to restoring sociability in neighbourhoods in particular, Harris (2006: 116–22) has proposed a principled way forward for government. He emphasises the need to generate:

  • trust among neighbours (for self-governance)

  • trust in the authorities (for co-governance).

According to Harris, trust among neighbours will be achieved through:
  • ensuring neighbourhood stability, with the neighbours becoming a community of choice rather than a community of fate;

  • maintaining a walkable, orderly local environment;

  • promoting social networks, for example, around the use of local facilities.

Trust in the authorities is further developed by ensuring that there is both ‘engaged (p.159) formality’ (Harris, 2006: 120) and ‘detached formality’ (Harris, 2006: 121). This means that there should be formal opportunities for community engagement, on the one hand, and on the other, ‘civic presence’ (that is, visible, responsible and accountable policing)and an accessible justice system, with local people participating in its governance.22

Where sociability and intimacy overlap, as in the case of norms relating to childcare, particular difficulties can arise. For example, in some neighbourhoods different parents have different and conflicting norms, such as on ‘playing out’, swearing, noise levels, road safety, ball kicking, entering other people’s homes and so on, and in some cases parents will always take the word of their child against that of their adult neighbours. In such cases there is no real substitute for efforts to improve the sociability of the parents concerned. Such efforts can include a variety of forms of support, such as parenting advice, nursery care and a range of opportunities for parents to come together with and without their children. Thin sociability may be sufficient here, but it would also need to involve willingness not to judge other people according to oppressive norms, in other words, norms that unjustifiably restrict the freedom of the individuals concerned.23

Prior et al (2005, cited in Brannan et al, 2006: 1003–4) found a large measure of agreement by both communities and officials on the way forward in achieving more respectful communities. This involved practices such as enforcing the existing and agreed rules relating to anti-social behaviour; working with and supporting young people and their families to develop skills, capacities and self-esteem; building community capacity and investing in physical infrastructure; and developing better multi-agency working. The challenges for official agencies are to be sufficiently flexible to recognise and adapt to different types and levels of social capital in different neighbourhoods, and to support and facilitate activities of local volunteers while not being threatened by or seeking to subordinate them.

Such findings confirm both the necessity for co-governance and the extraordinary difficulties in making it work. Standardised approaches from government agencies and professionals simply do not connect with the sociability networks of particular communities, yet ways have to be found of working together if mutual respect is to be nurtured in communities where it is currently lacking. Official agencies have to rethink their approaches in order to become more relevant and more effective. Beyond that, decision makers generally need to examine more carefully the sometimes arrogant claims and demands of the’ respectable’ and consider the full implications of these for their fellow citizens before taking action. Just as the government expects to be trusted by (p.160) its citizens, so it is reasonable for citizens to expect to be trusted by their government.



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