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All give and no take? Social change, suburban life and the possibilities of sharing in Australia


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Rooney, M 2014 , 'All give and no take? Social change, suburban life and the possibilities of sharing in Australia', PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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The act of sharing is attracting increasing attention as a way to address many social and environmental problems. Advocates of sharing can be found in the civil, public and private sectors, with local community groups, large businesses and government agencies all investigating the possibilities of sharing programs. Confidence that sharing promises positive social change is founded on the assumption that modern societies cultivate selfishness and individualism. This critique asserts that a shift towards a more sharing society will not only reduce overall material consumption, but will lead to strong, cohesive communities. In Australia, such critique has centred on the suburbs that house the majority of the population. In this context, I here address the following primary research question: what does it mean to share in Australian suburban life? To respond to this question, I employed a qualitative research methodology, drawing on Pierre Bourdieu’s concepts of habitus, field and capital to investigate the informal structures of suburban life, the social norms, which influence neighbourly interaction. The study begins by reviewing contemporary portrayals of sharing and contextualising this within narratives of Australian suburban identity. It then presents the results of iterative and emergent fieldwork based on adaptive theory and involving sixteen research participants drawn from two contrasting suburban contexts in Melbourne; the Sharehood, a grassroots not-for-profit sharing initiative, and two Master Planned Estates (MPEs). Semi-structured interviews were conducted with all participants, with a sub-sample subsequently taking part in a written correspondence method involving the monthly exchange of letters between researcher and participant. Field observations, emerging themes and theoretical development were recorded in a reflexive research journal.
Members of the Sharehood linked sharing with notions of suburban sustainability. MPE residents linked sharing with notions of good citizenship. Both groups had common understandings of sharing founded upon social norms related to ideals of self-sufficiency and independence. These norms disposed participants to acts of generosity towards neighbours, but inhibited their ability to be the beneficiaries of acts of neighbourly generosity. Implicated in these norms were practices in which sharing was experienced as altruism, social obligation was experienced as a threat to private autonomy and private ownership was experienced as a precondition of generosity. Such experiences compete with an implicit understanding that networks of obligation are key to the ongoing neighbourly relationships desired by participants. Many of those who advocate sharing as a means of social change place strong emphasis on sharing as an inherently selfless act of giving. In the context of Australian suburban life, the study findings indicate that such advocacy overlooks embedded social norms that curb sharing behaviour by privileging giving over receiving. I conclude that if sharing initiatives are to contribute to positive social change attention needs to be paid to practices that cultivate a renewed social capacity to receive as well as to give.

Item Type: Thesis - PhD
Authors/Creators:Rooney, M
Keywords: sharing, suburbia, social norms, community development, urban studies, habitus, social capital
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