Neighbouring as an occasioned activity : "Finding a lost cat"
To illustrate the decline in a strong sense of community the characteristics of suburban living are often cited by social and cultural commentators. Spatially dispersed, lifeless during the daytime due to commuting, an excessive concern with keeping up appearances in terms of lawns, flowerbeds and property maintenance, moreover, suburbia, suffers perhaps worst of all, from weak social relations between residents. Such disparaging commentary on suburban neighbourhoods is frequently a premise for social scientists to define their version of “the good community”, bemoan its absence or decline, and has little concern for the phenomena of daily life in suburbia. In its concern to advance one or another political agenda conventional social and cultural studies miss just how suburban residents organise their everyday lives at ground level. Drawing on the insights of ethnomethodology and other studies of social practice we offer some therapeutic descriptions of neighbouring. From our ethnographic fieldwork in a UK suburb we show, via the incident of the search for a lost cat, how everyday talk formulates places and is formulated by its location in the ongoing occasioned activities of neighbours. In contrast to studies that have depicted suburbia as a place where morals are minimised, we show how conduct amongst neighbours constantly displays specific and locally accomplished moral commitments. Building on our own and other ethnographic research we list some of the rules of good neighbouring and investigate how such rules are followed or otherwise oriented to during encounters between neighbours. We also make a start on the explication of the seen but un-noticed features of what neighbours know of one another as settled neighbours. In doing so we return to our initial topic of community and neighbouring to learn some of the good reasons for neighbours maintaining the social distances that they typically do.