The research crowd at the recent Toronto Neighbourhood Research Network meeting positively oohed when McMaster professor Jim Dunn described the new data capture method in a recent grant application.
“Not only will we be able to videotape the social interactions in a neighbourhood, but we’ll be able to project the data into a video-surround ‘cave’ —with sound.”
The technology would (re-)create a Canadian version of some foundational neighbourhood research, Neighborhoods and Violent Crime: A Multilevel Study of Collective Efficacy. In 1997, Robert Sampson, Stephen Raudenbush & Felton Earls drove a van slowly through the streets of Chicago, recording the social interactions they saw: adults interacting with youth and with each other. These were categorized and analyzed against the crime levels in different neighbourhoods.
Sampson, Raudenbush and Earls were trying to explain why crime levels varies among neighbourhoods which were similar in many other respects. The “broken windows” theory, popular in previous decades, hypothesized that petty crime, unchecked, leads to bigger crime. The broken windows theory had led to harsher policing responses to minor criminal activities and misdemeanors.
Their research generated the idea of collective efficacy, most easily described, as the trust neighbours have in each other to affect change. Where neighbours know each other, even by sight, and intervene when help is needed, crime levels were lower.
According to a recent presentation at CERIS, by Sara Thompson, a professor at Ryerson’s department of Criminal Justice & Criminology, strengthening the social connections within neighbourhoods is one of the most promising interventions to stop violent crime and homicides. The field of criminology has evolved from an earlier analysis that to the “kinds of places” where criminal activity occurs.
For instance, much of the debate in the 1990s, Thompson explained, focused on “kinds of people” involved in criminal activity, so that the “purported link between violence and immigrants” resulted in calls for stricter immigration policies.
The more recent emphasis in Toronto on strengthening neighbourhoods has arisen out of the identification of “the central role of disadvantaged neighbourhoods as fertile fields for the roots of violence…” (Roots of Youth Violence, Vol 1.). This led to the pouring of resources into the Priority Neighbourhood Areas in Toronto’s “underserviced” areas.
The idea of collective efficacy moves the focus from people, to places, to finally (as novelist Barbara Kingsolver says) “the spaces between,” underscoring the importance of neighbouring and neighbourliness.
(My thanks to Sean Meagher who first introduced me to the research of Sampson, Raudenbush and Earls.)
Roots of Youth Violence Report blog post