Where to meet?

Clarion Congress & Hotel, Cosmos 3D


Katja Rackow & Vera Sparschuh

Topic: Facing inequality in Northeast Germany: Neighbourhood as a social resource?


As in many European countries, the German political and scientific discussion on the situation of rural areas aims at the identification of “hidden” resources to face the problems of changing living conditions. One key concept assumes the Anglo-American approach of “caring communities”. In doing so, it is on the one hand, acknowledged that the German Welfare system is no longer able to grant the equal living conditions in the countryside however, on the other hand, the discussion about “carers” and the need for care remains still unsolved.

For example, the concept of “caring communities” refers to an increasing responsibility for people including elderly people. Older people are now perceived as healthier, having a higher education and more financial resources compared to past decades. But is this true for all regions in the same way – or are rural areas in this respect underprivileged? At the same time, the images of ageing have changed. A higher age and the time of retirement are connected with the concept of activity and volunteering. The neighborhood in villages and small cities is still considered to be “sound” and therefore able to take over more responsibility. It seems that an old pattern of harmonious rural life conditions is assumed to continue even in scientific conceptualisations and political purpose.

Our presentation puts the social potential of rural neighbourhood under particular scrutiny referring to an empirical research carried out (by us) in 2014/15 in northeast Germany, Mecklenburg-Vorpommerania. Starting with the main features of the current international discussion on neighbourhood, we will refer to the fact that neighbourhood in social sciences it still a non-rural topic. Neighbourhood has been stressed on the one hand, in the context of anonymity and social alienation and on the other of “social capital” and networks, however both discussion lines are related to concepts of “modernity” and non-urban regions are seldom considered.

Our research allows for the comparison of social relationships in Northeast Germany in a more “village” and more “small town” neighbourhood. Based on large empirical material, the question concerning “neighbourhood support and caring” can be discussed on a solid base: age comparison, interest in caring, and evaluation of neighbourhood relations in general.

Our results show that the concepts of “caring communities” or neighborly help seem to be questionable, or at least difficult to implement. If such neighborly help initiatives are used as replacement for governmental or public tasks (for example, the “Bürgerbus” which replaces the public transportation especially in rural areas), volunteering becomes enforcement, because people and the local community are addicted to these services and therefore it is conceivable that “caring communities” help to create or strengthen (new) inequalities.

Go back to the workgroup WG 5