Bonding and Bridging

Beck’s third chapter in his Alone, Suburban and Sorted series, Broken Bridges, seeks to clarify the difference between bonding relationships, which are ‘strong’ and which “tend to be exclusive, a family or friendship-based group of ‘insiders’,” and bridging relationships, which are weaker, “more casual and informal, … and  inclusive and broad.”

Both of these were missing for me in the town where I used to live, and both of these are strongly present for me in the town where I live now, including in my church, bookgroups, neighbourhood, and at the local coffee shop.  For me, the bridging relationships sometimes lead to the bonding relationships (i.e., to close friendships), but lots of times they don’t and they continue to be nourishing and satifsying in their own way.

Beck’s point is that bonding relationships aren’t diminishing. Family and ‘insider’ bonds are still plenty strong. It’s the casual, inclusive, bridging relationships that are going by the wayside:

“We are alone in the sense that we are mixing less and less with people outside of our inner circle. Our life might be very full, we might not feel alone at all, but our world might be very small and homogeneous.

This is the kind of comment a Girardian notices.  Beck is saying that our circles of exclusivity are strong, while we are less likely than previously to even realise that. We’re not actively restricting our relationships to people who are ‘like us’ but we’ve found a way as a society to self-sort so that we’re passively excluding  ‘the other,’ without having to actually expel them. As the church lady would say, “how con-veeeeen-ient.” :-)  All the exclusivity with less of the guilt and conflict.

Beck looks at four problems that come with a diminishment of bridging relationships:

1. Civic Decay

2. Cynicism,  because a lack of bridging relationships reduces generalized reciprocity. Look at how hitchhiking is almost extinct in America. Between 1970 and 2006, the percentage of Americans who said that “you cannot trust people” steadily rose from 50% to 62.4%

3. Loss of Hospitality Skills

4. Excluding Communities of Like-Mindedness:  “A church that describes itself as a family is a church that excludes people.” I think this is true to the extent that a family emphasises its ties to each other over its ties to anyone else; but I can imagine that rare family that would welcome everyone to be ‘insiders,’ to be family, subject to the same expectations and rewards as any other family member, thus implicitly destroying the in-out boundaries.


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