Saturday, September 22, 2018
I enjoyed this piece in The Atlantic, on the importance and vulnerability of America's "social infrastructure." Here's a taste:
Social infrastructure is not “social capital”— the concept commonly used to measure people’s relationships and networks—but the physical places that allow bonds to develop. When social infrastructure is robust, it fosters contact, mutual support, and collaboration among friends and neighbors; when degraded, it inhibits social activity, leaving families and individuals to fend for themselves. People forge ties in places that have healthy social infrastructures—not necessarily because they set out to build community, but because when people engage in sustained, recurrent interaction, particularly while doing things they enjoy, relationships—even across ethnic or political lines—inevitably grow.
The author's focus is on "physical places." So, when he talks about churches, it is in terms of their being places where people (physically) gather, etc.: "Nonprofit organizations, including churches and civic associations, act as social infrastructure when they have an established physical space where people can assemble, as do regularly scheduled markets for food, clothing, and other consumer goods." This is fine, so far as it goes, but in some of my own work, I've tried to explore the "infrastructural" role that churches play as (quoting Paul Horwitz) "First Amendment Institutions." Take a look, here, here, and here.