There’s enough going on in the world that we need categories to keep track. From social media’s hashtags to the nightly news, people seek to organize and make sense of a world that appears to be even more difficult to understand. The singular has become plural. Private has become public. Previously unified – or at least organized, or perhaps contained – entities are splintering with change. Or are they?
The news media has seemingly always had a large category known as ‘unrest,’ particularly ‘geo-political unrest.’ U.S. media often pairs ‘unrest’ with ‘Middle East,’ but there is truly enough unrest to go around the globe. Here, the Tea Party is in its third year of stirring up U.S. political system. The Arab Spring (talk about a great hashtag) has been sweeping across North Africa and the Arab Peninsula since December 2010. It has been directly credited for inspiring the nascent worldwide Occupy movement, the initial encampment of which opened on Wall Street in mid-September 2011. Not to be left out, countries of the European Union are nearly continuously wracked by economic and social crises.
Is this the beginning or the end? What’s going on now to trigger so many groups in so many places at once? The answers are many, and often related to specifics. There have been continuous analyses of economic and political capital. One lense that hasn’t been considered is that of social capital.
SLHI’s Connect for What: Social Capital and Health is a just-released analysis that starts with Arizona Health Survey findings on social connectedness and posits ten strategies for growing it. It’s a framework for building social capital to improve individual and community health.
In the report, there is no mistaking that social connectedness is correlated with healthier lives. The question remains as to whether there are social strategies that can be implemented to develop social connectedness in order to improve health.
Which brings us back to the current news cycle and whether the Tea Party, Occupy and Arab Spring movements are positive or negative in terms of connectedness and what they will ultimately bring to the table. Recognize that each movement is an expression by a group of people that already felt separated in some way – from resources and from other members of the larger community. In working to make sense of their perceived position in the world they made connections to like-minded people. Together they stood up within the frame of shared meaning. In each case they had options to confront power or connect to it. Decisions made along the way are sure to influence the course of each movement in terms of longevity and impact.
They can even be “scored” according to Connect for What’s perspective on building social capital and its strategies for the future. The publication’s descriptions are fitting. The movements are variously focused on:
- Reclaiming and recreating public space, using communications technologies to reconfigure public space as a riot of private spaces.
- Connecting to power, (and confronting it) on behalf of people who feel that they are disconnected.
How the movements proceed and succeed could likely be a function of how well they address the areas of bonding, bridging and link capital that are described in detail in the report. Likewise, if they ignore strategies to invest in human capital, connect civic and political institutions, invest in community “wells,” and approach ‘community’ as a plurality, they could be doomed to failure or a repeating history of unrest. Already there is talk in Egypt of a new protest by the very people who feel as though their goals were not accomplished since decamping from Tahrir Square.
We make categories to make meaning. We make meaning so that it can be shared. How we share it and with whom we connect makes all the difference – to our health and to our future.