Oct 042012

Catch ‘em doing Something Right.
Some thoughts on Social Behaviour.

To many of us who have tried to understand the organisational twists and turns of attitudes to play in public spaces, we are often frustrated and bewildered by the fact that almost all conversations take as their default setting the perspective of Anti-Social-Behaviour (ASB.)
Wearied by this constant conflict of agenda, we have decided that perhaps it is time to embrace the ASB rhetoric and use it to examine what is seldom mentioned, but which underpins the agenda, that is, Social Behaviour.

But first, what do we understand by ASB?
We are well used to the association of ( young) people with Anti-Social-Behaviour.
There are many stories about the need for landlords and Local Authorities to take action to mitigate against excessive behaviours by a minority which make life intolerable for a majority.
The list below is by no means comprehensive, drugs dealing, for example, is missing. However it gives the general flavour of what we generally share as an understanding of Anti-Social-Behaviour.
‘In 2003 the Anti-Social Behaviour Act amended the original Act and introduced further sanctions such as Child Curfews and Dispersal Orders.
The following list sets out what behaviour the UK police classify as anti-social:[5] Substance misuse such as glue sniffing
Drinking alcohol on the streets
Problems related to animals such as not properly restraining animals in public places
Prostitution related activity such as curb crawling and loitering
Abandoned vehicles that may or may not be stolen
Vehicle nuisance such as “cruises” – revving car engines, racing, wheel spinning and horn sounding.
Noise coming from business or industry
Noise coming from alarms
Noise coming from pubs and clubs
Environmental damage such as graffiti and littering
Inappropriate use of fireworks
Inappropriate use of public space such as disputes among neighbours, rowdy or inconsiderate behaviour
General drunken behaviour (which is rowdy or inconsiderate)
Hoax calls to the emergency services
Pubs or clubs serving alcohol after hours
Malicious communication
Hate incidents where abuse involves race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age or disability
Firearms incidents such as use of an imitation weapon.’

We can be fairly certain that most of us would find the behaviour above unpleasant to be around. A righteous NIMBI-ism has us folding our arms and nodding with approval as the Police metaphorically put finger and thumb to the ear of the offensive and cart them away for a sound drubbing that will surly make them see the error of their ways. ‘Straighten up and fly right’ (as quoted in Piranha 1)
We like it when we have the moral high ground. It is easier to pick off our targets successfully from up there. And if we are The Righteous, we feel somewhat more worthy and pious than the sinners. We are the privileged who can sit in judgement and sort the the goats from the sheep.
I met with a gentleman who told me an anecdote about him walking through his small town centre and seeing a group of hooded youth larking about in a boisterous and uncontrolled manner. He, like the rest of the pedestrians swerved to avoid them as they threw snowballs and were generally noisy and big in the way that only a rambunctious group of teen age boys an be.
It was at this point that he recognised his son as one of the boys and the rest of them as his group of friends. Children he had known from their earliest years. They were playing in the snow, relaxed, happy and confident, absorbed in their playfulness and not intending or committing harm to anyone.

Now for the Social
However worthy this ASB agenda is , it has done some-thing to our perception of shared space and time which skews our world view.
I am reminded of a TV advertising campaign for the guardian a few years back. A young guy is filmed rushing towards an older white man.
As the picture unfolds we realise he is not attacking, but saving the gentleman from a catastrophe that he was unaware of.

A brief Google search for ‘Social Behaviour’ turned up very few pieces that were not prefixed by the ‘A’ word. However there was some interesting writing from Homans.
‘George Caspar Homans (1910-1989) is widely regarded as the father of social exchange theory. ‘
‘In sociology, “behavior” itself means an animal-like activity devoid of social meaning or social context, in contrast to “social behavior” which has both. In a sociological hierarchy, social behavior is followed by social actions, which is directed at other people and is designed to induce a response. Further along this ascending scale are social interaction and social relation. In conclusion, social behavior is a process of communicating.
In Playwork terms, we would refer to this as Play Cues and Responses leading to a Play Flow. ‘A process of communicating’ indeed.

‘Henderson believed that the subject of interest in sociology—be that a society, a community, or a group—is best conceptualized as a social system. 
Examining small groups
George C. Homans’s great conviction was that sociology begin its analysis from the observed behaviour of individuals, and not from roles, structures, institutions, and other abstractions. This is not to say that the latter are not real only that they are created by individuals. For Homans, explaining how individuals create and maintain social structures requires taking into account the given conditions that influence individuals’ behaviour: their stimuli, rewards, and punishments. Once created, social structures exert back effects on the behaviour of their makers (Homans 1987: ix). At bottom, “both the structures and their back effects consist of the behaviour of individuals” (Homans 1984: 354), and therefore individualistic as well as structural sociology must consider the principles of behavioural psychology.’

In what could be seen as a nifty parallel to the list of ASB quoted above, Homan defines Social behaviour.

‘ George C. Homans’s five propositions of elementary social behaviour are as follows:
If in the past the occurrence of a particular stimulus-situation has been the occasion on which a man’s activity has been rewarded, then the more similar the present stimulus-situation is to the past one, the more likely he is to emit the activity, or some similar activity, now (Homans: 1961: 53).
The more often within a given period of time a man’s activity rewards the activity of another, the more often the other will emit the activity (Homans 1961: 54).
The more valuable to a man a unit of the activity another gives him, the more often he will emit activity rewarded by the activity of the other (Homans 1961: 55). (“Value” here refers to the degree of reinforcement that is received from a unit of another’s activity. “Cost” refers to the value obtainable through an alternate activity which is foregone in emitting the present activity. Profit=Reward – Cost.)
The more often a man has in the recent past received a rewarding activity from another, the less valuable any further unit of that activity becomes to him (Homans 1961: 55).
The more to a man’s disadvantage the rule of distributive justice fails of realization, the more likely he is to display the emotional behaviour we call anger (Homans 1961:75).’

I suppose we could categorise this as positive re-enforcement offering people something to live up to VS the unreasonable enforcement of flawed justice, antagonising people into an angry response. (‘Well, if I am going to get punished for something I haven’t done when I am trying to be good, then I might just as well be bad.’)

Ken Blanchard coined the phrase, “catch them doing something right.” He was thinking about human management structures within industry and the power of positive recognition in personal motivation .

‘Contrast this to the Broken Window syndrome (Wikipedia.) ‘The broken windows theory was first introduced by social scientists James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling, in an article titled “Broken Windows” and which appeared in the March 1982 edition of The Atlantic Monthly.[1] The title comes from the following example:
Consider a building with a few broken windows. If the windows are not repaired, the tendency is for vandals to break a few more windows. Eventually, they may even break into the building, and if it’s unoccupied, perhaps become squatters or light fires inside. Or consider a sidewalk. Some litter accumulates. Soon, more litter accumulates. Eventually, people even start leaving bags of trash from take-out restaurants there or breaking into cars.’

If we perpetuate a climate in which suspicion and fear is the default setting, then we are building an environment where the ‘broken window’ of negative judgement establishes the condition of human relationship. One of judgement rather than communication.

Is there an argument to be made that ill informed enforcement , poor policing and needlessly authoritarian and opaque regulations can cause Anti-Social Behaviour?

I know of one officer whose job title is Anti-social Behaviour Development Officer. How clear can a pre-determined agenda be?

Rose Tinted Spectacles or Gritty Realism?

Do we see a group of children chalking on the pavement as a traditional and harmless play activity? Do we see it as ‘Encouraging older children to feel that graffiti is permissible.’

Sitting in a housing office I hear an officer describing a young man in shockingly negative ways. Looking out of the window during this monologue, I see the same young man helping an elder along the street with her heavy shopping.

Walking past a stairwell on a rainy winter afternoon a group of young people are huddled. They are smoking cigarettes. A beautiful double rainbow arcs above the estate. I pause to look at it. The kids say, ‘We were just talking about that. Isn’t it lovely?’

The parents of group of children are delivered notices calling them to meet with the landlord and the police. They are told that there has been a complaint. About them. They are not shown the complaint. They are accused of gathering in large groups outside the estate shop and the youth club, of smoking in stairwells, playing football an using and using and dealing drugs. There is no evidence provided for these allegations.
They are told that they will be expected to sign an Appropriate Behaviour Contract, ABC. If they do not comply with the ABC then they will be given an ASBO and their family home tenancy / lease may be withdrawn.
The children are not invited to bring representation. They are not given a chance to prove that the allegations are unfounded.

The fact is that we have entered a sort of twilight zone where ‘The Authorities’ can decide what is Anti Social behaviour but do not feel beholden to share this definition. They have the unchallenged power to punish and yet there is no fixed or agreed penalty system. Infractions of the unspecified rules can result in curfews, dispersal order zones, the threat of the termination of tenancy/leasehold for the family home.

Positive behaviours are unseen and certainly unrewarded.

What is social behaviour?

There is no understanding of the role that (young) people play in fostering the safety of the community by spending time on the streets, of looking at the bridging role that they have between the children and the adults, of their energy, friendship, enthusiasm and optimism.

Residents may be discouraged from arranging communal gatherings in the shared gardens that they have created, from having even the most restrained of garden parties, for those of them that have gardens. They are not permitted to grow climbing plants up their Walls, to have flowering tubs and window boxes, from hanging flags outside their homes.
Of course ball games and by implication, playing, is prohibited by the posting of signs that carry no legal clout whatsoever.
Developers can argue that as new build flats have balconies, no common ground is necessary. Despite the Guidance provided by the Mayor of London, this argument still takes precedence.

So what constitutes Social behaviour?

Playing out in the community allows children get to know each other beyond the differences of culture, faith, race. They will mingle and bond with family groupings around them. A culture of shared responsibility and care for the youngsters of the community develops rapidly, with many eyes protecting and nurturing them. Gathering around this play focus, parents and grandparents, kinship groups and extended families will share a vision of playability and join in, finding their own playfulness in shared events for special occasions, learning about members of their neighbourhood who need extra help and support, sharing child minding, making sure that elders are looked out for, sharing food and shelter when that is needed. They will meet each others basic needs.

There is a strong case to be made for the ASB staff employed by landlords, Police and Community Police Officers, to be trained to see the positive aspects of community behaviour. They could be Social Behaviour Officers. Understanding how to ‘catch them doing something right.’

Much of the difficulty with the understanding of the workings of a community comes from a misreading of the Secure By Design, SBD guidelines issued by the Association of Chief Police Officers, ACPO. Reading the SBD guidelines one senses that people live in constant high levels of fear of The Other. The basic premise of the guidelines is to eliminate crime and Anti-social Behaviour. Life in a war zone rather than a village. If one re writes these guidelines substituting ‘play and playability’ for ‘crime and Anti-social behaviour’, we find that the documents read with a very different tenor. Yes, there should be easy way-finding, there should be good quality open spaces for all sections of the community to use, yes there should be good sight lines so that the whole community can keep an eye out for each there well being. The whole community should be able to live and play together. Take a look at the document and re read it for yourself with these changes in mind. http://www.securedbydesign.com/pdfs/SBD-principles.pdf

Playworkers have long joked that the people who interrupt and annihilate the play process are being anti social. We understand that play is at the root of human sociability, whatever the age of the players, it is essential to meaningful social cohesion. We argue , therefore, those who interrupt this play process should be issued with ASBOs.

Is this a radical suggestion? Possibly. And more than one thing can be true at any one time. Sociability can be viewed as inconvenient by those who desire a predictable ordered environment. The more we try to control people’s free choice, the greater the rebellion that that control inspires. The lighter the touch and the greater the recognition of the value of a strong community, the more likely that community is to positive behaviour.

There is a fable. The wind and the sun were arguing about which of them was the stronger. They saw a traveller making his way along the road beneath them and agreed to settle their dispute by showing which of them could get the traveller t o lose his cloak. The wind went first. He blew and blew and tried to rip the cloak from the shoulders of the traveller. The harder he blew, the tighter the traveller grasped his cloak to his body. Then is was the turn of the sun. She shined down on the traveller as he walked, gently she grew stronger and stronger and the traveller let the cloak slip from his hold and enjoyed her warmth.

Penny Wilson
May 4th 2012


  5 Responses to “Social behaviour”

  1. […] Catch ‘em doing Something Right: Some thoughts on Social Behaviour […]

  2. Excellent Thoughts, Penny, which is why I have reblogged you at plexity.wordpress.com
    If you can’t find it, it was posted on the 2nd of November 2012, so you can either go to that date by using the calendar our you can use the search and look for ASB.

  3. Excellent essay Penny. Thank you for sharing this.

  4. This is a great piece Penny, Thankyou. Would you mind if I quoted a small piece of this in one of my university assignments?

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