Before you can love thy neighbour, you’ve got to meet them first… | Social Networking


in ,

PeupWhich is where Peuplade comes in. (You can read the BBC’s article on it here.)

It’s a Parisian social networking site that is helping people to meet their neighbours.  Which is great. Sort of.

Of course it’s a positive thing that people are meeting up. But it worries me that it has taken the mediation of a website to do so. The proof of the pudding will, of course, be in the eating: will the site reinvigorate community and neighbourly feeling so effectively that it won’t be needed in the future?

I hope so. I am currently reading The Challenges of Ivan Illich – a series of essays by some of Illich’s collaborators – and there is a piece there entitled ‘Hospitality Cannot be a Challenge’ which I think is pertinent…

Illich was a radical in all senses: a radical Catholic, a radical academic, an iconoclast unafraid to challenge even the most basic elements of modern society. He was against institutional education, seeing it simply as an organ to feed an institutionalized society. He instead – and this is 1971 remember – proposed “educational webs which heighten the opportunity for each one to transform each moment of his living into one of learning, sharing, and caring.”

This highlights Illich’s grand vision: care for one another. He wanted most to be remembered for hospitality:

“I do think that if I had to choose one word to which hope can be tied it is hospitality. A practice of hospitality recovering threshold, table, patience, listening, and from there generating seedbeds for virtue and friendship on the one hand. On the other hand radiating out for possible community, for rebirth of community.”

But such hospitality should not, the essay proposes, been seen as a ‘challenge’. Challenges are for technology, problems that need to be worked out logically. “It is absurd to talk of a guest and a host challenging each other to live under the same roof” – there should be no battleground here.

Instead hospitality – the act of meeting ‘the other’ – is a mindset, a philosophy, a way of the heart. So while I’m sure Illich would have applauded the creators of Peuplade for getting people together, I’m not sure he would have been enthralled by the prospect of a society where it took computers to do so. If it takes technology to mediate us to our neighbours, I’m not sure we’ve got the philosophy of hospitality right yet.


Technorati: | |


2 responses to “Before you can love thy neighbour, you’ve got to meet them first… | Social Networking”

  1. Hi Kes,
    Just checking in on the new site. This post is pertinent to me (don’t know about anything else). Have thought about very similar thing for Edinburgh – although I can’t read French, so don’t really know what this site is doing. I recognise many of its ills, believe me, and Baudrillard would have had a field day with it. But some small part of me thinks a site like this just might make people accessible to each other who otherwise wouldn’t be. Precisely the people who ARE set back from the frontline of hospitality, who our networks never reach. The challenge is how to make it a) functional, b) inclusive, and as you say, c) dispensible. And I’m sure Illich wasn’t rejecting challenges outright. S

  2. No, I don’t think he was. But he was trying to get around hospitality being viewed as a problem that needed a technical solution. I think that’s his view of what a challenge is.
    ‘How are we going to get this car fixed?’ is a challenge which requires people to think rationally, budget etc.
    ‘How am I going to be friendly to my neighbours?’ is not a challenge. It doesn’t require a brainstorm.
    But it is attractive to posit it as a challenge, because this allows a degree of separation. By ‘technicalizing’ it, we remove ourselves slightly from it, and ‘darken the glass’ a little. Why? Because meeting face to face contains both the greatest fulfilment and greatest fear for us…