The pandemic has not only effects on health, health care institutions and policies. It affects right away our relationships and our mental wellbeing. This is what we study in this longitudinal project. We compare data from 2019 with information collected in 2020 and 2021.
This idea was at the basis of my PhD in 1995, long ago. I studied whether social networks of people in the former GDR changed as a consequence of the political transition in the 1990s. My argument was that networks ‘react’ to social institutions because these create problems for which they provide no standardized solution. For example, in the former GDR, institutions created the problem for individuals whom to trust and where how to accomplish goods short in supply. Both problems were solved by the structure and content of personal networks in this time: a highly dense niche network of trustworthy others, surrounded by a sparsely connected, rather diverse network of weak ties, which were able to help with the organization of goods. After the upheaval, these structures clearly changed: niches became more ‘open’ and the weaker ties became more connected.
To what extent can community be found in Dutch neighborhoods? This study argued that the conditions for building a community are similar to the conditions for creating social capital: opportunity, ease and motivation are crucial. Hence, there needs to be places to meet, not too many alternatives outside the neighborhood and the actors involved should be mutually dependent on each other. In neighborhoods these conditions are realized if there are meeting places, like green spaces, benches etc.; if they have to make arrangements on (e.g.) parking lots and if they simply are often enough personally available. Interestingly, not much actual relationships are needed for people to feel at home: it is sufficient if one knows where neighbors live and if neighbors greet each other. Hence, the general idea that community consists of strong ties that are densely connected is not supported and deserves rethinking and reconceptualization.