Panel 6: Globalizing Neighborliness: The Neighbor at a Distance

Chair: Sandra Dahlke (German Historical Institute Moscow)

Wolfgang Struck (Universität Erfurt):
Distant Neighbors: Defining Neighborliness in the Age of Worldwide Communication

“England is the neighbor of Australia, while Egypt, for example, is millions of miles separated from Senegal, and Peking seems to be the antipode of St. Petersburg. The sea is easier to traverse now than the smallest desert, and it is due to it, as an American savant rightly expresses, that an international kinship of all parts of the world has emerged.” – <In his novel “The Children of Captain Grant” (“Les Enfants du capitaine Grant“, 1868), the French author Jules Verne envisioned a kind of global neighborliness created by an rapidly increasing traffic on the oceans. In 19th century, the process of globalization has reached a new stage. The modern techniques of communication, particularly the telegraph, the railway, and the steam ship, created new connections, so that closeness and distance seemed to be no longer a question of physical space.

Verne’s “hymn of the ocean”, however, raises at least three questions: (1) Since the new closeness is (at least for the majority of people) not bodily experienced, it has to be constructed. Are there, then, equal to ‘imagined communities’ ‘imagined neighborhoods’? And what are the media of such an imagination? Here I would like to propose cartography, besides literature, as such a medium. (2) As Verne’s “hymn” makes clear (and this has not changed till today), the global neighborhood does by far not involve the whole globe. Who are the global neighbors, who are not? And how does modern communication challenge traditional neighborhoods? I will address this question with a novel of the German realist author Theodor Fontane, “Iretrievable” (“Unwiederbringlich”) (another example might be Gottfried Keller’s novella “Romeo and Julia auf dem Dorfe”), confronting Verne’s optimistic vision with a view on the destructive effects of nationalization on local neighborhoods in the borderland between Denmark and Germany. (3) Also in a global perspective, the new neighborliness is a source of anxiety. The German Geographer August Petermann describes, in an explanation of his map of the Pacific Ocean, the first European map explicitly constructing the vast body of water as a space of connectivity, the Pacific as a chess board, where the world powers are arranged at the margins waiting for the first moves. Are then the anxieties of ‘too-closeness’ (as intently expresses in Franz Kafkas’ short story “Odradek’s laughter”) transferred to the global space?

Irmgard Pinn (University of Tehran):
My Digital Neighborhood: Local Internet Communities in a Globalizing World

Beginning with a brief recourse to the meaning of “neighborhood” in the works of Ferdinand Tönnies and Max Weber, the first part of my article deals with an astonishing renaissance of the neighborhood. Was she for decades predominantly seen as a stuffy and repressive relict of the past, the attitude meanwhile has changed: Confronted with concerning demographic developments, with challenges for the integration of migrants, the increase of loneliness and mental problems etc. city planners and social politicians take over the proven concept of “neighborhood” as a solution strategy. At the same time there is an increasing response in the form of neighborly support networks, new buildings for cohabitation of families and seniors, urban gardening as well as neighborhood and street festivals.
In this context digilization as one of the biggest social changes of the last decades plays a major, pushing and the immediate social space influencing role. Neighborhood platforms and local social media have mushroomed in recent years, not just in Germany. In addition to neighborhood blogs and Facebook groups professional, national platforms with local focuses have been establlished. The biggest platforms are and with hundreds of thousands users and even with an international metastructure from the US across European countries to Australia. Their social functions and usage structures are cetral in my article. Furthermore I have a look on the movement of foodsharing against wasting food, which in the course of current climate debate has rapidly grown. It attracts special attention because it is a project in the sense of “think globally, act locally”.
Although there are concerns and criticisms regarding the data security and the protection of the  privacy, between politicians, scientists and the media neighborly networking is predominantly regarded as a social asset. Of course it is known that the seemingly free use of social media is paid by the users with their data, whose use is largely beyond their control and even their knowledge. It is also no secret that platforms like and are founded by international operating hedge funds with hundreds of millions of dollars, but this obviously is no reason for a deeper mistrust and concern. Shocking forecasts and warnings from digitization critics such as the philosopher Byung-Chul Han and the sociologist Harald Welzer remain largely unheard.
In China one can already see where the journey is going: the regulation of social behavior through bonuses and sanctions is part of a gigantic nationwide control and monitoring system whose implementation is already far advanced. Unlike Orwell’s grim novel “1984,” this is not a compulsory system directed by authoritarian-repressive rulers, but the utopia of a voluntary, perfect surveillance of citizens by citizens, including neighbors by neighbors. Democratic principles and legal rights – if at all available – are thus negated or destroyed by the citizens themselves. Favored by China’s economic success as well by its social and political stability, the Chinese system of surveillance and control could become attractive for other countries, even for weak European democracies.

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