Aunties in action: speaking louder than words: rural women developing social capital, women raising funds and spirits

Horn, Jennifer Frances (2005) Aunties in action: speaking louder than words: rural women developing social capital, women raising funds and spirits. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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“Aunties” are grassroots women who actively develop social capital by encouraging social trust and reciprocity to flourish; unfortunately, the voluntary contributions of aunties are often taken for granted and seldom included in discussions of social capital or community development. This study offers an important alternative perspective to the notion that unpaid social care provided by grassroots women is insignificant, and it counters the discourse of decline in civic participation that is dominant in many Western societies. From the data arose three themes to describe the experience of being an “auntie.” Specifically, aunties are particularly active in formal and informal aspects of society, aunties build relationships, connections, and networks; and they do this by creating common understandings amongst families, community members, and the professionals who serve them. In addition, aunties actively resist the social construction of women’s social caring as trivial, and they persist in countering discourses that diminish the capacities of rural people, their families, and communities. Some aunties perform small, individual, local acts of living and giving, such as helping a sick neighbour, while others are active in large, collective movements, at a national level, such as through Girl Guides or Country Women’s Associations. This hermeneutic phenomenological study is based on interviews conducted with ten selected women in Western Canada and Northeastern Australia, as well as on material and cultural artefacts, on photographic evidence I gathered of aunties in the vernacular, and on my own experiences as an auntie in several rural communities. Interpretation of the data was informed by social constructivist, feminist, heuristic, and response-base theories, through which I endeavoured to establish the locus of expertise with the participants as well as with the researcher. The actions of aunties are significant to the development of social capital because they build relationships and trust within the community, which in turn, can promote the development of social and economic capital. If local, grassroots community members have the opportunity to contribute to both formal and informal community development, then the capacity to create shared goals may lead to increased trust amongst locals and professional developers, and therefore enhance the community development process. When grassroots people and professionals arrive at a common understanding of the value of informal networks and activities to the survival of small communities, then the gap that divides public from private needs and desires may be more readily bridged. In addition, if those who reside in small, rural, or remote community contexts have the opportunity to build safe and trusting relationships with other locals and with the professionals that serve them, then misunderstandings may be avoided and the community development process may be more successful. Aunties contribute significantly to the development of informal networks and reciprocal relationships, and they engender social trust and warmth, which in turn increases the capacity of families, neighbourhoods, and communities to generate and accumulate social capital. Therefore, it is important to study the words and actions of aunties to learn who they are, what they do, and how they do it in order to support and encourage other people to likewise become active and engaged citizens.

Item ID: 1298
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: aunties, grassroots, women, social capital, fundraising, social caring, networks, social constructivism, volunteers, volunteering, rural people, Canada, northeastern Australia, feminism, relationships, social trust, community development, civic participation, neighbourhoods
Date Deposited: 15 Dec 2006
FoR Codes: 16 STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY > 1608 Sociology > 160810 Urban Sociology and Community Studies @ 0%
16 STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY > 1604 Human Geography > 160403 Social and Cultural Geography @ 0%
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