More than just fear: on the intricate interplay between perceived neighborhood disorder, collective efficacy, and action


Collective efficacy is defined as social cohesion among neighbors combined with their willingness to intervene on behalf of the common good. Through collective efficacy, forms of perceived neighborhood disorder may be successfully targeted. Simultaneously, perceived disorder undermines preconditions for collective efficacy, informal social control, and (collective) action. Most research on this theme has been quantitative, not always clarifying the micro social processes at stake. This also concerns residents’ willingness to intervene and their considerations for intervening or refraining from action. Additionally, most studies have addressed high-poverty neighborhoods, ignoring valuable lessons from more prosperous neighborhoods. This article aims to fill these gaps. We conducted 90 semistructured interviews with residents in six inner-city neighborhoods in The Netherlands. Interview transcript analysis shows how residents’ willingness to intervene is related to public familiarity, communicative skills, and fear. In turn, fear depends on the seriousness of perceived disorder, being outnumbered, previous experiences, and hearsay. We also show ambivalent ways in which social ties affect residents’ willingness to intervene. Social ties may stimulate public familiarity, but also exchange of negative experiences with social control and free rider issues.