Bricks, Mortar, Memories: Neighbourhood and Networks in Collective Acts of Remembering


How is place‐making as a tool for the formation of social identities related to categories, networks and categorical networks? How do people use the built environment and hence, following Massey, create places in space? Such questions are asked to reverse the usual way of looking at urban neighbourhoods. The neighbourhood in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, where the ethnographic research for this article was conducted, is not taken for granted. The symbolic meanings and practical uses the neighbourhood has today and has had over the past 75 years are discussed in relation to class and social networks. Local networks, grounded in everyday activities, provided a sense of class‐based familiarity when the shipbuilding industry (1900–60) reigned. This did not necessarily produce communities as people imagined them, but it did produce quite local, and categorical, networks. However, such catnets on the local level can no longer be taken for granted, if they ever could. This article addresses how elderly people within a neighbourhood use the built environment to: (1) produce new local networks (by using local facilities as meeting points) and new social identifications with others; (2) imagine a community by developing a sense of ‘localness’ rather than ‘class’ as a shared category, although they have a similar class position; and (3) produce collective memories and, in the process of this production, format the neighbourhood symbolically. In doing so, they reduce the multi‐layered identities of earlier times to a one‐dimensional memory of the working‐class community which is equated with the neighbourhood. This enables this group of elderly people to make sense of their contemporary, changing social environment.