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Durham University

Department of Geography

Staff Profile

Publication details for Professor Joe Painter

Painter, J. The politics of the neighbour. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space. 2012;30:515-533.

Author(s) from Durham


This paper argues that the neighbour is a neglected figure in public debate and political theory. Whereas the spatial concept of ‘neighbourhood’ has long been the focus of geographical research, its underpinning concept of the neighbour has received less scrutiny. This paper seeks to address that gap. It takes its cue from recent British policy debates about neighbourhood renewal and the ‘Big Society’. However, it is not concerned with urban policy in a conventional sense, but with the nature of the neighbour relation and of the ethics and politics of neighbours and neighbouring. The explores these themes through a discussion of debates in political theology about the meaning of the Biblical injunction to ‘love thy neighbour’, the etymological significance of proximity to the idea of neighbour, and the importance of radical ambiguity, unknowability and fragility in neighbourly relations. These issues are thrown into relief by The Neighbour, a short story by Naim Kattan, that records the fleeting encounters across difference that often seem to constitute neighbourliness in urban settings. The paper ends by using Kattan’s story to reflect on the apparently opposed understandings of the neighbour to be found in the work of Levinas and Žižek.