« tighteneeeng zer moneeee supploy | Main | humanities symposium »

October 17, 2006


Kevin Harris

Good to see you asserting the point about the C word, Will. I can't be the only one smiling with delight to find that you have the post indexed under the category, er, 'community'.

My own unsystematic observation about government use of the term would probably differ though: I think peak flow came about 2-3 years ago in relentless press releases in which 'community' was exhorted to cohere or respond, or its name was taken as an unquestioned justification for policies of an extraordinary range from fire services through foreign policy...

Perhaps my spam filtering is more sensitive than I thought, but I'd guess the use has actually declined since the establishment of DCLG and the appointment of the minister. That wouldn't necessarily mean that there is greater discretion when it is used.


I went a to very interesting seminar recently where someone was reminiscing on their time in community development in the USA, and the use of the C word.

Apparently, in US bureaucrat shorthand, the difference between a 'neighbourhood' and a 'community' is that white people live in neighbourhoods...

Will Davies

Anon: this is exactly the sort of thing I'm getting at. What people imagine as an objective manifestation of a community (in this country, some sort of rural village) is the last place you ever expect to hear the word used. And vice versa.

Latour accuses Durkheim of being in thrall to some dodgy post-christian metaphysics, in which we are all bound together by some mystical entity called 'society'. The concept becomes a consolation for the fact that we lack the reality. Equally, people who actually live in communities don't need the 'c' word; people who don't have it thrown at them as a consolation.

David Lee

Will, I thought you might be interested in this very apt quote of Ulrich Beck from Individualization (2003), which puts this debate in a slightly wider sociological perspective:

'The common good may well be injected into people's hearts as a compulsory innoculation, but the litany of the lost sense of community that is just now being publicly intoned once more, continues to talk with a forked tongue, with a double moral standard, as long as the mechanism of individualization remains intact and no-one either wishes or is able to call it seriously into question.' (Beck and Beck-Gernsheim, 2003: 4)

IE the structures of late modernity (such as the welfare state, education, law, social policy) are all directed at the individual, and work as part of the process of producing highly individualized subjects. It then seems slightly bogus (perhaps unwittingly) to then make this rhetorical call for community in such a context.

Will Davies

Thanks David, spot on. It makes me think of Boltanski again, and how we need to do a sociology of critique at the same time as doing a critical sociology, i.e. examine how social change affects the theoretical representations we give of ourselves. It's clear that the more fragmented society becomes, the more communitarian our language. But I wonder if the inverse is also true. Maybe Shetland Islanders have no need of 'community' in their vocabulary, just as fish would have no need for 'water' in theirs.

And I like the way your list of individualising structures left out capitalism and markets.

David Lee

Carrying on in the vein of interesting sociological insights from Arlie Hochschild's fantastic book The commercialization of intimate life, i just read this, which is I think a fascinating point. Capitalim is seen as providing community, but increasingly for those at the top (ie through gated communities, corporate towns as in America, etc):

'Perhaps we are seeing signs of a pattern that will gradually come clear in the years ahead - socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor. Only there is a further paradox. The socialism of these new company towns is confined to 'gated' workplaces - parallel to the gated communities in whcih many elite employees live. In the workplaces of the poor, the capitalist ethos of competitive individualism prevails, open to everyone, come one, come all. At the top, the company invests a lot in keeping the worker happy; at the bottom, the company invests very little.' p.212

So Robert Putnam's story of declining civic participation actually becomes a paradox - it is available, but only to capitalism's winners.

The comments to this entry are closed.