Critically examine the use of the term ?community’ in the 1990’s. The essay should be structured in such a way that it incorporates reference to Social Policy, Legislation and practice issues. Students will be required to make use of theoretical studies, particularly from relevant academic and other sources such as books, journals and relevant publications.
The meaning of community is a tricky one. It is used in many different contexts and is a concept that means very different things to different people. A useful starting point is in the book Keywords by Raymond Williams. His research on the word community indicates that it has been part of English language since the 14th century, originally used to refer to the common people as opposed to those of rank, or to state or organised society. By the 16th century it was used to refer to ?the quality of having something in common’ and ? to a sense of common identity and characteristics.’ In time Community also came to refer to a particular quality of relationship, as well as a distinction between community and civil society on one hand and the state on the other.
There are many different types of community and the word is very ambiguous, but it is possible to distinguish between several types according to their contrasting features and characteristics, such as density of their social networks, the degree of their openness and their duration.
Sociologically it is usually taken to mean people who live in a common geographical area or it can be defined in terms of common interest. It implies some kind of association, perhaps even sharing, and participation in common relationships. It is in these shared characteristics which bind people together where we start to understand the term and its implications, although even within sociology community takes many different forms. In 1995 researcher Hillery found 94 sociological definitions and the only common thread was that they all dealt with people.
The classic form of community which many think of when they here the word is the traditional working class communities found throughout industrial Britain during the earlier part of the 20th century. These were tightly knit settlements of workers and their families who grew up around the mines, factories, ports and other workplaces. However with an increasingly efficient transport network many British industries came under threat from cheaper and better quality products from abroad, and within those industries that Britain still held, the workers were replaced with machines.
This loss of industry had a crippling effect on local areas, many of which had grown up around the industry. Research into such areas revealed that such communities are very conservative. They are also seeped in tradition related to these ideologies. Such traditions include a moral obligation to maintain a respectable standard of living and a strong commitment to the work ethic.
Howe’s research on a working class district of Eastlough in Protestant East Belfast showed despite a high unemployment rate the dole was still seen as an interruption of work, and it was legitimate employment which was sought and desired. This was strongly supported by long standing attitudes and values. Being on the dole induced strong feelings of private shame, which, in turn often led people to withdraw from the community. As a result Howe found their lives to become further impoverished by ?social isolation, fragmentation and distrust’ (Howe 1990).
With the decline of these so-called ?occupational communities’ comes the notion that the concept of community is not relevant in the 21st century. The Elderly who once belonged to such so called ?occupational’ communities reminisce about the good old days, when everyone knew and looked out for each other. They talk about a strong community consciousness generated by common residence and common necessity – a social support network that they feel is lacking in modern day society.
Not just among the elderly but in general, there is a widely held belief that modern times have witnessed a decline of community. In my opinion this comes about because selective, romanticised views of the past are often adopted and the less sentimental memories of characteristics and events from the past are often forgotten. The conflicts and internal tensions of life are omitted and instead replaced with patterns of kinship and community solidarity. My personal view is that this is untrue and community is still important in all our lives, it just manifests itself differently
Things have changed dramatically since our grandparents were young. The rapid growth of conurbation’s accompanied by people’s new desire to travel and not stay in the place they were born meant that in general people are a lot more anonymous in society. Many elderly people as a result feel they live in a ?world of strangers’.
Wellman et al carried out research on the changing nature of local communities in cities. As a result of this he came up with three terms: Community lost, community saved and community liberated.
Community lost is this notion of a decline of community. Larger, denser cities led to the breakdown of locality based or community life and local, face to face relationships were replaced with secondary links through workplace and interest groups. Importantly, ties to locality are less important and individuals are instead submerged in the general anonymity of city life. In one part of North London dominated by large housing estates, one study found that only 2 in 5 people felt like they belong to a community. (Although as we’ve seen what 1 person means by community may be totally different to the next)
Community saved is the counter argument. This acknowledges that neighbourhood and kinship networks continue to flourish in the city and locality and primary ties do in fact still exist. It is the argument that urban populations have simply sifted into a mosaic of more alike residential areas where the communal desire for informal social control exerts itself. U.S and U.K studies have shown that people in cities draw on the same sources of support as people in rural areas- kin neighbours and friends.
Community liberated is a point somewhere between these two, which sees communities as having evolved and taking a different form. Community still exists but in networks rather than neighbourhoods. Simply because community is not about locality does not mean it no longer exists. This idea recognises the importance of community ties and the variety of links people have within the larger metropolitan area in networks. It this third viewpoint that I think best describes the notion of community in the 21st century.
The concept of community however is not solely based within the discipline of sociology. In modern times the term is often used with political orientation with reference to social policy, legislation and practice issues. Community has become a ?buzz’ word with regards to political issues such as these. Areas such as community development, community care community policing, community education all draw on the idea of community and its ideologies. The inclusion of community as a theme in these policies represents a more modern look at the problems of the people. The concept rejects the more old-fashioned bureaucratic, large-scale approach to policy making and instead brings in more participatory, responsive, models. While I think this is right line to take the word is often misused.
?Today governments use ?community’ as if it were an arousal can, to be sprayed on any social programme, giving it a more progressive and sympathetic cachet’ (Cochrane 1986)
One such policy that demonstrates this different way of thinking is ?care in the community’. A high profile policy in which community is an essential part.
Traditionally people with disabling physical and mental conditions were institutionalised. This involved social segregation and essentially removed them from society, housing them in large asylum type accommodation. This way of dealing with the disabled is however no longer acceptable, or indeed possible. Firstly new ways of thinking and increased awareness of human rights meant that it was not acceptable to isolate people from the rest of the world simply because they were different. Secondly demographic shifts which had accompanied industrial development, meant that people were living much longer so the number of people who needed quite high level of support increased significantly. Medical advances meant people whose disabilities would have caused them to die at birth were living, and life expectancy in general had increased. Mass institutionalisation was not acceptable or possible.
The traditional social support networks found in the close knit occupational communities were also missing due to the decline of the close knit community. This was taken one step further when in the eighties, the desire to privatise public enterprises and reduce public expenditure, including industrial subsidies led to a rapid decline of manufacturing in the early 1980’s and led to historically high levels of unemployment. Which as we have seen weakens a communities social support network.
Over the last twenty years the main way social policy has responded to these problems is by encouraging the development of community care initiatives, these can be split into two main categories ?Care in the community’ and ?Care by the community’. Care by the community mostly applies to the elderly and puts emphasis on informal care by friends and family. Formal care plays a vital supporting role however, and enables friends and family care for the person with services such as home help and meals on wheels. Care in the community is quite different. This applies mostly to those with mental or physical disabilities or conditions and usually involves people with similar types of disability living in the same home, with varying degree of intervention by nurses or carers depending on the severity of the disability. This care differs from the old style institutional care because where the units are smaller the individual should ideally be able to live a more ?normal’ lifestyle. Each resident should be allowed some choice over their actions and schedules and the integration into the surrounding community is encouraged.
The government has a great deal of control over communities and it is important to understand that today they are often active creations. In the 20th century many attempts have been made to construct communities and today the type of community found in different areas is greatly influenced by social policy, legislation and the allocation of funds carried out through central and local governments. In the 1940’s ?New Towns’ such as Milton Keynes were built to relieve the pressure on older urban locations which were fastly becoming congested and overcrowded. Politicians and planners worked together to try and create the community spirit they saw as being so desirable. Part of their thinking was to achieve a social balance as they saw single class settlements as socially undesirable and politically dangerous, they attempted to do this by accommodating social groups roughly in proportions according to the national average and provided a variety of housing types, sizes and tenures. The town would provide a wide range of jobs and would not be dependent on one industry. The objective of the new towns were for them to become a ?microcosm of contemporary British society’ (Aldridge 1979).
The success of this varied between places although in general the government’s utopian ideal was slightly unrealistic. The people who moved to the new towns were typically middle class, and ?skilled manual workers were over represented nearly everywhere. The age range of people was also quite limited because most of the migrants were young families. More importantly Deakin and Ungerson’s study of migration out of London to New Towns showed migrants ?were drawn from areas and social groups not predominantly in greatest need’ therefore the majority of those living in the inner city areas the New Towns were designed to relive were still there. The selective pattern of migration could even be seen as worsening the problem of inner city areas by concentrating further the disadvantaged groups there.
Extreme deprivation is a problem that faces many places in Britain. Often in inner city areas but not always it is seen in districts or neighbourhoods where people are not getting the same chances in life due to a range of social problems. Unemployment, crime, poor housing and living conditions, single parents, vandalism, hooliganism and racial harassment all create a poor standard of life in which people are trapped. New Labours idea as to how to regenerate neighbourhoods that are deprived in this way is the Social Exclusion Unit.
Set up in 1997 and based in Downing Street, its aim was to improve people’s standard of life and to give everyone equal chances in life. ?The National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal’. Is an attempt by the New Labour government ?to develop integrated and sustainable approaches to the problems of the worst housing estates, including crime, drugs, unemployment, community breakdown and bad schools’. The idea of the unit is not to provide easy solutions for the short term, but to target the grass roots of the problem, helping people to help themselves. This idea is typically New Labour, a point somewhere between the value systems adhered to by the New right and the Old Left.
In the booklet ?A National Strategy for neighbourhood Renewal : a framework for consultation’ produced by the government it has proposals as to how to revive communities in deprived areas.
The first notion is to help residents to tackle problems that threaten to undermine the community by taking a hard line on anti social behaviour, using neighbourhood warden schemes (community policing) to reduce crime and fear and by improving housing letting policies.
The second aim is to stimulate community activity, presumably to attempt to unite people and bring back some of the ?community spirit’ found in occupational communities. This will happen through encouraging more meeting places and opportunities perhaps with facilities and shops, and by premoting arts and sports in deprived areas.
Thirdly its aim is to get the residents themselves involved in turning around their neighbourhoods by making it easier for community and voluntary organisations to get funding and attempt to build on what they call ?community’ capacity and leadership.
The units work falls under 3 main categories. Funding regeneration programs in deprived neighbourhoods, Giving ?New Deals’ to the unemployed, lone parents and the disabled, and ensuring coherence and a government united on the issues. 18 policy action teams were formed who were each assigned to different areas and projects. Their work fell under 5 broad themes. Getting people to work, getting the area to work, building a future for young people, ensuring everyone has access to public services and making the government work better.
Community usually tends to be used as a warmly persuasive word and nearly always in a favourable context. It is frequently championed as a source of identity, moral and social stability, shared meaning and mutual connotations, yet by nature it can also be seen to have forceful negative connotations.
The first is a threat to identity. Plant et al 1980 and Nisbit 1967 saw the concept of community as a morally charged instrument of authority justifying state intervention in everyday life. wiener 1981 and colls and dodd in 86 stated:
?Romantic and nostalgic thinking has often resorted to the invocation of a lost stable social hierarchy of community in order to justify socially repressive policies’
Because community is seen as something static it poses limits on identity controlled by tradition and passively accepted local culture. Even as a source of class based and anti establishment strength community can be seen as subordinating the individual for the sake of communal solidarity. So secondly community can be seen as a vehicle for the reproduction and perpetuation of traditional gendered social roles, -the nuclear family and the subsidiary role of women in a male dominated society.
Good or bad, the idea of community is about the interaction between people, and it is important because it effects the way people think about themselves and produces their personal identity. Community is still a relevant notion in the 21st century although it is important to look past geographical boundaries and locality and instead see community in the broader sense of social networks. While it is clear that community is an integral part of human nature, its future and what shape it will take is yet to be seen.
Wayne K.D.Davies, David T Herbert (1993) communities within cities, Belhaven press
Graham Crow, Grahem Allan (1994) Community life, Harvester Wheatsheaf
Marjorie Mayo (1994) Communities and caring-The mixed economy of welfare, Macmillan press
Michael Keith, Steve pile (1993) Place and the politics of identity, Routledge
Andy Furlong, Fred Cartmel (1997) Young people and social change, Open University press
National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal:a framework for consultation (March 2000) New Labour
Social Issues Essays