Thursday, June 26, 2008

For a fascinating discussion from a Muslim perspective on the notion of community and Ummah (the global Islamic “community”) see the blogsite Indigo Jo for Feb 12 2007 “an attack on the idea of community”. Having said that one of the punchiest posts in response to the discussions was presumably from a non Muslim:

“What is a community but a bunch of people with a common contempt for people who don't share their common delusions or prejudices?”

Saturday, June 7, 2008

John Pitts, the eminent criminologist throws interesting light on the proliferation of youth crime and gang culture (Watching the boys in the bands – Society Guardian 4/6/08). He rightly shows that these developments are actually the result of increasing inequality rather than any fanciful notions of a lack of social capital. Characteristically he abjures cosy talk of a breakdown of communities – indeed he asserts that communities are part of the problem not the solution: “in a society with growing wealth inequality, the disenfranchised are not simply going to lie down and do nothing.” But “who in New Labour dares to say that it requires massive state intervention and may indeed need a redistribution of wealth”? Giving people skills and returning them to the market is not going to work – after all it was the market that caused the problem in the first place. Offered the alternative of pulling in £100,000 a year or more in the crack business or working in McDonalds or even as a lorry driver is hardly an enticing prospect.

The Government’s recurring pledge to “empower” communities to help solve their own gang problems is treated with healthy disdain and as a way of blaming the victim yet again: “I’m not a great fan of community … I think it’s a bad idea. If you live in a community where everybody knows each other, it’s one of the reasons you get shot. The places where I’m doing my research, everybody knows each other. Jesus, that’s part of the problem”. Building social capital is therefore far from the answer and tight nit communities are certainly not the panacea for gang violence that politicians would like to pretend. Pitts argues that the least troublesome places to live – leafy, middle class suburban enclaves – are good places not because of strong community ties but because they are populated by “lightly engaged strangers”.

As Pitts says: “the invocation to community is always about the restoration of … some golden age – but when was that?” Young people who are embedded in the local status and reputation-driven world of gang culture (which sadly gives them more value than they get from the “market”) find it increasingly difficult to get out of their predicament: Pitts tells of interviewing kids who say “I want to do that but I couldn’t round here. I want to step out but can’t”.

Yet again, New Labour’s attempts at answers for these problems lead in entirely the wrong direction because of the way they fetishise this notion of community and seek to avoid any real challenge to the status quo. Inequality and wealth distribution as the real causes are edited out of the picture by virtue of the language of community and cohesion.