Sunday, February 28, 2010

Community is where the guns and gangs, the drugs and pimps are.

Last week on the Radio 4 Today programme there was a very moving interview with a young woman (lets call her Sarah) who was about to go to University and who spoke articulately about her hopes for the future. A few months before this interview the same woman had been addicted to heroin and crack and had been prostituting herself out to maintain her habit. What was absolutely clear from this interview was that the community was not in any way part of the solution – indeed it was the problem. Sarah’s ability to come off drugs was because she had been lucky enough to be sent by her local authority to a residential rehabilitation centre in the countryside many miles away from the inner city neighbourhood where she lived. She readily agreed that it was only when she was able to get away from “the community” that she could summon the strength to recover. Had she continued to live in her local neighbourhood she would have continued to be plagued by the pimps and pushers she needed to get away from. These same pimps and pushers would have been waiting for her the moment she left any local rehabilitation centre and that this is why drug treatment in the community is a non starter.

Sadly the residential centre was now closing because so few local authorities were prepared to spend the amount necessary to secure effective rehabilitation outcomes but rather preferred to spend less money on “treatment in the community” despite the fact that it has a far less successful record. Far less successful it may be, but by adding the cosy, trendy (but utterly vacuous) words “in the community” to the notion of treatment, these local authorities are able to disguise their miserly and counterproductive penny pinching. They were able to use the term “community” to make it sound as though they were buying a service that would be effective just by virtue of being capable of having this sanctifying (but really sanctimonious) description applied to it.

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Market will set Community against the State

One of the consequences of us being so vague and ambiguous when we use the word “community” has been the ability of both New Labour and the Tories to hijack the term and set it against the notion of public and state provision. As the marketisation of so much of our public services proceeds ever faster we are increasingly losing the vocabulary to identify and discuss what is actually happening to us. This is a very dangerous development for all of us on the Left but in many ways we have played into the Tories’ hands because of our unthought through fetishisation of the concept of community. Similarly the Voluntary and Community sector has had little to say about the way in which New Labour has used it to disguise and collude with its attack on public services. There is a real danger that “cooperative councils” will end up offloading responsibility to local people (“communities”) rather than actually unlocking their participation and involvement in a model of mutual service provision that is responsive to different local needs and that builds a really inclusive solidarity rather than a vacuous sense of community.
Notions of “choice” and “community” look unexceptional and cosy but in fact carry a deep ideological content as well as having dangerous practical consequences. The greater the attack on public services by the market – whether by direct privatisation or “voluntarisation” or through the rich and middle classes opting out of them – the more unequal and unfair our society will become. Appeals to community and localism are often just a smoke screen that can be handily used to disguise this process.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Even old bones are now "former members of the community"

In a wierd piece on Newsnight today we heard about a Pagan campaign to rebury ancient bones held in Ipswich Museum (and thought to be Pagan relics). Because these bits of skulls and shards of bone may have been dug up around the Ipswich area they are from "former members of the Ipswich community" according to a senior curator at the Museum.
Blimey! The word community here is being used in a way that even science fiction writers might have problems with - a transhistorical, transcultural "community" based solely on where a number of people over thousands of years may have died or been buried. This takes communing with the dead rather too far!