Now, a word about the received wisdom that ethnic diversity at neighbourhood level gives rise to lack of cohesion and weakens social relations. There seems to be an assumption that directly relates diversity to perceptions of antisocial behaviour and disorder. It matters because I suspect the assumption influences many actions and decisions in a hidden way, in policy, practice and everyday behaviour.
I recently mentioned a paper by John Hipp (Social networks, 32(2), 2010, subscription required) which hints at a little more complexity: perceptions of disorder are explained by general social distance between individuals, not simply social distance based on ethnicity.
And last week the ESRC published some research on neighbourhood social heterogeneity. The researchers found 'little evidence' of a significant effect of ethnic diversity on people’s perceptions of a neighbourhood.
Among the findings:
- Population turnover does not influence perceptions of antisocial behaviour but is associated with lower levels of social cohesion and trust.
- Living in a low density area is strongly associated with more trusting, supportive and cohesive communities.
- Deprivation has a negative impact on levels of cohesion, trust and informal social control. It also increases the chances of perceiving high levels of antisocial behaviour.
- While there was some evidence to suggest that ethnic diversity is associated with reduced levels of community cohesion, trust and informal social control, the impact is much smaller than that of neighbourhood deprivation.
- The ethnic make-up of an area, either in terms of mixing or dominance, was not significant in explaining perceptions of antisocial behaviour.
- Those living in the most ethnically diverse areas were the least pessimistic about the national crime trend.
- Ethnic diversity does not influence the significant associations between deprivation and negative perceptions of a local area. However the effect of ethnic diversity on levels of social cohesion and trust is dependent on the level of deprivation in the area.
So, it's the poverty, stupid. And attitudes towards people who are poor. There have been people working their backsides off in the field of poverty alleviation and wealth equalities, ready to voice this message to those who would hear it.
So one of my next posts I hope, Clegg inspired, will be about the nastiness of povertyism: I want to ask why there isn't any debate about disrimination against poor people?