Wednesday, 20 July 2005

The contemporary debate about community Today I took part in a Radio 4 discussion about community on the You and Yours programme, which you can hear at least for the next week or so, here. Once the available time had been cut down from 30 mins to little more than 15, gulp, it felt like I and my co-conspirators (CABE's Selina Mason and Chris French from the Centre for Suburban Studies) were more or less reduced to blurting out simplistic platitudes. But it did nudge me into thinking about the contemporary debate on community, and I suspect the Y&Y programme makers were partly motivated to select this topic because of the way the London bombings have stimulated questions about it. I spluttered something about the historic change in the validity of local community in people's lives, the increase in distributed personal social networks in which ties are less likely to get re-enforced and we're less likely to invest in neighbourhood relations. It seems to me that the contemporary debate about community is about how we deal with that reduced emphasis on local connections, while still ensuring that we have sufficient resource at local level in order to support one another in time of personal need, or to mobilise our fellow residents in time of collective adversity. Taking this historical perspective and in the context of pertinent global ideological clashes, it's worth making the point that community isn’t about the denial of difference. It’s not about some artificial notion of Peter Pan happily-ever-after harmonious relations. It should be about being able to deal with differences when they arise, before those tensions develop into conflicts. What we have to do is to take the debate about community onto a new level – looking for ways of using what we have in common, to understand what distinguishes us, in order at least to appreciate our differences and perhaps to celebrate diversity. I want community to mean not being afraid of diversity.

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