Saturday, 07 January 2006

Respect: MORI survey You may want to look the other way now; there's a welter of policy publicity about swearing, queue jumping, dropping litter and so on, on a street corner in Westminster. MORI have today published a survey on British views about respect. One or two bits seem only tangentially to do with respect - how closely can you equate it with 'giving money to charity,' for example? But on the topic of informal social control, this is interesting: 55% of people have asked someone they did not know to stop behaving rudely. The survey also found that young people are just as likely as the rest of us "to be irritated by those who fail to give up their seat to the elderly/pregnant or by people who do not say please, thank you or sorry." The basic question that is raised for me, among the flurry of figures, has to do with the extent to which we see respect as being about civil relations with people we don't know. Showing respect for people we already know, well maybe sometimes it can be hard, but I think there's an important difference. Anyway it's a fascinating development in policy. It arises partly because government is so keenly aware that many social interventions are simply provided too late. And it's also the case that the distinct roles of governed and governing, in terms of rights and responsibilities, are having to be clarified rapidly. There's a direct lineage of course back to David Blunkett's papers on civil renewal two years ago (here and here) and it would be interesting to reflect on how the argument has evolved. And of course it's not easy, in any role that implies governing and unequal power, to present comfortably the appropriate balance of coercion and sanction. Ask any parent. Or Richard Sennett, who will be chairing our seminar on informal social control: he notes this towards the end of his book Respect: "treating people with respect cannot occur simply by commanding it should happen. Mutual recognition has to be negotiated: this negotiation engages the complexities of personal character as much as social structure." -------------------- Postscipt - here's Tristram Hunt in the Observer - "it is difficult to see how far any eye-catching initiative can confront our ingrained culture of righteous autonomy... The difficulty of the 'respect' agenda is its nebulous, totalising ambition."

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