Friday, 09 March 2007

Social capital, ethnicity, and cohesion I sometimes think we're a society that snacks voraciously on weak ties, and when it comes to strong ties, the appetite has gone. But (to hold the analogy for as long as I dare) the nutritional benefits of each may not be comparable. OK, forget that. I've just been scanning some papers dated December and announced today by the Family and Parenting Institute, on social capital and transnational families. There are three research papers described in this summary, and they seem to clarify the significance of, and continued need for, bonding capital among ethnic groupings: The research found that the minority ethnic communities studied utilised bonding strategies within their families and communities which then provided them with the support and resources to participate more fully in the wider spheres of education, employment and building intimate relationships and friendships. Although the research acknowledges that being part of a close-knit community can sometimes have negative implications for individuals, the social capital afforded by the solidarity and reciprocity of those communities provided a secure base from which to bridge into the wider community. So far from encouraging increasing social segregation, the adherence to socially accepted norms of their ethnic communities created a resilience that allowed greater involvement in societal life in general. [Emphasis added] The research also highlighted that the reciprocity within the ethnic groupings studied 'encourages a greater sense of caring for members of the community that need more support.' The bonding contexts include family events, cultural rituals and community groups. The bonding networks represent a ‘survival strategy’ as a response to issues arising from social exclusion and marginality, providing support for participation in education, employment and forming intimate friendships in other groups and communities. All the papers are available from the FPI site here.
A future of participation? Seems you can't move these days for articles pondering how erstwhile Labour voters feel seduced by the commonsense emanating from Tories, contrasted with the miserable folly of some of our leader's all-too-lasting policies. And so to an Involve participation seminar this evening, which included a speech from Oliver Letwin on 'a conservative vision of citizenship,' buttressed by Bill Wiggin MP, with some apparently harmless waves of reality from Mary Ann Sieghart allowed to lap gently some way below their lofty outlook. They were all preceded by Mori's Ben Page who neatly and unceremoniously packed all the real issues into about five minutes, only to find they too were mostly overlooked by the subsequent speakers. Oliver Letwin offered a vision of citizenship as 'citizens taking responsibility for what goes on around them, not commenting on or responding to what goes on around them' (I think I jotted that down correctly...) His key message was that a Conservative government would press the participation button just as firmly as the current government does, but (mercifully) without the ridiculous over-emphasis on managerialism which has so thoroughly spoiled the best intentions of the past ten years. Sadly, there was too much to be said and too many people trying to say it - just like real-time participation - for anyone to grab the issues and try to list them. FWIW, with the benefit of a train ride home, here's my personal two euro's-worth for starters: consultation without engagement is damaging and always has been. So - start community engagement at the most local level and take the lessons up a level at a time, cautiously (Ben Page made some potent points about scale) do not use the C word to imply consensus try to create a culture of genuine participation in all arenas of social life, including the family, school, and work environments: the habit of participation is precious and a society that neglects it is vulnerable understand that at the present rate, politicians will be following, not leading, this debate (possibly trailed only by the established broadcast media) try and celebrate the hits for participation that are independent of the availability of resources: there are still too many people baying for funding even though we have an unenviable tradition of wasting it because we don't know how to work collaboratively.

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