Thursday, 08 September 2011

Persuasive people and awkward social issues There's a lot of rumour flying around about Emma Harrison and I'm not sure I trust much of it. But because she's rich, I'm afraid she has to be subject to exactly the same prejudice that I apply to all rich people. Emma is allegedly a multimillionaire who allegedly knows how to relate to families which have no-one in employment, and persuade them into work. She's a godsend then for millionaire members of government who grasp things more readily, shall we say, when they are articulated by other millionaires. Her plan is by no means foolish: it involves training 'champions' to engage with such families, apparently in an openly coercive manner, if I can put it like that. Her company A4E, with government funding (ah you knew I'd mention that didn't you) isn't trying to do community development, it's trying to hit the 'problem' of families without employment, through persuasion. But of course a family without employment is not a single issue, it's a complex mess of tangled, knotted, social and bureaucratic confusions. Oh well never mind that. Maybe we're wrong, and these folk just need a good talking to from a successful entrepreneur. Many people will only have heard about Emma through an embarassingly inept interview by Justin Webb on the Today programme last week. I must admit I squirmed. If you want to know more, keep an eye on Watching A4E. Now here's an excellent, penetrating post by Mark Gamsu which tries to get at the gap between the awkward touchy-feely complexities of community development and the apparent crisp simplifications of Emma Harrison's approach. Do try to read it if you can spare five minutes. I've seen similar tensions created many times over the years, by very articulate persuasive people who grotesquely over-simplify a set of complex social issues - objectifying the victims in the process - and for that very reason attract the attention of politicians. And funding. (I'd like to say at this point 'You know who you are!' But they don't of course). One day it might really work, then we'll all be in for a shock.

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