Friday, 30 December 2011

A glance back Big society belittled, arab spring-summer-autumn and winter, localism, neutered community development, disturbances in English cities... Here's a quick glance back at some sample posts, as it's been such a curious year. In January - ('thought leaders my arse') - a post about street reps and new forms of governance. Are we 'witnessing the ungainly, messy emergence of the new order'? In February, in a year when we finally saw the global power of technologies that foster horizontal communication, some thoughts on networks and democracy. And a slightly caustic post in which I suggest that anyone who can write 'the extent to which communities are willing to seize the opportunities available' without self-parody is manifestly part of the problem. In March I wrote about the 'request scruple' - for me an essential post on Lilian Linders' insightful research into neighbourliness, after an inspiring study tour in the Netherlands. And I was asking 'who's next for the Grand Tour for Saviours of Low-Income Neighbourhoods?' In May a gentle chuckle observing pétanque, seule, and some reflections on the sense of generalised respect in the French public realm, compared with the British. In June, here's a more serious moment, squaring up to the idea of community development without the politics: 'government would like to see lots of community action where people do not recognise that some of their problems are externally-determined and are the consequence of unequal and unfair policies.' (I hit the same nerve in November). And one of my favourite juxtaproses. Also in June, some thoughts about the assault on the public, asking 'what will it take eventually to spark a serious debate about the nature of 'public' in this country?' Here are two posts about the disturbances that started in London in August (no, they weren't 'riots') - first, Maybe capitalism didn't quite work: 'If you relentlessly celebrate consumption; unambiguously and unashamedly pursue policies that promote an unequal society; encourage the spectacularisation of culture (a key component in what we're seeing, I think); demolish whatever is public that you can get away with; and then confiscate a lot of state support that gives young people legitimate occasions to test their need to disrupt things - don't suddenly look surprised.' and 'The suspension of civilisation' in which I referred to young people’s need to disrupt things: 'That is what young people do: get used to it. A responsible society will find ways to help this process take place creatively and without negative consequences – in sporting encounter, in adventure, in semi-formal flexible environments like youth centres, by giving young people space without obsessive surveillance or devious assimilation. What chance is there now that our society’s neurotic control-freakery towards young people can be cured?' In October I had the chance to report on a remarkable social inclusion project - Helping young people locate themselves. In November I blogged about the publication of my essay on picnic and community, launched that month. OK, there have been very few vignettes this year, but this one...
Foretelling the crash It’s nearly ten years since the death of Ivan Illich. A few years ago I found his work was out of print, which maybe helps to explain how come we’re in such a mess. We need to make more of his wisdom. Looking for something else the other day, I found myself re-reading sections of Tools for conviviality. I'm sure I'm not the first to point this out, but this bit strikes me as grimly prophetic: Almost overnight people will lose confidence not only in the major institutions but also in the miracle of prescriptions of the would-be crisis managers. The ability of the present institutions to define values such as education, health, welfare, transportation, or news will suddenly be extinguished because it will be recognized as an illusion. This crisis may be triggered by an unforeseen event, as the Great Depression was touched off by the Wall Street Crash. Some fortuitous coincidence will render publicly obvious the structural contradictions between stated purposes and effective results in our major institutions... People who invoke the spectre of a hopelessly growth-oriented majority seem incapable of envisaging political behaviour in a crash. Business ceases to be as usual when the populace loses confidence in industrial productivity, and not just in paper currency… Governments think they can deal with the breakdown of utilities, the disruption of the educational system, intolerable transportation, the chaos of the judicial process, the violent disaffection of the young. Each is dealt with as a separate phenomenon, each is explained by a different report… Tools for conviviality, 1973, chapter 5.

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