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January 14, 2009

The Future of Community (Book Review)

A new book of 14 essays by some of the UK’s leading social policy commentators and practitioners, argues that government meddling has a lot to answer for. ‘‘Building community has become in recent times just one of those management objectives that needs to be ticked off’’

If community is dead, who is to blame for its murder? While market forces have played their part in the breakdown of solidarity and collective institutions, this new collection of essays argues that government meddling has been instrumental in the death of community.

If government lets us get on with it, communities would thrive, it claims. Instead, decades of official intervention into the ‘creation’ of community has served to erect unnecessary barriers between classes, races and neighbours. Building community has in recent times become ‘just one of those management objectives that has to be ticked off’, with numerous initiatives to turn us into volunteers, integrate us with our neighbours and knit our families back together.

The promotion of multiculturalism For example, has, by highlighting and privileging differences between racial groups, undermined any meaningful prospect of a unified community. One essay on the migration of Brazilians into a small town in County Galway in Ireland proves that diverse racial groups manage to integrate perfectly well together without government interference. In 14 essays by some of the UK’s foremost social policy writers and practitioners, a range of issues are explored, from the trend to blame poor public space for low community relations, to placing the future of participation in the hands of digital technology.

Andrew Calcutt, principal lecturer in journalism at the University of East London, reveals how government plans for social order tore into working class solidarity in the aftermath of the second world war. The book puts forward a convincing argument against government meddling and is timely given the current focus on empowerment.

It argues that attempts to manage and audit community relations merely serve to stifle spontaneous solidarity. Only by shifting the debate away from government exercises in ’empowerment’ can communities be freed to thrive in new political spaces.