Prior, D. (2005) 'Civil Renewal and Community Safety: Virtuous Policy Spiral or Dynamic of Exclusion?', in Social Policy and Society, 4 (4): 357 - 67.
New Labour has stressed the need to develop an active and involved citizen. Communitarianism emphasises both obligations and rights. It involves an allegiance to some moral community, rather than to the State or market. This leads to policies of 'civil renewal' to build social capital -- 'social networks, shared norms and informal collective controls' (357). These will foster social bonds, including bombs across cultures and class barriers. Policy is to operate at the Community level as well as that of the individual, leading to initiatives to raise educational attainments, regenerate neighbourhoods, and control crime.
The idea is that informal social controls will reduce crime, expressed in initiatives such as Neighbourhood Watch and Victim Support. These should result in a virtuous circle or spiral. A particular strand is the idea of community safety (359) which emphasises social as well as police interventions to reduce crime, considers impact on victims, takes a local emphasis, and treats seriously low-level crime and disorder which concern communities. A multi-agency partnership is needed to deal with these initiatives. The local community is simultaneously the site of action, a resource for it, and a stake holder in it (359). However, impoverished communities lack social capital, hence the perceived need for civil renewal as an aspect of crime prevention.
There has been a recent shift in policy from controlling individuals to regulating groups or particular categories of offenders and potential offenders. An 'actuarial' approach is pursued involving calculations of the risk of particular groups offending or re offending and assessing the best form of response, including a range of sanctions. The aim is to protect the public rather than to reform the offender (360). More active crime prevention targets potential offenders ('rough sleepers, beggars, travellers, and refugees/asylum seekers... black and ethnic minority groups... young people as a whole' (360)). The police invoke their powers to move such people on, or apply for ASBOs. More generally, risky communities are to be regenerated. 'Community safety' is one strand in this overall policy -- communities are to 'develop the capacity to reduce or eliminate the risks of crime and disorder' (360). Specifically, homes are to be protected, knowledge gathered about risks and how to reduce them, facilities increased, local caretakers or street wardens to be appointed.
Relations of trust are necessary for for successful partnerships between locals and official agencies, but there is also a paradox. These measures can increase suspicion and produce a 'rising fear of crime; the demonisation of those identified as the source of this fear... a lack of inclusive city and cohesion within the community, and, ultimately, the development of separatist and privatized responses -- private security guards and forms of vigilantism' (360).
Policies such as providing extensive surveillance like CCTV [panoptic types, in a useful distinction -- of the many by a few], or mobilising local communities as in neighbourhood watches [synoptic surveillance -- of a few by the many -- neat!] seem to assume the need for constant watchfulness for opportunist crime. It claims to increase trust and feelings of security and cooperation among neighbours, but it relies on the 'operationalised suspicion of others' (361),either in general or focused on 'strangers', in the form of particular categories of people or suspicious locations.
There is a general scepticism about whether moral communities are possible in modernity, and whether their loss is liberating or not [it's about time we heard this classic sociological critique of community again] -- apparently renewed by Young in Matthews and Pitts (eds) (2001) Crime Disorder and Community Safety, London: Routledge) have. Increased surveillance can increase intolerance towards diversity [you're telling me -- I have lived in one of these deeply conservative local communities in the 1970s, and it was a real pain!].
These problems haunt the policies. In the case of situational or environmental crime prevention, there is an assumption that some environments are criminogenic, leading to various devices to protect the respectables, exclude the deviance or increase scrutiny, in other words social exclusion! In the case of social and community prevention policies, which are more proactive, there is an attempt to re-establish relations of trust with excluded groups, and oppose their marginalization, reverse social decline and do something about multiple deprivation -- policies to improve 'education, employment, housing, environment, culture, health and sometimes local democracy' (363). But these policies still operate with an element of suspicion, such as an associated fear of 'undisciplined and disorderly youth' (363). As a result, they can be allied with increased surveillance. Intervention can be benign in intent, but still based on fear and distrust. This may be a feature of all communities [there really is a need to read some basic sociology here, about how boundaries serve to both include and exclude]. Local communities can easily develop 'bigotry and parochialism', quoting Hughes 1983 (364). Community regeneration therefore faces a classic contradiction: it can be positive and lead to economic regeneration, but can also label residents as an undesirable underclass.
The problem is to build on the positive. But the moment, such policies are equally likely to develop in a negative direction. The concept of community is still 'under theorised' (365) [sociologists have been arguing this for decades], so it is vague and ambiguous in practice. The problems are glossed in political communitarianism like that of the heart of New Labour. Few initiatives are grounded in an understanding of every day complexity. Issues are often glossed, including debates about whether disorder stems from fundamental economic inequality. Even the joined-up thinking of New Labour excludes this possibility. Community-based policy is often driven by short-term goals only.
There is a connection with general analyses like Bauman (2000), on how communities include and exclude [told you so!]. Concepts like 'order' and 'norms' need discussion, since they both include and exclude and feature a suspicion of alternative ways of life: they are 'about separation, amputation, excision, expurgation, exclusion', according to Bauman (366).
[NB this seems to be a call for a renewed reading of Durkheim as well as Marx and Weber -- they all warned against politicians messing with social forces without understanding them first Classic stuff really -- squash Sociology and you get -- amateur sociology but called 'social policy']
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