Anglia Ruskin University
The_Relational_Bent_of_Community_ParticipationFINALSUBMISSION.pdf (130.44 kB)

The relational bent of community participation: the challenge social network analysis and Simmel offer to top-down prescriptions of 'community'

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journal contribution
posted on 2023-08-30, 14:02 authored by Deborah Holman
The policy language of recent UK governments in relation to ‘activating’ communities has drawn on images of ‘community’ as coherent constructions – communities of place – recognizable to their members who are capable of concerted action. From this conceptual basis, localities identified as ‘ineffective’ are encouraged to become ‘successful, integrated communities' through government action such as New Labour's Working Together neighbourhood policies and the more recent Big Society initiatives of the Conservative-led Coalition Government. The shared fallacy is that individuals are policy-receptive actors with the potential to engage in community life ‘successfully’ (consensually) once ‘empowered’ to do so. This paper questions the efficacy of applying politically neutralized values of empowerment, community and participation in government policy to ‘real world’ communities by applying the lessons of a case study of the lived experience of community action in the late 1990s, during an arguably golden policy era of government sponsored community participation. In this study, the work of Georg Simmel was used to highlight the dynamism of human associations and the co-presence of apparently contradictory currents of conflict and co-operation. Qualitative network analysis illustrated the webbed intricacies of participating in ‘community’ and the importance of recognizing conflict as an element of the whole process of participation – which should not be elided by policy makers. The paper concludes that conflict has a positive role to play in sustainable community processes: it is both an undeniably inherent element of participation and a democratic imperative.



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Community Development Journal




Oxford University Press

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  • Accepted version


  • eng

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ARCHIVED Faculty of Health, Social Care & Education (until September 2018)

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