"So, you're from Brixton?" : towards a social psychology of community
This thesis examines the social psychological significance of 'community', as it is experienced and talked about in Brixton, a culturally diverse area in South London. There are two points of entry into the social psychology of a community: (1) the negotiation of social representations of the community and (2) the co-construction of community identities. The theoretical perspective that I have developed through this research is grounded in the theory of social representations (Moscovici, 1984, 1988; Farr, 1987) and draws on other theories of representation (Hall, 1997a), community (Cohen, 995), identity and self-consciousness (Hall, 1991a; Tajfel, 1982; Mead, 1934), stigma (Goffman, 1968) and the media (Thompson, 1995). It is an ethnographic study which combines ongoing participant-observation, 7 focus groups with 44 adolescents aged between 12 and 16, 5 in-depth interviews with deputy-heads of Brixton's schools, a media analysis of a documentary set in Brixton, and follow-up discussions. These accounts are woven together to answer the principal research question: how is `community' lived in Brixton? This study shows that communities emerge as sites of struggle in the negotiation of self-identity, belonging and difference. Community identities are constructed through and against social representations of the community, particularly those in the media. Two competing representations of Brixton - 'Brixton as Diverse' and 'Brixton as Bad' — were found in the same representational field. The data illustrate the different ways in which people affirm, manipulate and contest these ambivalent social representations in order to defend their perspective on Brixton, and so either claim or reject community membership. I examine how these representations both reflect and construct the social reality of Brixton. This reveals the potential of social representations to construct, delimit and empower the living of community. The systematic analysis of social representations of community and community identities demonstrates the pressing need for a social psychology of community.