The borders and boundaries of community : social cohesion and responses to domestic and racial violence
Following the 2001 disturbances in Northern England, New Labour initiated a social cohesion agenda aimed, primarily, at urban, working class communities. For the government, the 'cohesive community' is one with a 'common vision' and 'sense of belonging', where 'diversity ... of circumstances ... is valued' (Home Office, 2004). Though positively framed, this `vision' is problematic. Despite emerging in response to violent public confrontations, the cohesion agenda obscures the power conflicts inherent in the construction of communities. Specifically, it de-racialises 'race', omits to mention gender or a 'sense of injustice', and often presents one-dimensional and static models of cohesion. Drawing on Cohen's (1998) model of 'community' as relational and fluid, this study argues that the social cohesion agenda can be far from benign, given that communities are constructed and enacted on a number of grounds, including 'race' and gender. Both these social divisions are heavily imbued with hierarchical power differentials that can potentially sustain inequality and fuel injustice. This thesis deconstructs 'social cohesion' by exploring the, at times, blurred boundaries of community and cohesion, arguing that these borders are brought into sharp focus by community responses to racialised and gendered violence. The study is ethnographic, utilising qualitative data collected through semi-structured interviews, and participant and non-participant observation. Fieldwork was conducted in North East England, in predominantly working class, ethnically diverse areas with histories of strong, 'community' identities premised on long-term residence in specific geographical neighbourhoods. It is shown that the borders of community are racialised and gendered, inculcated with notions of identity and belonging, justice and entitlement. These dynamics can, potentially, transform borders into boundaries between communities, yet paradoxically appear to be 'hidden in full sight' (Hill Collins, 1998) from some of the social actors involved, as well as these involved in wider debates on social cohesion. This project widens the parameters of the debate.