Identity, community and community cohesion : a critical engagement with policy discourses and the everyday
Using three different methods, this thesis critically explores New Labour policy discourses of community cohesion, alongside and in relation to, the construction and performance of gendered and racialised identities in a northern England town. The research is located at the intersection of feminist theory, critical race studies and critical social policy, and draws upon post structuralist approaches. Through an examination of community cohesion policy texts and in depth interviews with policy actors (used to refer to a diverse group of participants in the policy process), I consider how discourses of community cohesion are negotiated and constructed within the policy making process. I also explore how these policy stories contribute to gendered and racialised constructions of local 'communities'. Drawing upon ethnographic research conducted within a 'multicultural' women's group, I consider how communities and identities are negotiated and lived out in the 'everyday', and -in turn how these community stories both challenge and connect with community cohesion policy stories and policy actors' constructions of communities. My findings suggest that community cohesion can be understood as part of the wider New Labour project, drawing upon the ambiguous concept of 'community' central to the agenda of the 'Third Way'. My analysis of community cohesion policy texts indicate that whilst discourses of community cohesion are presented as a coherent agenda, they are multiple and muddled. The search for a set of common 'British' values alongside the management of diversity relies upon notions of integration, which resonate with attempts at assimilation. Moreover, my findings suggest that whilst gender blind, community cohesion policy discourses are deeply gendered and racialised, contributing to particular constructions of race and gender 'difference'. Nevertheless, it is evident that discourses of community cohesion have become rapidly entrenched within the language and practice of local government and local practitioners, bringing with it a 'new' framework governing race relations in the UK. My analysis of policy actors' interpretations of community cohesion policy points to the complexities facing policy actors engaged in 'making sense' of government policies; alongside and in relation to their personal and professional identifications. My findings suggest that New Labour discourses of 'community cohesion' enable practitioners to adopt a safer form of de-racialised language to talk about issues of race and ethnicity. Yet policy actors are also active in the construction of 'expert' knowledge about 'communities', which at times draw upon 'common sense' ideas. These narratives of 'community' and 'identity' often deny the ambiguous nature of identities and the 'messiness' of 'doing community' within the 'everyday'. Indeed, the findings from my ethnographic research conducted with women from different racial and ethnic positionings emphasise the multiple, complex and contradictory ways in which gendered and racialised identities are performed within and across 'communities'. These 'everyday' stories of 'community' both complicate and disrupt policy actors' narratives of community and the community cohesion policy agenda, whilst at the same time suggesting alternative ways of 'getting along' (see also Amin, 2005).