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Title: Personalising the state : law, social welfare and politics on an English council estate
Author: Koch, Insa Lee
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2012
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This dissertation offers a study of everyday relations between residents and the state on a post-industrial council estate in England. Drawing upon historical and ethnographic data, it analyses how, often under conditions of sustained exclusion, residents rely upon the state in their daily struggles for security and survival. My central ethnographic finding is that residents personalise the state alongside informal networks of support and care into a local sociality of reciprocity. This finding can be broken into three interconnected points. First, I argue that the reciprocal contract between citizens and the state emerged in the post-war years when the residents on the newly built estates negotiated their dependence upon the state by integrating it into their on-going social relations. A climate of relative material affluence, selective housing policies, and a paternalistic regime of housing management all created conditions which were conducive for this temporary union between residents and the state. Second, however, I argue that with the decline of industry and shifts towards neoliberal policies, residents increasingly struggle to hold the state accountable to its reciprocal obligations towards local people. This becomes manifest today both in the material neglect of council estates as well as in state officials' reluctance to become implicated in social relations with and between residents. Third, I argue that this failure on the part of the state to attend to residents' demands often has onerous effects on people's lives. It not only exacerbates residents' exposure to insecurity and threat, but is also experienced as a moral affront which generates larger narratives of abandonment and betrayal. Theoretically, this dissertation critically discusses and challenges contrasting portrayals of the state, and of state-citizen relations, in two bodies of literature. On the one hand, in much of the sociological and anthropological literature on working class communities, authors have adopted a community-centred approach which has depicted working class communities as self-contained entities against which the state emerges as a distant or hostile entity. I argue that such a portrayal is premised upon a romanticised view of working class communities which neglects the intimate presence of the state in everyday life. On the other hand, the theoretical literature on the British state has adopted a state-centred perspective which has seen the state as a renewed source of order and authority in disintegrating communities today. My suggestion is that this portrayal rests upon a pathologising view of social decline which fails to account for the persistence of informal social relations and the challenges that these pose to the state's authority from below. Finally, moving beyond the community-centred and state-centred perspectives, I argue for the need to adopt a middle ground which combines an understanding of the nature and workings of informal relations with an acknowledgement of the ubiquity of the state. Such an approach allows us to recognise that, far from being a hostile entity or, alternatively, an uncontested source of order, the state occupies shifting positions within an overarching sociality of reciprocity and its associated demands for alliances and divisions. I refer to such an approach as the personalisation of the state.
Supervisor: Gellner, David ; Parkin, Robert Sponsor: German National Academic Foundation ; Wenner-Gren Foundation
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Public housing--Great Britain--Management--Citizen participation ; Public housing--Social aspects--Great Britain ; Public welfare--Great Britain--Case studies ; Community development--Great Britain--Social aspects ; Marginality ; Social--Great Britain--Case studies ; Great Britain--Social conditions--21st century