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14 - The policy agenda for community-based transformation

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 April 2023

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Summary

The politics of community

We have seen in this volume how a range of approaches can help engender community-based transformation that will substantially improve people's quality of life. In this concluding chapter, we will consider how these approaches should be brought together in a unified policy agenda.

One of the first steps to take is to distinguish this agenda from others that talk up the importance of ‘community’ but intend to treat communities in ways that are quite dissimilar, even inimical in some cases, to the options we propose. These fall broadly into four categories:

  • • ‘Traditional’ communities: champion and reinforce selected customs and power relationships in the name of traditional values; and dismiss concerns about prejudices and oppressive structures as misguided liberal/cosmopolitan objections.

  • • ‘Autonomous’ communities: advocate the rolling back of rules and regulations in the name of freedom for communities and their members; and dismiss concerns about harmful consequences as matters that should be left to communities to address.

  • • ‘Supplicant’ communities: highlight the needs of disadvantaged communities and focus on helping them with centrally directed programmes; and dismiss concerns with top-down solutions as an unwarranted distrust of state intervention.

  • • ‘Philanthropic’ communities: praise communities for helping those in need and increasingly leave them to deal with problems on their own; and dismiss concerns about inadequate responses as driven by preference for big government spending.

When political speeches and policy proposals invoking the notion of ‘community’ are actually based on the ideas in one or another of these four categories, they can have two potentially undesirable effects. On the one hand, people could be misled into thinking they herald support for genuine community-based transformation when their trajectories point in quite different directions. On the other hand, people might become so averse to such ‘community’ invocation that they assume that any agenda for community-based transformation must be more of the same of these types of ideas.

The politics of community can be interpreted in contrasting terms (Frazer and Lacey, 1993; Tam, 2019b), and unless we have a clearly formulated and articulated reform agenda, it is all too easy for the public to end up backing the wrong options, or backing away from the recommendations they ought to take on board

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Tomorrow's Communities
Lessons for Community-Based Transformation in the Age of Global Crises
, pp. 235 - 250
Publisher: Bristol University Press
Print publication year: 2021

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