The Flawed Concept Of Community Cohesion Criminology Essay

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In the summer of 2001, a series of riots took place in Bradford, Oldham, and Burnley, indicating how economic, social and cultural tensions can lead to community break down and disorder, (Building Cohesive Communities Report 2001). The problems in these communities are closely linked to ethnic minority groups. In response to such problems, the idea of 'community cohesion' has become prominent in many Government policies to 'help micro-communities to gel and mesh into an integrated whole', (Robinson D. 2005). However, community focused policies do not solve all urban problems, which shall be discussed in this essay.

Community as a concept has been long argued, 'community' may have first began at the beginning of the 21st century, emerging naturally in cities. On the other hand, it has been argued that they never existed and are an over-romanticized and meaningless concept, (Valentine G. 2001). Yeo and Yeo (1988; cited in Valentine 2001:111), believe that the idea of community as having a shared identity dates back to the 16th century. Even if the idea of community does not exist, its meaning has come under much critique. Smith (1999; cited in Valentine 2001:111), believes community is created through bonds which develop through a shared history, culture, mutuality, plurality, autonomy, participation and integration. Community has also been used interchangeable with neighbourhood; a community of networks, households, participation, social activities and belonging together (Valentine G. 2001). Though there are many definitions of community, its meaning often encompasses idea's of a shared culture, history, and heritage, which binds people into a sense of belonging.

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The 2001 riots demonstrate how problems can occur when factors which create community are worn away or absent. In the case of the riots, tensions over ethnicity eroded the spirit of the community, prompting the use of community cohesion policies in government plans. Community became a resource of resistance, so the state began to develop strategies of incorporation (Hoggett P. 1997)

Smith S. (1987) recognises ethnic tensions from post war times when black immigrants were encouraged to migrate to the UK to fill jobs. However, the apparent housing shortage at the time forced migrants into poor quality rented accommodation. Thus, creating a segregated ethnic community, of those forced to live in the poorest inner city neighbourhoods.

Historical tensions are also seen in the areas where the 2001 riots took place. Webster C. (2003) notes, that tension in these areas can be traced back to the first Asian immigrants of 1950's and 1960's. Conflicts arose over competition for housing and jobs between locals and the new immigrants. Further tensions arose from extremist activities, for example, the 'Bradford 12 conspiracy'; a group who said that they were defending their Asian community from Far Right threats (Webster C. 2003). Therefore historical events have formed ethnic tensions in these communities; both seen in the early black immigrants, and the Asian populations of the northern ex-textile towns. This explains to some extent why government policy has become focused on the concept of 'community cohesion'. As Smith S. (1987), points out; that at the time of the migration of blacks to the UK, the Government did nothing to improve the segregation and thought that dispersal would naturally occur, however, this has not happened.

In the cases of Bradford, Burnley and Oldham historical events and tensions will have contributed to the creation of community cohesion policies, but the events of the summer of 2001 were so overt and outstanding that official action was almost inevitable. Recent factors have contributed to the 2001 riots; the towns were highly deprived, unemployment was high, minorities were experiencing ethnic entrapment, rumours were spreading of possible of BNP and National Front marches, and policing of racist attacks had been inappropriate. Therefore, in the weeks leading up to the riots frustrations were exacerbated (Webster C. 2003). The attention and blamed was mainly placed on the Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities.

A further point to make is the issue of criminalisation of Asian youths. McGhee D. (2005) criticises the Home Affairs Committee for doing this; the committee suggest that the Government should engage with young Muslims and get them involved in community activities before extremist ideas reach them and youths become wrapped up in fundamentalist and extremist behaviour. Again, blame is placed upon Asian groups. This is highlighted by Alexander C. (2004), who believes that; the policy responses to the riots underpin dual strategies of criminalisation and containment on one hand, and community cohesion and citizenship training on the other. Alexander C. (2004) further argues that the understandings of culture and identity provide major conceptual stumbling blocks for the successful implementation of policies and at bridging lives. Furthermore, Asian cultures are seen as static and primordial so in a modern setting are essentially anachoristic. Thus, allowing the criminalisation of Asian youths to exist.

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Ethnic segregation is not a new concept, and is a major problem in some areas, especially in Bradford. Segregation of ethnic groups occurs mainly in residential areas. It is argued that Asians are 'self-segregating' or retreating to comfort zones, whilst others argue that housing organisations are discriminatory, thus creating ethnic minority areas. The Building Cohesive Communities report suggests that the reason for the self segregation of ethnic groups is based on individuals choosing to live with those who are like themselves, and with those who they share common interests with. This idea of wanting to be with others like one's self is related to notions of nostalgia and preserving links with a place of origin (Webster C. 2003) These links are maintained in places of worship, types of shops, restaurants, and in places where people can socialise with others similar to themselves. Thus, creating ethnic divides which are easily sustained.

Secondly, these groups may feel forced out of areas seen as 'white' and racist, and so, are trapped in sink estates in which they cannot leave (Webster C. 2003). Therefore, threats, harassment and violence are shaping the housing structure of communities (Robinson D 2005).

Housing policies and associations are very influential on the social set up of a community. Individuals involved in housing policies can be discriminatory in their actions, as Robinson D. (2005) further shows;

'Black lining activities of estate agents, revealed in the 1990's to involve the identification of certain neighbourhoods as unsuitable for minority ethnic settlement'.

Therefore, Government and local authorities have to look deeper into the underlying problems seen in housing policy which are inhibiting changes from occurring in the racial and ethnic patterns of the housing sector.

On the other hand, segregation also leads to mono-ethnic schools, jobs, shopping areas and restaurants. Therefore, meaning a lack of opportunities to meet others, which makes it very hard for the community as a whole (people from all ethnic backgrounds) to find shared values and identities. This suggests that action plans of community cohesion may not be flawed and could be what some areas need to bring together communities and to make common values.

Using the concept of community cohesion as a solution to urban community issues is analysed by Amin et al (2000). The Rogers report (cited in Amin 2000:1) presents the idea of an urban renaissance, which the report argues, must be central to local authorities and should receive support from community organisations of depressed neighbourhoods. The Rogers Report also refers to an 'urban harmony' where there is a balance between nature, the built environment, society, private and public community, work, travel, home and play. However, this is not to be true in modern cities today, as according to The Rogers Report; public space is the site of one group's dominance over others (Amin et al 2000). Thus the community should be seen in a democratic and balanced way if a town or city community are to be successful.

In the 1980's and 1990's 'community' as a concept has resurfaced according to Hoggett P. (1997); emphasis is being placed on rebuilding communities leading to an increased interest in communitarianism. Communitarianism, sees community as a resource that can be used to create a balanced and democratic society (Valentine G. 2001). Valentine, also relates this concept to the failings of western society, for example, the breakdown of the nuclear family, rise in criminality, cultural conflicts, social disorder and welfare dependency. Communitarianism takes a high moral view to how people in a community should be. It calls on members of the community to agree on what is right and what is wrong and then should be applied to the shared values to how they live their lives. Communitariamsm therefore gives a voice to everyone in the community not just to those in power and dominance (i.e. Government, local authorities).

Community cohesion has been successfully implemented in government policies and action plans to help reduce problems of ethnicity. A community cohesion based strategy has been adopted by the governments' Neighbourhood Renewal Scheme'. This national plan started in 2001 with the aim of using the power of partnership and the public and private community to work together for the benefit of the whole community to drive forward change, (Communities and local Government 2001). It stated that within ten to twenty years no-one should be seriously disadvantaged wherever they live. The neighbourhood renewal strategy was also successful in improving issues relating to ethnicity and race, the Communities and Local Government (2001) demonstrates this;

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'We are reducing perceptions of race discrimination and leading the work on creating more cohesive communities, tackling racism, extremism, promoting inter-faith activity and shared sense of belonging.'

Tackling society's problems needs the leadership of authoritative individuals, just as the neighbourhood renewal strategy has guidance from the government. Atkinson D. (2000) suggests that since the beginning of social time authoritative people have sustained and transmitted values of communal life. He calls for leaders to step forward to guide a communal renaissance, and one such way of achieving this is for schools to teach civics about the way we live and how to value each other.

This is exactly what has happened in Oldham, where the local schools have started a system called 'linking'. The idea was prompted by the frustrations of Asian parent's at 'white flight' (the out migration of white people from 'Asian' neighbourhoods) and racial bullying. Schools of white and Asian children are given joint lessons to hopefully develop real relationships between the different races over time. Chesshyre R. (2002), explains:

'The children learn that not all whites are racist bigots and not all Asians rioted last summer.'

The feedback from pupils, parents and staff has been positive, with pupils asking to meet each other outside of the classroom, (Chesshyre R. 2002). The success of such a scheme would question whether community cohesion is a flawed concept.

Local level approaches therefore might be key in solving racial and ethnicity problems. Another local level approach as Pacione M. (1997) explains, is the idea of the Community Enterprise Agency (CEA), who finance and set budgets on urban issues. The CEA have also set up Community Enterprise Zones, in which zones of need are indentified and are given benefits i.e. tax breaks.

Getting the whole community involved is obviously at the heart of community cohesion policies, and was the driving force behind Bristol's anti-racism agency. 'The Organisation of the Festival Against Racism', was aimed to overcome fragmentations of the Bristol community and to embed anti-racism into the lives of ordinary citizens, Hoggett P. (1997). The festival was developed by the Bristol Ant-Racist Alliance and encouraged everyone to get involved, by hosting open meetings for all, and positions and opportunities to take part in (Hoggett P.1997). The programme demonstrates how community can be reconnected whilst at the same time addressing the serious issue of racism present in their society.

Nevertheless, these methods of tackling community problems do not necessarily resolve issues of ethnic segregation. However the government and local authorities have put forward measures to try and resolve this issue. The housing action plan by the Office of The Deputy Prime Minister and Home Office, are approaching the problem by promoting community cohesion through housing policy and provision, Robinson D. (2005). Bradford's local authorities have carried out such an approach to reduce ethnic segregation. The authorities developed the 'Homehunter' scheme (cited in Robinson: 2005:1422) which aimed to improve the access to the socially rented housing sector and to open up tenure options. The programme was marketed at ethnic minorities and used a web-based property system. At first, feedback appeared positive, as the amount of minority applicants for housing increased by eight folds. However, the actual amount of lettings to minorities did not. The demand outstripped supply for properties close to the traditional population clusters. Those responsible for the scheme had not looked into issues of racialised spaces and 'white' areas, thus reducing housing opportunities, (Robinson D. 2005).

Further criticism can be made to government approaches to reduce racism and discrimination in the housing sector . To some extent discriminatory issues have been addressed by the Race Relations Legislation, which does stop the differential treatment of applicants on the grounds of race. However, it does not stop landlords from choosing which tenants they have, and these decisions could potentially be racist (Robinson D. 2005).

Methods of addressing urban ethnic issues such as community cohesion are suggested to be flawed . As the 'Homehunter' programme demonstrates, underlying issues of racist and white areas are often forgotten in community cohesion policies. Therefore multi-ethnic areas may not be the best way to reduce such urban problems, thus arguing that community cohesion is a flawed concept. This concurs with Brent (1997; cited in Hoggett; 1997:75); who explains that people create their own sense of identity on collective boundaries and use these identities to differentiate from others. The rejection of 'others' or of those who are different to us ironically creates a community of shared values, and by doing so, rejects community cohesion as a problem solving concept. Furthermore, The BNE led housing association (cited in Robinson: 2005:1423), says that the most sustainable and easy to manage estates are mono-cultural. Questions arise to whether what is actually needed is separation, rather than forcing communities to mix together.

Robinson D. (2005) criticises the idea of multi-racial societies and the idea that this will ease ethnic tensions, as this requires conditions of: intimate contact, equal status participants, and integration which is institutionally sanctioned. But, as Robinson (2005) concludes; these conditions rarely apply in everyday life. Similarly, Young M. (1990) criticised ideas of communitarianism, as it privileges unity over difference and generates exclusion. According to this belief community is an unrealistic vision as people will always perceive and experience community differently.

The local level approaches to tackle urban divisions such as the Community Enterprise Agency and Enterprise zones are criticised as they can not be resourced from existing public expenditure. The funds that are available only cover the short- term approaches and pay off debt of other spending, as Pacione M. (1997:340) says;

'Public spending should be reoriented towards investment for future success rather than paying the price for the past failures.'

Despite all efforts to bring about togetherness in communities, the government have been criticised for their responses to racial and ethnicity problems. The Rogers Report misses the ethnicity side of cities and the fact that people do not want to mix due to fear of racial attacks (Amin et al 2000). Amin, concludes that if the document is going to be as central to the government as it is, then the absence of race and ethnic issues must be noted. Furthermore the government is looking for ways to make everyone the same rather than embracing the difference in ethnic groups. Alexander C. (2004), disputes David Blunkett's statement that, minorities must adopt British values and norms. Therefore, community cohesion is a way of forcing people to conform to what the government sees as right rather than looking deeper into the actual problems of race and ethnicity.

It is evident that social and cultural problems do exist in the UK today. A major concern lies in the ethnic minority groups of towns and cities. This is particularly so in the ex-textile towns of Bradford, Burnley and Oldham, which experienced riots blamed on ethnic tensions. Ethnic segregation of these towns had to be addressed and the government has to some extent approached these issues by focusing on the community and the concept of community cohesion. In some cases this has been successfully implement, for example; the Neighbourhood renewal scheme has reduced perceptions of race discrimination and created a shared sense of belonging. Secondly the children of Oldham are being educated to accept difference and to build relationships by the 'linking' scheme. This breaks down the barriers which are difficult to cross due to the ethnic segregation of housing, education and employment in that area.

In contrast, the concept of community cohesion has received much criticism and appears to be flawed. Problems occur over funding and producing plans which will have long term positive effects. Furthermore, mono-ethnic cities are easier to maintain and reduce the chances of racism, BNE (2004; cited in Robinson 2005:1423). Community cohesion may not be what is needed, trying to force people to adopt the same norms and values as David Blunkett has suggested, is not addressing the deep rooted issues of housing discrimination and historically bound notions of race and ethnicity. In conclusion, to some extent communities are beginning to resolve some ethnic and race related problems though community cohesion strategies. Nevertheless, the concept has received much critique and therefore is flawed in its ability to address all urban community problems.