Miller and Rose: The Birth of the Community

May 14, 2010 — Leave a comment

“Consider the contemporary salience of the vocabulary of community care, community homes, community workers, community safety, for example. Consider the emergence of the idea of risk communities – drug abusers, gay men, carriers of particular genes, youth at risk…All these seem to signal that ‘the social’ may be giving way to ‘the community’ as a new territory for the administration of individual and collective existence.” (p88)

What really interests me about the Food Not Bombs community is that they are defining themselves as a community by rejecting these notions of community boundaries. The Food Not Bombs ‘anyone is welcome’ policy actually works in practice in large part due to their lack of bureaucracy and lack of outspoken ideology. In a broad sense the Food Not Bombs community can be defined as a community according to older political notions: “By the 1960’s, community was already being invoked by sociologists as a possible antidote to the loneliness and isolation of the individual generated by ‘mass society’.” (p89) The irony here is that according to the article, ideas around community were conceived to combat bureaucracy, and in contemporary times bureaucracy still intervenes, and notions of community still battle alienation.

“Communities became zones to be investigated, mapped, classified, documented, interpreted, their vectors explained to enlightened professionals-to-be in countless college courses and to be taken into account in numberless encounters between professionals and their clients, whose individual conduct is now to be made intelligible in terms of the beliefs and values of ‘their community’.” (p89)

This article documents one of the most important aspects of community that I’ve noticed since looking into boarding houses and charity organisations; that at some point bureaucracies lost touch with effectiveness on the ground and not necessarily through a lack of action but rather through some kind of intellectualisation: “community is now something to be programmed by Community Development Programmes, developed by Community Development Officers, policed by Community Police, guarded by Community Safety Programmes and rendered knowable by sociologists pursuing ‘community studies’.” (p89)

In one of my interviews, it is pointed out that people below the safety net in society are quite often reminded of their social position at just about every interaction they have. It is the purpose of Food Not Bombs to leave demographic at the doorstep and create an atmosphere of social equality. When community was intellectualised in the 1960’s, it served to help a rapid social change across many cultures, especially in the west. However, many years on it seems that the use of the community concept in certain areas can serve to alienate people yet again, if only by reaffirming possible negative overtones regarding particular groups. An interesting and current example of this can be seen in the movement to allow gay marriage. By not being allowed to marry, a particular tone is ascribed to the ‘gay community’ further highlighting community borders and boundaries. However, it seems to me that community is the most powerful way to organise and map the always changing demographics and notions of identity within society: “Ones communities are nothing more – or less – than those networks of allegiance with which one identifies existentially, traditionally, emotionally or spontaneously, seemingly beyond and above any calculated assessment of self interest.” (p91)

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