Sameness and community

Someone I know was saying that it seems like there is a sense that young people who come from families of intergenerational poverty who live in what could be called poor areas cannot ‘get on’ because moving on career wise or financially, even if not residentially, has a sense of leaving behind ‘your people’. It is not that nobody is allowed to move on, just it is not right to move on financially unless you take everybody with you. The account highlighted that for ‘the poor people’ the present is valued over the future. An explanation for this is more difficult as it could be a case of the future not being predictable or other/any aspirations not being meaningful. It is a complex situation as it appears that ‘the poor people’ not only cannot but will not ‘move on’ in a ‘middle-class’ sense because the two groups do not want the same things. There is difference not only in outcomes but rather in what it means to be a person within the ‘poor people’ group or ‘the middle class’ group. This person ended their account on what they probably saw as a hopeful note. Hope was brought into the conversation through the suggestion that the rich people have something to learn about belonging and real community from the poor.

This account is rather familiar to me and it has me wondering if we could look at the welfare state as a tool employed to encourage the same views of the future through the experience of participating/ inclusion in the present.

A question closer to my immediate research interest is, does increasing diversity in residential areas and developments so people have a shared residential location bring people into conversation? People want to live in areas that have people similar to them is a conclusion that Permentier, van Ham and Bolt (2008) take out of the literature looking at how people assess neighbourhoods. It is viewed as a helpful strategy for the poor by Cheshire (2007) and it makes sense when arguments are made for a stronger sense of community in the areas people live as (in the words of my supervisor) community needs something in common to hold it together. The experience of participating in education seems like a pretty safe starting point, but we know that even government primary schools do not usually have this range of diversity. The types of welfare policies advocated and sound bites provided by our politicians seem to provide little scope for shared experiences and shared interests.

So what do we do about the lack of sameness?

There is research which argues that a more equally society is better for everybody, and while I have not gotten my hands on a copy of this book, it seems like an ethical goal to strive towards. However, how do you end up with a more equal society? Isn’t diversity important? If we get the ‘poor people’ to just look to the same future as the middle class how will people get to learn about community?

Despite the hyperbolic and slightly sarcastic tone and word choice in this post, I think the questions around sameness and difference are central to human geography, urban planning and community development. The search for evidence of human diversity and universals underpinned early anthropology. Returning to the account above of intergenerational poverty, what do we do with such an account of difference? It is easy to romanticise the loyalty of ‘the poor’, lament the exclusion of the values and goals of ‘the poor’ when we think of what a good life is or just feel guilty that economic difference does result in real hardship. However, can we move past these responses. I think it is here that Cooper and Lousada’s use of psychoanalytic theory can be useful:

‘Guilt involves recognition of both the aggressive wish towards object [sic] and the wish that the object should survive. Both are kept in mind. Political correctness freezes the former in the service of supposedly strengthening the latter, but in the process products a sort of rigidity that disallows any more permeable attitude to change.’ (Cooper and Lousada 2005:100)

I am not sure if I managed to express anything in this post, but I think these are ideas I will continue to come back to. I think it is also important to note that my use of terms such as ‘the poor people’, ‘the middle class’ and ‘the rich people’ is quite intentional. I am not referring to real individuals, but rather real categories that I think a lot of people think with.

Cheshire, P. (2007). Segregated neighborhoods and mixed communities. Layerthorpe, Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Cooper, A. and J. Lousada (2005). Borderline welfare : feeling and fear of feeling in modern welfare. London ; New York, Karnac.

Permentier, M., M. Van Ham, et al. (2008). “Same Neighbourhood … Different Views? A Confrontation of Internal and External Neighbourhood Reputations.” Housing Studies 23(6): 833 – 855.

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