Spookily, the BBC have done a big feature on ‘community’ a day or so after Sanna raised the issue on her blog and prompted much discussion. Off the back of this Lucy notes that she’s now from the North. But I want to expression confusion at the central premise behind all this, as summarised by the BBC’s Mark Easton:
In particular, the study focuses on the concept of “anomie”, a measure of people’s sense of – or lack of – belonging to where they live.
Perhaps we’re forgetting that ‘belonging’ to a geographical location is just as imagined a community as any other. Perhaps it would be possible, theoretically, to actually know and interact with everyone on your street or in your small village. But there’s no way this can be plausibly extended to even fairly small regions: I may feel I ‘belong’ to Willesden, Brent or London, but it’s just that: a feeling within me. And whilst it’s probably obvious to most people that we need to feel we ‘belong’ to some sort of community – or communities – why does it need to be geographic?
In fact, I would argue that to place the focus on geography is profoundly limiting. Not only does it creates needless tension against immigration but – ultimately – isn’t it lonelier to be restricted to a far smaller pool of people in which to find others who share interests, outlooks and activities? Transport, urbanisation and communication – especially online – provide the tools to overcome the harsh limits of geography whilst providing for all-important real world interaction. Does this mean that people and families are less committed to their immediate neighbourhoods leading to a suffering in community life, as Easton suggests? Well only if you equate ‘immediate neighbourhoods’ with ‘community life’ it does. But if the evidence is that immediate neighbourhoods are less important to people than previously then why is this such a problem?
(Incidentally, if you’re looking for causes as to why this is supposedly* happening, may I draw you away from the wild conspiracies floating around and – for once – suggest that class is actually a pretty relevant factor. Research suggests that the middle class tends to maintain a more diverse range of close contacts from different areas of life – school, university, work, random-guy-I-met-online and so on – and it’s hardly news to suggest that recent decades have seen a big expansion of the middle class.)
*I say ‘supposedly’ because you could probably have written this story at any point over the past couple of centuries.