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Humpty Dumpty meets CoCo the Clown…


What Price Community Cohesion?

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone. “It means just what I choose it to mean – neither more or less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master – that’s all.”
Lewis Carroll

Isn’t it odd that, more than 12 years after New Labour came to power, civil servants with responsibility for promoting cohesion are still afraid to construe their work in terms of society and the social? Is it (still) for fear that a genuine fire-breathing socialist might thereby be unleashed? Or does the spectre of the Iron Lady still haunt their corridors?

Somehow or other, there is a double-think that encourages ordinary people, who are employed by businesses, play for sports teams or worship in congregations, to describe their lives in terms of their communities.

This problem gets in the way of good work being done to use the government’s anti radicalisation programme to help all sorts of communities in towns and cities up and down the land.

Of course, we live in and belong to groups in society. They can be analysed using  the concept of communities – of interest and of place – but the goal of government, surely, is to weld these together into a society that is active, engaging and inclusive.

With the promotion of community as a concept of greater importance than the component parts it represents, we get factionalisation, as well as a cheapening of the language.

In a recent research study, we ( asked those responsible for community development and community cohesion what they meant by the word ‘community’ and everybody had a different definition. We also asked them to define what they meant by a cohesive community and how it was different from a strong community. Worryingly, there was very little difference between the definitions they drew up for the two.

In everyday speech, I do not think that people talk about a ‘cohesive’ community. The notion of a cohesive community is an artificial construct of the post-Prevent world.

Yet, there is a very important difference between these ideas. A cohesive community has been defined by the government as one which is mutually respectful and inclusive of difference. A strong community is simply one that has strength. Clearly, these are not the same thing

We should always be suspicious when governments try to re-shape our language with new meanings or invented words and the CoCo concept is one such muddle that comes solely from the Westminster village.

There is a lovely word – to cohere – which derives from co– (together) and haerere (to cling). We cling together. We are social animals. Without each other we are insignificant. Collectively, we have so much. That surely is the spirit of what we should be discussing.

Yet, if you look deeper into this notion, you find that the verb to cohere has two distinct meanings:

1. To stick or hold together in a mass that resists separation.

2. To have internal elements or parts logically connected so that consistency results (ie all the parts properly working together)

While the latter describes a coherent community, the former is the cohesive one. The problem is that the government is trying to persuade us that we ought to have the one – attainable with rational planning – whilst calling it the other. Cohesive societies – using the dictionary definition – are actually most often found in oppressed societies at times of great adversity.

What our local government officials were condemning as perhaps dangerously strong communities were actually very cohesive… but not all that coherent!

Perhaps it is time now for us to return to the the notion of a strong and weak communities, on the one hand, and coherent and cohesive societies, on the other. Then one word wouldn’t need to mean so many things, and we wouldn’t have to worry so much about whether the thought police were on our tails…

It is a nice thought, isn’t it…that we cling together to survive?

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