Anne-Marie Fortier – Sociology, Lancaster University
In this paper I discuss how ‘cohesion’ figures in government policy strategies targeted at local communities and neighbourhoods. By going to the ‘ways of seeing’ that policy documents open up, I consider how policy discourses ‘figure social life in certain imaginary ways’ (Butler 2002). I argue that community cohesion is a governing strategy that designs particular groups and practices both in and out of the social space of locality. Defined most recently as promoting ‘safe and tolerant communities that are close, vibrant [and] resilient’ (Cabinet Office 2007), cohesion is conceived as the antidote to violence, conflict and the threats posed my terrorism and extremism. In this paper, I consider how the politics of community cohesion have shifted, since 2001, from celebrating diversity as an asset to making diversity a destabilising factor for local communities. I consider the implications of this shift in the reconfiguration of Britain’s multicultural ethnoscape, which is refracted through class, race, gender and generation (note that I will not have time to develop all of these in the paper). Overall, I argue that policy discourses on community cohesion discursively emplace individuals within webs of social or institutional interactions that prescribe ways of living (together) and feeling for the community. Thus the management of diversity is not only about the management of encounters in literal spatial forms (such as linking projects bussing kids between ‘faith schools’) but these relations are imagined through specific emotional and ethical injunctions such as mixing, tolerance and adhering to ‘core civic values’. Moreover, these injunctions are imagined in the ambivalent spatial terms of obligations to and dangers of proximity.