Community as micro-sociality and the new localism agenda


Principal Investigator: Professor Valerie Walkerdine
Co-investigators: Prof Graham Crow, Southampton then Edinburgh Universities; Dr Niamh Moore, Manchester University; Dr David Studdert, Cardiff University
Collaborators: Communities First, North Abergavenny Abergavenny Community Trust
Duration: From 2012 to 2013

The Big Society and localism agendas bring to the fore issues of how communities might operate within a time of austerity. This project addresses current concerns by using a theoretical approach to community which understands it as relational activity, the act of communing, which is the small everyday activity which makes up what counts as community. The importance of this lies in the way that it can understand communities not as broken or lacking, but as containing small everyday aspects of activity which can be developed and enhanced. The project approaches this by working with two community organisations in one town, Abergavenny, to produce an account of how community residents live their community sociality across time (historically) and through the space of the town’s geography.
We chose this location because it presents as a small town, not defined by deprivation or as scoring high on related indices. It thus provides a way to demonstrate how, nevertheless, the differentiation between state and community meanings, can, in the experience of the townspeople, hamper a local approach based on their own sense of their community and the actions through which it is created. Their own concerns and frustrations with the local state as currently expressed are the starting point for the project. Could a different approach to localism be built by understanding, mapping and enhancing communal meanings?
This approach to localism works across humanities and social sciences disciplines. By working together across the boundaries and edges of these disciplines we seek to provide a new way of thinking and working. The project engages with the arts to provide a way for local citizens to express their own feelings about their community and the meanings they create and that sustain them. Two partner community organisations produced their own arts-based interventions – wall hangings – building on community meeting and making sessions for one group, and a play about the local estate for the other. This led to a town meeting at which performance was used to heighten awareness of needs and ways for local people to address these.