Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Reading Les Back’s ‘New Ethnicities’ (1996)

April 15, 2009

First day back after a break but campus is still shut so I’ve had a reading day and made good on my intention to read Les Back’s New ethnicities (1996). In some ways it’s now a bit dated; the research that forms the basis of the book took place nearly twenty years ago and the young people described will almost all be in their thirties by now. But in other ways it is just as relevant now as it was when it came out. First the need to ‘steer a course’ between free-floating post-structuralist utopian models of identity and the on-the-ground reality of essentialising discourses is as real as ever, particularly if one believes that one impact (or indeed cause) of the terrorist attacks of the early 21st century has been the hardening of some of the latter. Second, the idea of ‘community’ as a discursive construct that in certain circumstances can be infused with an unspoken racism (particularly when community is perceived as a feature of a lost (white) ‘golden age’) is very important for us to bear in mind when we start thinking about how we and others have mobilized notions of ‘community’ in our research.

On the subject of communities, reading the book now, the “neighbourhood nationalism” Back identifies as a positive force in one of his sites, since it more or less transcends racial categories (‘The definition of who belonged in the national community was shrunk to the size of the neighbourhood. “Belonging” was thus determined by length of residence and commitment to the area’ (p. 240) i.e. not by ethnic background), seems worryingly to foreshadow the kind of thinking that in some very similar areas has mutated into the ‘postcode wars’ I’ve written about before. In this light I can’t help but find the parochialism Back welcomes as a prefiguring a form of post-racist community troubling.

However, Back’s research makes a strong case for ethnography as one of the few methods equipped to trace the semantic variations of these concepts, particularly since it is well placed to draw attention to the different contexts in which certain registers of language are used. Although as an ethnographer I would have appreciated more transparency about research methods; how much did the young people know/understand about his research? And whilst Back is present in the text in a reflexive manner, there are certain passages, for example documenting banter between groups of friends, where he makes himself invisible in a way I find mildly disingenuous (although I suspect this just reflects the ethnographic writing conventions of the time). And how did he make the leap from the mass of data to the conceptual framework he elaborates on the basis of this data? Not telling us doesn’t make for a weaker argument – but doing so might better enable his readers’ to reflect on their own research practice.

Heritage, interestingly, does not seem to play a big part in the ethnicities Back documents, except perhaps in two forms: the cultural memory of a ‘golden age’ of working-class life (in the construction of white ethnicities) and as music, seen as the primary site for the consumption and expression of new ethnicities. Has this changed in the intervening years, I wonder? Music is obviously there, strongly, in the background of our research but none of our participants see it, I think, as the primary vehicle for their identities, which are articulated across a much wider range of cultural practices (performance poetry, theatre, video, photography, dress, food, religious observance etc.)


Conference Report: Living Cultures: Contemporary Ethnographies of Culture

April 1, 2009

For the last two days I have been at this conference, organised by the Institute for Communication Studies at the University of Leeds. I was there to present a paper setting out how we are using ethnography as a research method for the study of community archives. My paper was entitled ‘Owning the past, imagining the future: towards an ethnography of heritage practices in a community context.’ One reason for presenting the paper was to road-test some ideas for a methodology paper, which we will use to make the case for the extension of ethnographic methods in heritage studies. In my paper I used the following quote from McKemmish et al.:

Archival ethnography could be used to study cultures of documentation, the forms of records and archives, the recordkeeping and archiving processes that shape them, the worldviews made manifest in their systems of classification, the power configurations they reflect, and associated memory and evidence paradigms. (Sue McKemmish, Anne Gilliland-Swetland and Eric Ketelaar, ‘“Communities of Memory”: Pluralising Archival Research and Education Agendas, Archives and Manuscripts 33 (2005): 146-174).

Whilst the agenda they set out is exciting, their statement continues to reflect a set of possibilities, rather than describe an existing research field.

Overall, I was disappointed by the fact not to find more people working on cultural heritage and the ways in which the past is mined by individuals and groups for its symbolic content. There was one paper on museums, but this dealt with visitor responses to contemporary art and the challenge of developing an ethnography of the senses (a theme of the conference, following Les Back’s exhortation in his opening address to a ‘sensuous scholarship’), rather than encounters with historic material. Moreover, my paper did not give rise to much discussion, possibly because there was too much contextual information and not enough of the ethnographic detail that tends to pique the interest of listeners, but also possibly because I spoke first in a panel of four and questions were left to the end… Surprisingly, perhaps the paper that mostly closely echoed my concerns was a paper on the way that nostalgia for a lost golden age of white working-class heroes is used to maintain rugby league as a space of hegemonic whiteness. The consequence, as Stan Timmins put it is a racism that is, “like the wind: you can feel it as a black person, but you can’t see it.” But the vast majority of papers were much more concerned with cultural experience and production in the here and now, rather than the use of the past as a resource.

There was however a lot to take away from a methodological point of view. Here are a few things that I picked up, in no particular order:

¨ No one has, as yet, come up with a satisfactory method for conducting ethnographies of online communities (it’s not just me not knowing where to look!). This wasn’t always explicit in people’s papers, but was discussed quite freely over coffee. Even multi-media scholars are by no means sure how to track web interactions, and are particularly troubled by how to account for ‘passive’ web use, that is to say, visiting pages without necessarily commenting on them (an activity which still fosters identity construction).

¨ The enormous range and potential of non-textual ethnographic output. Over the course of two days I saw photos, video, animation, stills from ‘ethno’-theatre productions and fragments of art installations that all seek to translate research data into new media to facilitate their communication. As a creative practice in its own right ethnography is clearly thriving. I’m not sure how I could use these kinds of methods myself, at least in our current project, where it seems to me that our research participants have certain expectations with regard to our outputs and want us to generate material that offers them some form of institutional legitimation. But it highlight the extent to which ethnographic methods can feed into creative outputs both inside and outside the academy; the only limiting factor is the imagination (and technical skills – I could never shoot photos as carefully lit and composed as some of those I saw) of the researcher.

¨ Ethnography, as a research tool, may only be able to offer limited responses to the question of the ‘social impact’ of culture. This partly derives from the multiple difficulties associated with defining and measuring ‘social impact’, but also from the lack of fit between criteria established by government and what participants themselves value, which is what ethnography seeks to format. A visitor to an exhibition or a gig-goer is not going to tell you what s/he learned or how the visit enhanced their social capital, unless prompted in some very artificial ways. They’re going to tell you how they felt, or what thoughts a performance or image triggered. And it’s hard to squeeze the diversity of these responses into the categories of formal ‘impact’ evaluation. Moreover, as Victoria Foster pointed out in an inspiring presentation on her use of drama with Sure Start families, to engage with ‘impact’ assessment often requires us to use the language of capital, which, even in the Bourdieusian sense, can be deeply uncomfortable, suggesting the reduction of human difference to sets of quantifiable attributes that allow individuals to be situated within a logic of capitalist production, or as “means to an end” rather than an end in themselves (a point Foster illustrated with reference to the work of Kathleen Lynch).

¨ Following on from this, the importance of ‘attentive listening’ (as characteristic of ethnography) was emphasized on several occasions (not least by Les Back). However, as we were reminded in the closing plenary session, attentive listening does not just mean sympathetic nodding in agreement; it also means opening up critique, both in the conventional sense of deconstructing the worldview of participants but also in terms of challenging academic colleagues and allowing contrasting interpretations not just to coexist but sometimes actively to clash.

¨ Through a commitment to listening ethnography may yet do something that, in Les Back’s view theories of ethnicity and difference have thus far spectacularly failed to do and that is “to provide robust descriptions” of how people live “across difference”, a point he illustrated with reference to a south-east London market trader, who happily reconciled his laments for a lost white working-class with his children’s marriages to foreigners and cheerful interactions with his customers from all over the world. (Back’s work I think will be essential holiday reading before I start with Eastside…)

¨ And finally, generating these descriptions, whatever form they may take, also needs, to be fun. As Victoria Foster, citing Peter Reason, noted, the questions we should be asking of our research are, fundamentally “What injustice and suffering does it address?” but also “What joy does it bring?”

In the plenary session mention was also made of the fact that few of the papers had referenced ethnographic precedents. I’m fairly confident I’ve read everything in archival ethnography (not hard!), and I’ve yet to read anything that matches Georgina Born’s Rationalizing Culture (see my post on it here) for sound empirical research linked to serious intellectual work (Born was sadly unable to make the conference due to ill health, to everyone’s great disappointment) but nevertheless, I came away with a number of ideas for reading, based on citations from papers:

Back, Les, New ethnicities and urban culture: racisms and multiculture in young lives. New York : St. Martin’s Press, 1996.

Burawoy, Michael eds, Global ethnography: forces, connections, and imaginations in a postmodern world, Berkeley, Calif. ; London : University of California Press, 2000.

eds Reason, Peter and Hilary Bradbury, The handbook of action research: participative inquiry and practice, London : SAGE, 2001.

Stewart, Kathleen, Ordinary affects, Durham, N.C.; London: Duke University Press, 2007.

A space on the side of the road : cultural poetics in an “other” America, Princeton: Princeton University Press,1996.

And for a long time I’ve been wanting to read Danny Miller’s latest book, The comfort of things, Cambridge: Polity, 2008. (Although in the current circumstances Miller, Daniel, Capitalism: an ethnographic approach, Oxford ; Washington, D.C : Berg , 1997 might be a better place to start…).

All additional suggestions gratefully received…

New book on heritage and identity

January 6, 2009

Routledge have just published a very interesting looking new book in the ‘Museum Meanings’ series, edited by Marta Anico and Elsa Peralta:

Full details are available here.

I’ll be reading this as soon as the library has processed its copy so will try to post a review.


Book Launch and Symposium: New Geographies of Race and Racism

December 8, 2008

Title: Book Launch ans symposium: New Geographies of Race and Racism
Location: Wilkins Old Refectory, Gower Street, UCL
Description: New Geographies of Race and Racism

* Imprint: Ashgate
* Published: September 2008

* Edited by Claire Dwyer and Caroline Bressey, University College London, UK

In recent years geographers interested in ethnicity, \’race\’ and racism have extended their focus from examining geographies of segregation and racism to exploring cultural politics, social practice and everyday geographies of identity and experience. This edited collection illustrates this new work and includes research on youth and new ethnicities; the contested politics of \’race\’ and racism; intersections of ethnicity, religion and \’race\’ and the theorisation and interrogation of whiteness. Case studies from the UK and Ireland focus on the intersections of \’race\’ and nation and the specificities of place in discourses of racilisation and identity. A key feature of the book is its engagement with a range of methodological approaches to examining the significance of race including ethnography, visual methodologies and historical analysis.

Contents: Introduction: island geographies: new geographies of race and racism, Claire Dwyer and Caroline Bressey; Part 1 Racing Histories and Geographies: Whiteness and the West, Alastair Bonnett; It\’s only political correctness – race and racism in British history, Caroline Bressey; Belonging in Britain – father\’s hands, Ingrid Pollard; On the significance of being white: European migrant workers in the British economy in the 1940s and 2000s, Linda McDowell. Part 2 Race, Place and Politics: East End Bengalis and the Labour party – the end of a long relationship?, Sarah Glynn; Integration and the politics of visibility and invisibility in Britain: the case of British Arab activists, Caroline Nagel and Lynn A. Staeheli; One Scotland, Many Cultures: the mutual constitution of anti-racism and place, Jan Penrose and David Howard; Politics, race and nation: the difference that Scotland makes, Peter Hopkins; Managing \’race\’ in a divided society: a study of race relations policy in Northern Ireland, Peter Geoghgan; Race and immigration in contemporary Ireland, Una Crowley, Mary Gilmartin and Rob Kitchin; The \’new geography\’ of ethnicity in England and Wales?, Michael Poulsen and Ron Johnston; The problem with segregation: exploring the racialisation of space in Northern Pennine towns, Deborah Phillips; After the cosmopolitan? New geographies of race and racism, Mike Keith. Part 3 Race, Space and \’Everyday\’ Geographies: The precarious and contradictory moments of existence for an emergent British Asian gay culture, Camilia Bassi; Encountering South Asian masculinity through the event, Jason Lim; Everyday multiculture and the emergence of race, Dan Swanton; Everyday geographies of marginality and encounter in the multicultural city, John Clayton; Young people\’s geographies of racism and anti-racism: the case of North East England, Anoop Nayak; Investigations into diasporic \’cosmopolitanism\’: beyond mythologies of the \’non-native\’, Divya P. Tolia-Kelly; Afterword: new geographies of race and racism, Peter Jackson; Index.

About the Editor: Dr Claire Dwyer is a Senior Lecturer and Dr Caroline Bressey is a Lecturer, both in the Department of Geography, University College London, UK

Reviews: \’This volume will find a firm and deserved place in the literature on geographies of race and racism. It stimulates reflections on geographical, political and policy discourses on race, reminds us of the historicity of ideas about race and racism, draws attention to the microgeographies of everyday life to demonstrate how ideas of race are made and remade, and frames new debates about a \”post-race\” politics. The essays are thoughtful and incisive, and stimulate questions well beyond Britain.\’
Lily Kong, National University of Singapore

\’The complex, theoretically divergent contributions in this edited volume dissect contemporary, but always historicised, geographies of race and anti-racism in the UK and the Republic of Ireland. They are a must read for advocates of space and place based studies concerning current political and policy based issues.\’
Linda Peake, York University, Canada

Start Time: 15:00
Date: 2008-12-17
End Time: 17:00

Forthcoming events from rukus!

October 7, 2008

Rukus! has a busy calendar of forthcoming events. In addition to the Black History Month event ‘Lambeth’s Black Queer Pulse‘, here are the details of two forthcoming workshops. Title: Open Space 2 Location: Museum of London, London Wall, EC2Y 5HN Description: From rukus!

An event to explore and share the histories of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities connected to Soho and the West End. OPEN SPACE 2 aims to uncover Soho and the West End’s Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans histories.

We want to learn more about individuals, events, activists, scientists, artists, dancers and musicians who have visited Soho from the early 19th Century up to the present day. This will be an ideal opportunity for you to share your knowledge, stories and memories – bring photos, newspaper articles, books if you have them. OPEN SPACE 2 is the second part of a unique collaborative project between Kairos in Soho and Ajamu X, photographer, and co- founder of the rukus! Black LGBT Archive. If you are interested in this project and would like to know more about this ground-breaking project, please feel free to contact Ajamu X or David Spence or telephone the office on 020 7437 6063 Claire Andrews and Ajamu XThe first part of this project saw Ajamu X interview lesbian activist Claire Andrews, recording some of her inspiring contributions to the LGBT community. Excerpts of the interview will be available on the website soon. It is hope that the histories gathered from this project will enhance current archive materials and highlight the important contributions of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic LGBT people.

Start Time: 14:00 Date: 2008-10-19 End Time: 17:00 Title: Personal Archives for Beginners: Workshop series led by Ajamu from rukus! Location: Positive East, Stepney Green, 159 Mile End Road, E1 4AQ Description: The workshops are free, and are open to gay and bisexual men of all ethnic backgrounds, regardless of HIV status. From Workshops on Thursdays


Map your own history by revisiting some of the letters, photographs, stubs, journals and other memorabilia you’ve saved over the years. The workshop will encourage you to explore your lived history in stimulating, exciting and unusual ways. You’ll learn how to work with collage, photos, oral testimonies, walking tours, scrapbooks and memory boxes and whatever it takes to create your own personal (or family and community) archive for posterity.

Start Time: 18:30 Date: 2008-10-23 (first workshop) End Time: 21:00

UPDATE Rukus press release for event on 21 October .

New book on identity

September 24, 2008

I’ve just seen this new reader advertised:

The list of contributors is impressive and I’d be particularly interested to read Jessica Evans’ chapter ‘Cathected Identities: Governance and Community Activism’. There does appear to be a strong Freudian dimension to the analysis, which is also interesting, and perhaps reflects the authors’ background in cultural studies.


Review: Radicals Against Race

September 22, 2008

I’ve just finished reading Radicals Against Race (Oxford: Berg, 2002) a very interesting book by Brian Alleyne, a lecturer in sociology at Goldsmiths College. Alleyne’s book explores the history and politics of what he terms the ‘New Beacon Circle’ (the collective of activists around what is now the George Padmore Institute) from a (relative) insider’s perspective; the book is based on the ethnographic fieldwork he conducted for his PhD, which included time spent volunteering in the Institute / bookshop and long hours interviewing John la Rose.

Alleyne’s book is fascinating as a model for thinking about how we research the use of history as a resource in a political context. This is a fundamental issue in thinking about evaluating the impact of community archives. Indeed, he refers to history as an ‘important resource and terrain of imagination and action’ (p.179) for the circle and elaborates a useful dialogical model of the role of historical narrative subject construction:

In producing historical and biographical narratives they [the members of the New Beacon Circle] bring a political subject into being; in turn, that new political subject, which exists in the identities and sense of community that the circle construct in their activist work, facilitates the continued production of historical and biographical narratives. (p.2)

One aspect of what, following Eyerman & Jamison (Social Movements: A Cognitive Approach, Cambridge: Polity, 1991) he terms the activists’ ‘cognitive praxis’ (or in other words, reflexive practice geared towards the construction of meanings, specifically, revised self-understandings accounting for the impact of colonialism) was the management of information, both through computer systems and in the archive. Indeed, one section of chapter three focuses specifically on the archive project and includes interesting insights into the suspicion with which many (but not all) professional archivists treated the GPI’s ‘DIY’ archive (p.102) and the importance of retaining control over the material: as he cites John la Rose, ‘You should not depend on an establishment with which you are at times in conflict for the validation of your history and culture’ (p.124). He also confirms one of our own provisional findings, which is that committed activists – whether focused on heritage or any other sector – often pay a price for their engagement, such as ‘following relatively precarious occupations’ or ‘subordinating career development’ (p.171).

Whilst there are some areas in which Alleyne’s research supports our own his book and other articles (e.g. ‘An idea of community and its discontents: towards a more reflexive sense of belonging in multicultural Britain’, Ethnic and Racial Studies 25.4 (2002), pp.607-627) really force us to confront the assumptions underlying our research design. The challenge to our thinking can be divided into two fairly fundamental areas: community and identity.

1) Community

The crux of Alleyne’s argument is the view that the concept of ‘community’, when applied to BME ‘communities’ reproduces ‘historically and theoretically untenable notions of immutable difference’ (‘An idea’: 609). He supports this view with reference to the historical development of the concept of ‘community’ in Anthropology and Sociology, both of which disciplines historically placed ‘communities’ before Western society on a scale of evolutionary progress: ‘community’ is therefore intrinsically the property of the ‘exotic’ other, distanced either in time (sociology) or space (anthropology). Whilst I agree with his argument in so far as it relates to a mode of academic discourse and its reproduction in public policy (where to be white is often to be first and foremost a member of society, rather than a ‘community’ – for example on the census) I think we can justify our use of the term by noting that the interest in ‘community’ archives comes not out of the language of public policy but out of a more grassroots movements. The ‘communities’ that hold archives are by no means necessarily non-white – often quite the opposite. The ‘community’ in the phrase ‘BME community archives’ is must more firmly articulated with archives rather than ‘BME’: i.e we are looking at the ‘community archives’ of BME groups not the ‘archives’ of BME ‘communities’. But this is a subtle and hard-to-maintain distinction. Carrying the language of community over into the world of black subjectivities may have more serious ramifications than we had at first imagined.

For what its worth, Alleyne does not entirely dismiss the idea of community but rather notes that it needs to be reconceptualized in ‘more fluid terms’ (‘An idea’ p.619). One of the examples he cites is Miller and Slater’s work on the Internet in Trinidad, in which ‘community’ is reconstructed in ways that transcend the classic imaginings of social scientists. Archives, as an alternative locus of information exchange, could perhaps also facilitate this reimagining, rather than reinforcing old prejudices.

2) Identity

Alleyne begins his book with an epigraph that sets up a direct confrontation with our research ontology. Citing the French sociologist Alain Touraine (Can we live together? Equality and difference. Cambridge: Polity, 2000) he states, ‘we can live together only if we lose our identity.’ Coming as I do from a background in French Studies I find this citation deeply problematic; I don’t know the precise context of Touraine’s statement but nine times out of ten, what underlies such views when voiced in France is a model of assimilation: some people – particularly those who are not white and/or not Catholic – tend to be seen as having a lot more losing of identity to do than those who are… However, I am symathetic to Alleyne’s personal positioning, which he also sees as that of the New Beacon Circle: a non-identitarian critical humanism. When the New Beacon Circle have explicity positioned themselves within black politics (e.g. in setting up the Black Parents Movement) this is neither because of any perceived essential difference, nor indeed out of subservience for an ideology of black power; rather, it is a form of ‘tactical essentialism’, focusing on the prejudices that underpin inequality. Overall, however, ‘against the grain in much contemporary Black identity politics, the circle turn their backs on the allure of race, to borrow Gilroy’s (2000) phrase’ (p.180). The ultimate goal is the construction of inclusive, transracial, transcultural social identities. ‘Black was the means to an end, not the end in itself’ (‘An idea’ 2002 p.620).


Catching History on the Wing: conference and book launch

September 8, 2008

Title: Catching History on the Wing
Description: A conference on the fight against racism – past and future – to mark 50 years of the Institute of Race Relations.

* Saturday 1 November 2008, 1-6pm
* Hamilton House, Mabledon Place, London WC1H 9BD

Speakers include:

* Welcome address – Lord Herman Ouseley
* Screening of Colin Prescod’s remastered film From you were Black, you were out on Notting Hill in the 1950s and \’60s
* Launch of Catching History on the Wing [Pluto Press], a new collection of A. Sivanandan’s writings, chair Lee Bridges
* Panel discussion on Islamophobia and Civil Society with Ruqayyah Collector, David Edgar, Liz Fekete, Arun Kundnani and Salma Yaqoob
* Closing remarks Victoria Brittain and A. Sivanandan

Tickets cost £10, click here to order tickets by credit card or alternatively send a cheque for £10 to IRR, 2-6 Leeke Street, London WC1X 9HS. Or for more information, email: or phone 020 7837 0041.
Start Time: 13:00
Date: 2008-11-01
End Time: 18:00

Here’s an extract from the publisher’s blurb about the book:

A. Sivanandan is a highly influential thinker on race, racism, globalisation and resistance. Since 1972, he has been the director of the Institute of Race Relations and the editor of Race & Class, which set the policy agenda on ethnicity and race in the UK and worldwide. Sivanandan has been writing for over forty years and this is the definitive collection of his work.

The articles selected span his entire career and are chosen for their relevance to today’s most pressing issues. Included is a complete bibliography of Sivanandan’s writings, and an introduction by Colin Prescod (chair of the IRR), which sets the writings in context.

As well as being director of the Institute of Race Relations and editor of its journal Race & Class for over 35 years Ambalavaner Sivanandan was also its first librarian.  As a consequence he is sure to have interesting things to say about the relationship between documentation, archives, history and anti-racist politics.


Book review: ‘Museums and Community’ by Elizabeth Crooke

July 3, 2008

Museums and Communities, Elizabeth Crooke, front coverI have just finished reading Museums and Community: Ideas, issues and challenges by Elizabeth Crooke (Routledge, 2007). Crooke is a senior lecture in Museum and Heritage Studies at the University of Ulster and as a consequence she brings to her research a sophisiticated understanding of the contested nature of ‘community’ in Northern Ireland. Whilst the book recognises the potential value in developing strong communities as part of a social inclusion agenda and the role that the heritage sector can play in this she retains a healthy scepticism, given equal weight to the criticism that ‘community’ developments policies may also be divisive and exclusive.

Her analysis of the emergence of the ‘community’ agenda in government policy is interesting, but perhaps most useful from our point of view is the way she seeks to unpick all the competing and sometimes contradictory concepts that are bound up in this one word. She identifies three strands in public discourse around community:

  1. An academic strand, where researchers are interested in exploring the way an idea of community is developed through symbolic action. This area of study is perhaps of most theoretical relevance to heritage practitioners.
  2. A public policy strand, which takes the value of community for granted and uses it as a tool for local and national government (this thinking also impacts on the heritage practioners, since it is important to understand what is at stake when subscribing to particular policy agendas)
  3. An action-research strand, that builds on the first strand to develop the idea of community as a form of social action, and a mode of resistance to various forms of hegemony.

It is immediately obvious that whilst empowered communities (as imagined in three) can be seen as underpinning democracy by providing a framework for collective action and managed conflict, there is also clearly potential for conflict between two and three, which roughly translates into a clash between ‘top-down’ and ‘bottom-up’ policy making.

Understanding these different strands is useful in terms of thinking about whose interests are best served by the promotion of the ‘community archives’ sector. Is promoting community heritage a cheap way to generate a feel-good factor without having to address the root causes of discrimination and exclusion (such as poverty)? Or is it a way to strengthen democractic participation?

In addition, she draws on Hugh Butcher’s work (‘Introduction’ to eds. Butcher, H., A. Glen, P. Henderson and J. Smith (1993) Community and Public Policy. London: Pluto Press) to explore the idea of community as process, and as a term than covers a whole range of different levels of engagement. In short, Butcher identifies a ‘descriptive community’, ‘community as value’ and ‘active community’:

The concept of a descriptive community relates to the idea of a network of people who have something in common, either through a sense of belonging, such as a community of interest, or by identifying with certain references, like a shared territory for example. The second use of the term relates to the values associated with the concept that can be actively nurtured, such as solidarity, communal aid and connectivity. The active community relates to social initiatives that aim to develop community strengths and capacities. (Crooke 2008: 31).

One way of thinking about community archives is about seeing them as levers for effecting a change of level. A community archive can bring together a group of people who may not even realise they have something in common or where there are few existing links, fostering a self-aware descriptive community. Here what is important is the symbolic value of the archive: the the material collected represents a community to itself, bringing into existence. Once this community is brought into being – or if it already exists – then participation in the community archive is what matters: working together on a project, particularly if grounded in shared values and/or shared experience – for example a history of political protest, can generate a ‘community as value’. And the ‘active community’ is often the ultimate goal and in some cases the community archive may – as an ongoing process – become redundant, as other causes take over. As Crooke concludes, ‘When communities forge heritage projects they may be important to galvanise the group, but once the community gathers momentum the need for such initiatives will lessen’ (p.134).

Underlying this argument is a strong sense of the link between insecurity and community, and specifically community heritage: we need to feel we belong because we feel threatened (an idea Crooke backs up with reference to Zygmunt Bauman). But who are we leaving out when we say ‘we’?