We Still Need to Talk About ‘Community’: The Continued Contestability of Adopting Community in Criminal Justice Policy

Published 16/10/2020
Type Article
Author(s) Susie Atherton
Corresponding Authors

Adopting ‘community’ in policy making reflects a desire to generate a sense of belonging through increased citizen engagement with the state, despite the continuing contestability of the term and diverse experiences of ‘community’ (Mair, 1995; Hughes and Rowe, 2007). Definitions of ‘community’ include positive associations with attachment to place, activities and people (Wilmott, 1987), and ‘belonging’ stemming from shared experiences of adversity (Shapland, 2008). Communitarian theorists examine the relationship between citizens and the state, alongside broader structural conditions which impact policy implementation (Etzioni, 1995; Jordan, 1998; Hopkins-Burke, 2014). Policies focusing on ‘community’ embrace social cohesion and social capital theory as theoretical frameworks, as found with community justice initiatives, which claim to have a transformative effect through reducing crime, and therefore improving the quality of life for residents (Donoghue, 2014; Ward 2014). This paper uses secondary analysis and qualitative research to examine experiences of community and crime in Middlesbrough, through the lens of Layder’s (2006) social domain theory. The findings reveal that differing accounts of community are affected by crime, anti-social behaviour and broader structural changes. It reiterates the need for policy makers to better understand how community is experienced, and to re-examine what is required for the effective implementation of policy.