Empowered communities or self-governing citizens? (Re)examining social control within the move toward community

Publication Date21 December 2010
DOIhttps://doi.org/10.1108/S1521-6136(2010)0000015009
Date21 December 2010
Pages129-148
AuthorChristopher D. O’Connor
EMPOWERED COMMUNITIES
OR SELF-GOVERNING CITIZENS?
(RE)EXAMINING SOCIAL
CONTROL WITHIN THE MOVE
TOWARD COMMUNITY
Christopher D. O’Connor
ABSTRACT
This chapter explores the competing perspectives (i.e., the ‘‘community
advocates’’ and the ‘‘community skeptics’’) on the recent move toward
community in an attempt to conceptualize what this ‘‘move’’ means for
social control. An examination of the inclusiveness of community
initiatives with a focus on community policing is used to demonstrate
that the move toward community contains elements of both empowerment
and responsibilization. In particular, the move toward community is
paradoxical in that empowerment and responsibilization occurs simulta-
neously and to varying degrees within inclusive community initiatives. It is
argued that a socially inclusive approach to community-police partner-
ships works to enhance society’s web of social control. However, at the
same time, community members hold the potential to work together to
shape this web of social control.
Social Control: Informal, Legal and Medical
Sociology of Crime, Law and Deviance, Volume 15, 129–148
Copyright r2010 by Emerald Group Publishing Limited
All rights of reproduction in any form reserved
ISSN: 1521-6136/doi:10.1108/S1521-6136(2010)0000015009
129
INTRODUCTION
The concept of ‘‘community’’ has recently become an omnipresent term
in various social settings and institutions. For example, the increasing
emphasis on ‘‘community’’ is visible in community corrections (Braithwaite,
2000;Zehr, 1995), community development (Chaskin & Garg, 1997;
Herbert-Cheshire, 2000), community crime prevention (Crawford, 1995;
Miller, 2000), and community policing (Cordner, 1997;Seagrave, 1997). The
move toward placing an increasing emphasis on community has been
contentious. Proponents of this move (the ‘‘community advocates’’) contend
that placing an increasing emphasis on community can empower individuals
and communities by generating a sense of togetherness and a wide range of
social connections among community members (Bellah, Madsen, Sullivan,
Swidler, & Tipton, 1996;Putnam, 2000). Alternatively, the ‘‘community
skeptics’’ suggest that something more insidious is occurring in that
placing an increasing emphasis on community is simply a means for the state
to pass responsibility for community problems along to communities
(Herbert-Cheshire, 2000;Rose, 1996;Rose & Miller, 1992). While this
‘‘move toward community’’ has generated a wealth of research and much
debate, there is still much work to be done on what exactly this move means
for our understandings of ‘‘social control.’’ In this chapter, I examine the
above two competing visions of the move toward community in an attempt
to better conceptualize ‘‘social control’’ in late modern society. To help
accomplish this, I turn to community policing as an illustrative backdrop.
TWO COMPETING VISIONS: COMMUNITY
ADVOCATES AND COMMUNITY SKEPTICS
Before delving into the competing perspectives on community, it is
important to first briefly define what I mean by ‘‘community.’’ For the
purposes of this chapter, the term community refers to a geographic area
(e.g., a neighborhood, village, town, or city) that has become a centre of
decision-making (e.g., for a community policing initiative). Community is
not understood in this chapter to mean people sharing a sense of belonging.
Given that communities defined geographically are unlikely to contain
individuals that all share the same values, beliefs, and characteristics, the
above definition of community acknowledges that conflict and difference
are inherent in what constitutes a community. I now turn to how both the
CHRISTOPHER D. O’CONNOR130

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