Posts Tagged 'community'

Blinded by science: when biology meets policy

Sue White and David Wastell, authors of Blinded by science out today, explain the rise of neuroscience and genetics and their influence and impact on social policy.

David Wastell

Sue White

“Biological sciences, particularly neuroscience and genomics, are currently in the ascent. These new ‘techno-sciences’ are increasingly seen to promise a theory of everything in the psychosocial realm.

Social policy has not been slow to conscript technological biology, and is making significant use of neuroscientific evidence to support particular claims about both the soaring potentialities and irreversible vulnerabilities of early childhood, and the proper responses of the state.

The far reaching implications of epigenetics

The last decades have also seen a profound shift in our understanding of biological processes and life itself.

Whereas genetics has conventionally focused on examining the DNA sequence (the genotype), the burgeoning field of epigenetics examines additional mechanisms for modifying gene expression in manifest behaviours, physical features, health status and so on (the phenotype).

It provides a conduit mediating the interaction of the environment on an otherwise immutable DNA blueprint, and invites a natural interest in the impact of adverse conditions, such as deprivation or ‘suboptimal’ parenting. The implications of this for social policy are far reaching.

Continue reading ‘Blinded by science: when biology meets policy’

From persecution to humiliation: the treatment of asylum seekers in the UK

Last month a pregnant woman who was detained at Yarl’s Wood immigration centre was told by a midwife she could not find her baby’s heartbeat and was refused a scan for four days. For this pregnant woman from South Africa, married to a British citizen, it took two court orders before UK Borders Agency took her for a scan. This case is a prime example of the lack of humanity in our treatment of people seeking asylum.

An enormous amount of time and money is spent securing the borders of western states, erecting stronger and stronger barriers to entry. The construction of the ‘asylum seeker’ as deviant is well documented. Indeed, government responses to asylum seekers are framed by law and order politics represented by the media, law and the courts. Yet, in order to be recognised as a refugee under the terms of the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees a person must make a claim for asylum at the port of entry or the UK Borders Agency offices in Croydon or Liverpool as soon as possible on entering the UK. Most asylum applications are refused and if the authorities refuse an asylum application, an applicant is able to appeal against the refusal, although some asylum seekers will only be able to appeal once they have left the UK (Applying for Asylum, Refugee Action, 2008).

Hence, the social and cultural context that asylum seekers experience is marked by a culture of disbelief, underpinned by law and order politics. This is combined with a focus upon strengthening and protecting borders which places responsibility on the asylum seeker for their situation. This impacts upon the experience of seeking safety for people fleeing persecution, human rights violations, violence and war. Their experiences are marked by humiliation, shaming, racism and mis-recognition.

For Zygmunt Bauman the existence of this group is much less the result of personal tragedy than the result of a global system that classifies some as without worth, as human waste. Their very disposability is created through discourses of abjection. Indeed, as Imogen Tyler notes “the figure of the asylum seeker increasingly secures the imaginary borders of Britain today”.

Published last month, Asylum, migration and community argues that we need to face up to our global responsibilities towards the displaced, address the causes of ‘the misery of growing refugee movements’ and foster dignity and egalization in the institutions, policies and practices towards people seeking safety in the asylum-migration-community nexus. Creative, cultural and participatory methodologies can support this process as can networks such as the global humiliation and human dignity network as part of a public sociology or criminology that helps to build communities of practice to challenge and change such gross inequalities and keep open spaces for critical thinking.

Maggie O’Neill, author of Asylum, migration and community

Community development and civil society

The coalition government’s implementation of Cameron’s idea of the ‘big society’ has, to date, been minimal. If the government does develop policies based on the idea they will, at some point, have to ensure that it connects with the principles and practice of community development. Given that the government now has an Office for Civil Society (replacing the Office for the Third Sector) it will also have to make sense of the concept of civil society.

Use of the term ‘civil society’ has increased noticeably in western Europe in recent years. Often this has resulted from observing how ‘civil society’ in central and eastern European countries has been fundamental to political and social change. ‘Civil society’ is a necessary condition for ensuring lively, strong and participatory democracy. This is the territory explored in Community development and civil society.

In the book, Ilona Vercseg and I make the case for community development being an essential component of efforts to build a stronger ‘civil society’. She and I met through a European network of community development organisations and we collaborated on a number of exchanges and conferences in Hungary, other parts of central and eastern Europe and the UK. She and her husband were central to the setting up of the Hungarian Association for Community Development (HACD) at the time of the fall of the Communist regime at the end of the 1980s. It went from strength to strength and remains active. Its work provides many of the examples and principles discussed in the book. The Hungarian material is placed alongside an analysis and critique of community development in the UK context. The latter includes chapters on regeneration, social control and community care.

The process of understanding nuanced meanings of key concepts – and of translating them accurately – has been challenging. If, however, we succeed in clarifying the specific contribution that community development can make to building civil society then the patience and effort will have been worthwhile!

Paul Henderson is co-author of Community development and civil society


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