Our over-riding aim for the research review is to understand, from a variety of perspectives and contexts how, why and with what effects and impacts communities develop qualities of self-reliance, resilience and empowerment in times of crisis.
Contemporary communities must be understood within the dynamics of crisis. It is now well understood that the contemporary economic situation amounts to a global crisis where financial crisis, climate change and critical resource depletion are coming together in a “triple crunch”. A crisis can be defined as a crucial or decisive point or situation, a moment of “creative destruction” where the dismantling of old infrastructures creates a space for social innovation. The present moment in UK society, characterised by austerity cuts following a major crisis of capitalism, is in turn generating intense crises for many communities, especially those already facing persistent problems of under-employment and a democratic deficit. However, many communities are seeking, out of necessity or intent, new coping mechanisms based on greater resilience, self-help and participation where new capacities to manage resources and assets are developed.
Our project focuses on three core ideas:
• resilience ‘the capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and still retain its basic function and structure’ is of growing interest at a community level to respond to rapid climate change, oil dependency and social breakdown.
• self-help, self-reliance and mutual aid: how people, households and social groups can tap into resources for survival and well-being within their own abilities, localities and networks, to improve their circumstances.
• Participation and empowerment the need for radically different, people-centred, direct form of ‘strong democracy’ which is more public, collective and deliberative.
We will look at five cross-cutting themes which allow us to deepen our understandings of communities in crisis:
a. Genesis and change: What explanations are offered for the emergence, growth, success or failure of communities in crisis? What is the evidence for their range of form, scale and longevity? What is known about the factors that enable them to succeed and conversely the causes of their decline and/or disappearance? What happens to individual participants in such terminal moments?
b. Scale. At what kinds of scale do communities in crisis emerge? How and why do they shrink and grow spatially? How replicable are they and what linkages are formed between different kinds of communities, both in terms of geographical communities and communities of interest?
c. Needs satisfaction. How do communities in crisis satisfy their basic needs? This is not just in terms of shelter, food and energy but also the ability for one’s capabilities to be recognised and to flourish. What resources can communities draw upon and what kinds of innovations occur to meet basic needs? What, if any, linkages or networks are established to meet these needs? To what extent do communities desire or achieve self-reliance?
d. Governance and power. What kinds of organisational and governance emerge in communities in crisis? We are particularly interested in whether moments of crisis can transform or reinforce existing uneven power structures.
e. Visions and values. What visions, values and aspirations are developed in communities of crisis? Through building patterns of resilience and self-help, what kinds of values and future visions are established at an individual and community level? Which ones take hold and which ones do not, and why? How are these shared and understood?
We are looking at a number of case studies grouped into three community types
a. communities in resistance – principally deprived communities that face longer term cycles of deprivation and decline, but nonetheless demonstrate a desire and capacity to build more resilient, self-reliant and mutual responses (traditional inner-city neighbourhoods, workplace communities, communities of marginalised young people or unemployed groups, or those fighting external impositions)
b. autonomous communities – largely self-selecting self-identifying activist communities who use extra-parliamentary political activity to respond to crises (the alter-globalisation ‘movement of movements’, social centres, info shops, hacklabs, squats, temporary protest camps and caravans, and autonomous villages.
c. intentional communities – similarly self-selecting, but alternative and utopian, communities that develop strong patterns and values of community life, often self-removed from everyday struggles, based on clear intentional values be they spiritual, ecological or political (land-based projects peace and spirituality communities)
This 6 month research review (March – August 2011) will include the following:
- Two Advisory Panels meetings to help steer and guide the review. One at the start (Leeds), one at the end (London).
- Two Learning Days to discuss wider issues with a larger group. One in the middle (Leeds) and one at the end (London).
- One in-depth specialist report by the New Economics Foundation to feed into the final research review.
- Two Peer Review Reports by Prof Frank Mouleart and Dr Benjamin Barber.
- A final research review report to feed into the connected Communities Programme.