Towards a critical understanding of community anchors and a community sector theory and practice
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This thesis seeks to support the longer-term development of the community sector in Scotland, the United Kingdom (UK) and further afield, through consideration of a community sector theory and practice (CSTP): where, such a theory and practice is assumed to involve elements of both theorising as to actual, developing practices and theorising as to the impact of the broader workings of society (structure) on the forming and performing of such practices. The thesis focuses on a particular model and narrative of a community organisation as a ‘community anchor’: where, such an organisation is understood to be community-based and led, and to undertake a multi-purpose role across a range of local development, service provision and advocacy. The term community anchor has been/is active within policy-making, namely that of the New Labour UK Government (1997-2010) and, currently, SNP Scottish Government (2007-present). Within Scotland, the Scottish Community Alliance (SCA) has positioned a community anchor narrative within a particular narrative of community empowerment; the latter rooted in themes of community ownership and enterprise, local democracy, and local economic and social development (Pearce, 2003). This community anchor/community empowerment narrative (CACE) can be understood as one particular strand of a wider CSTP, a ‘CACE within a CSTP’ (CACE/CSTP) in fact, such that a CACE too can be supported and informed through theorising on practice and structural context. The thesis works to strengthen theoretical understanding and development relating to a CACE/CSTP, and then to draw from this to inform, interpret and analyse an empirical inquiry, using a qualitative and critical case-study research methodology, of three community anchor organisations and their respective communities – one from each of urban, rural and remote island contexts. Theoretical discussion that supports an understanding of a CSTP is developed through consideration of theorising on: post-1945 political economic trends in relation to public policy, particularly urban public policy, in the UK and currently as a dominant neo-liberalism, although as distinctive variants within policy-making in England and Scotland; the practices of community development and social enterprise, in particular relative to social structure and inequality; and, social structure and agency, through use of structuration theory (Giddens, 1984). The understanding of a CACE is deepened through consideration of: policy-making on community anchors within Scottish and English policy-making contexts; matters and issues of practice for community anchors – in particular as being ‘community-led’, developing ‘sustainable independence’ and undertaking a diverse, multi-purpose role; the role of the community sector and its development as part of the social economy; and the wider political economic dynamics of the nation state (Giddens, 1984; Pearce: 1993, 2003; Harvey, 2009 ). The empirical inquiry, and the related interpretation and analysis, explore the three case-studies, and illustrate and develop theoretical understandings of a CACE/CSTP and a CSTP, more generally. In focusing on practice, the complexities of community-led practices, organisational independence (sustainable independence) from the state, and the integration of the breadth of working of a community anchor are considered both as activities on-the-ground and in relation to the state and market. In focusing on political economy, the complexity of the community sector’s relationship with the state and the market is explored. It is recognised that the sector will find itself undertaking a ‘community management’ role, seeking to limit social and economic crises, in response to neo-liberal economic and social marginalisation of many communities. Yet, such recognition can support the community sector in continuing with aspirations for a ‘community ownership’ and in seeking alternatives in relation to local economic and social development, service provision, political advocacy and policy-making. The resulting articulation of a CACE/CSTP can be used to inform a developing community sector research agenda(s) for both ‘the research community’ and community sector, and to inform and support discussions of policy and practice within community sector and wider policy-making.