Moving to 'our' common ground a critical examination of community cohesion discourse in twenty-first century Britain



McGhee D (2003) Moving to 'our' common ground a critical examination of community cohesion discourse in twenty-first century Britain. Sociological Review, 51 (3), pp. 376-404.

The paper focuses on the discourses, recommendations and programmes for facilitating community cohesion in the UK as recorded on the pages of an archive of documents such as: The Community Cohesion Review Team Report (2001), The Bradford District Race Review (2001) and The Local Government Association's Guidance on Community Cohesion (2002). These documents were commissioned in relation to the disturbances in the city of Bradford and in the towns of Oldham and Burnley in the north of England in the spring and summer of 2001. The facilitation of community cohesion, it shall be revealed in this paper, is a rather sociological enterprise involving the problematization and modification of the forms of sociation in communities and especially the structures of interaction between different communities. Community, civil society and social capital are central to this community cohesion discourse, and the towns of Oldham, Burnley and the city of Bradford are at the epicentre of this unfolding social project of attempting to alleviate disorder, disharmony and discord in these areas characterized by multi-ethnic, multi-faith and multi-cultural communities. However, despite the best of intentions, the process of community cohesion facilitation as read off the pages of this archive of documents will be presented here as being blighted by three inter-related factors; (1) the practical problems associated with attempting to formulate a public policy of community cohesion on the assumption that common principles and shared values can be founded in multi-ethnic, multi-faith and multi-cultural societies; (2) the relative de-emphasis of material deprivation and socio-economic marginalization in community cohesion facilitation programmes in favour of concentrating on inter-community relationships; and (3) with special reference to Bradford, the criminalization of young male British-Asian ‘rioters’ in the city is shown to be inconsistent with the rebuilding and re-orientation of social capital from defensive ‘bonding’ to inclusive ‘bridging’ in the judicial aftermath that is currently gripping this city. Britain confronts a historic choice as to its future direction. Will it try to turn the clock back, digging in, defending old values and ancient hierarchies, relying on a narrow English-dominated, backward-looking definitions of the nation? Or will it seize the opportunity to create a more flexible inclusive, cosmopolitan image of itself? Britain is at a turning point. But it has not yet turned the corner. It is time to make the move. (Parekh, 2000: 14–15).

Sociological Review: Volume 51, Issue 3

FundersUniversity of Southampton
Publication date31/08/2003

People (1)


Professor Derek McGhee

Professor Derek McGhee

Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences, Faculty of Social Sciences