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A new collective politics? : the potential and constraints of local participation and the concept of social capital

  • Watkins, Heather
Publication Date
Jan 01, 2013
OpenGrey Repository


This thesis explores the ambivalent nature of local participation, and of community as a form of political subject. In particular, it explores the way that participation is discursively framed by the theoretical concept of social capital, explored here as part of the discourse of the Third Way, legitimizing a shift in welfare provision from the state onto civil society. In the process, it is seen to transform local solidarities, based on long-term shared interests and histories of conflict with the state, into social networks, forms of short-term instrumental co-operation based on consensus. However, this thesis argues that the local is a contradictory space of engagement, providing our most immediate experience of what Harvey describes as the "spatial fix" of capitalist development, and of what Gramsci identifies as a sense of difference which can form the basis of a challenge to hegemonic thinking. In order to assess this, it engages empirically with the work of three local community enterprises in the East Midlands, all in areas of reconstruction, and drawing on different motivations and identities. It considers tensions between specific forces of political economy which produce a sense of difference and contestation in local communities, and what Rose (after Foucault) describes as the technologies of power which are deployed to close difference down and produce governable subjects. It concludes that the innate contradictions within this process also reveal contradictions within the subjectivity of the social capitalist, which attempts to harmonise mutual obligation and enduring shared interest with individual freedom and competition . These contradictions open up a number of possibilities for alternative configurations of the relationship between state and civil society, based on practical, historically-acquired local knowledge, the foundation of Gramscian "good sense"; these possibilities remain fragile, however, unless developed as new political and material practices at levels beyond the merely local. / EThOS - Electronic Theses Online Service / GB / United Kingdom

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