Connective action for regeneration: A comparative case study of social networks andcommunity infrastructure in New East Manchester

UoM administered thesis: Phd

  • Authors:
  • Elizabeth Carley

Abstract

This study explores the mechanisms underpinning policy efforts to build community indeprived urban neighbourhoods using a mixed-method comparative case study. Twoneighbourhoods within the New East Manchester (NEM) urban regeneration area areexamined, one of which hosted a New Deal for Communities (NDC) regenerationpartnership from 1999-2010. In 2009 the NDC successor body established a communityforum in each neighbourhood in an attempt to sustain and extend NDC's participatorypractices. The study compares the community infrastructure embodied by the residents'groups eligible to participate in the forum in each neighbourhood. Social networks data,standard survey metrics and ethnographic material on 61 groups were collected. Theseelucidate the structure of groups' relations, their collective action capacity and the extentto which NDC, and its successor, NEM, were implicated in the formation and developmentof these relations.NDC was the most prominent expression of the New Labour's social capital-orientated"turn to community" (Duffy and Hutchinson, 1997). However, the final national evaluationof the scheme raised doubts about its impact, finding little effect on community relations atthe neighbourhood level (CLG, 2010c). This gap between policy ambition and outcome isprobed in this study using new tools and employing concepts from the social movements'literature, rather than the social capital framework underpinning most existing research onNDC. It focusses specifically social relations as a metric of community infrastructure, butresists the network analytic tendency to infer community from the mere presence ofrelations (Blokland, 2003). Instead it seeks evidence of the capacity for pairwise ties to betranslated into communal mobilization through the interplay of relational, cognitive andcontextual mechanisms, including specific facets of the political opportunity structures(POS) of NDC. The study contributes to debates on policy, theory and method relevant to:the practice of civic engagement and community development in regeneration; thesociology of community in deprived post-industrial neighbourhoods; and the measurementof community capacity and collective agency.Analysis of social networks considers three levels: the connection of individual residentsto each group; relations between groups within the neighbourhood; and relations betweengroups and local service-providers. Results show very similar levels of networkconnectivity in the two neighbourhoods, but greater evidence of the growth of sustainablegrassroots organising and leadership capacity in the non-NDC area. Quantitative andqualitative analysis of POS concludes that NDC was instrumental in generating aconstrained, controllable form of community engagement to meet the deliveryrequirements of the scheme. This process stifled the development of a wider, independentself-organising capacity on the ground, sustainable beyond the life of NDC.

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Original languageEnglish
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Award date1 Aug 2013