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Austerity, Community Action, and the Future of Citizenship$
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Shana Cohen, Christina Fuhr, and Jan-Jonathan Bock

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9781447331032

Published to Policy Press Scholarship Online: May 2018

DOI: 10.1332/policypress/9781447331032.001.0001

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Individualism and community in historical perspective

Individualism and community in historical perspective

(p.239) Fourteen Individualism and community in historical perspective
Austerity, Community Action, and the Future of Citizenship

Jon Lawrence

Policy Press

This chapter argues that we need to stop seeing individualism and community as irreconcilable opposites, and stop fixating on idealised and nostalgic models of face-to-face community. Commentators tend to romanticise local, face-to-face forms of community at the expense of looser forms of social relationship that may be equally rewarding and equally likely to strengthen social cohesion. They also tend to gloss over the darker-side of forced community, ignoring the fact that people actively sought to escape such environments once the opportunity arose. As lived experience community has changed rather than diminished. New technologies, from the car and the telephone to web-based social networking, have made it easier to sustain relationships rooted in genuine affection rather than simply in proximity. Indeed, it has never been easier to reconcile the urge for privacy and personal freedom with social connectedness. It is not that we have suddenly become individualist – the historic roots of individualism run deep in British culture. Rather, in recent decades many of the important corporate and communal facets of society and polity have been hollowed out, leaving individualistic impulses much less constrained. We should read the widespread nostalgia for community that runs through our culture as resistance to this process; as evidence that people want to find a way to reconcile personal freedom – the right not to have to conform to others’ expectations – with a deeper sense of social connection. Instead of lamenting the world that is lost, we need to focus our energies on maximizing the opportunities for people to enjoy both personal freedom and fulfilling, socially connected lives.

Keywords:   Community, lives, society, individualism, technology, Britain, British culture

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