This paper examines the impact of ethnic identity on the likelihood of peoples’ participation in local community networks, in the context of recent policy emphasis on the participation of marginalised communities in such networks as a means of reducing health inequalities. Conceptually, the paper is located against the background of debates about possible links between health and social capital—defined in terms of grassroots participation in local community networks—and an interest in the way in which social exclusion impacts on social capital. The paper draws on lengthy semi-structured, open-ended interviews with 25 African-Caribbean residents of a deprived multi-ethnic area of a south England town. While African-Caribbean identity played a central role in peoples’ participation in inter-personal networks, this inter-personal solidarity did not serve to unite people at the local community level beyond particular face-to-face networks. Levels of participation in voluntary organisations and community activist networks were low. Informants regarded this lack of African-Caribbean unity within the local community as a problem, saying that it placed African-Caribbean people at a distinct disadvantage—furthering their social exclusion through limiting their access to various local community resources. The paper examines the way in which the construction of ethnic identities—within a context of institutionalised racism at both the material and symbolic levels—makes it unlikely that people will view local community organisations or networks as representative of their interests or needs, or be motivated to participate in them. Our findings highlight the limitations of policies which simply call for increased community participation by socially excluded groups, in the absence of specific measures to address the obstacles that stand in the way of such participation.
Social Science & Medicine – Elsevier
Published: Aug 1, 2002
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