Sunday, June 5, 2011

Creating counterfeit communities

The adverts appear everywhere. Developers adverting their ritzy housing estates claiming that they don't build houses, they build communities. And property developers employ community development specialists to create "communities" in order to sell more houses at higher prices.

And then there are the Government departments and NGO's who describe their top down efforts to impose solutions on people to achieve already defined outcomes  as "community development".

Frankly it is all an illusion.

It is as Australian blogger and writer Bruce Watson rightly points out the commodification of community-  the turning of a complex human and social institution into a commodity that can be exploited for profit and political gain. Watson reminds us that most of what takes place under the banner of "community" has become clouded and easily manipulated for commodification and marketing.

John Freie and  Bruce Watson call it "counterfeit communities" and it is a good description. In counterfeit communities it is less important that communities exist in reality. It is the appearance of community that is important. People are encouraged to see the manifestations and spirit of community without accepting the complex interactions that must occur for it to be realized. As Wilson writes:
"Community has regrettably become a product to be advertised, marketed and sold. It makes no difference whether genuine community exists or not. As long as it appears to exist. Consequently, we are subjected to planned communities that are advertised as “truly a special place”, “we’ve made the dream a reality” and “the tasteful community you deserve” with a “neighbourhood bar and grill” (in the multi-story shopping centre complex)"
As Watson points counterfeit communities, despite all the glossy brochures, promises and hyperbole, are inherently hollow and exploitative. They are never fully satisfying.

And Wilson gets to the nub of counterfeit community:
"Counterfeit community extends the power and expands the wealth of those who create it".


Andrew Hamilton said...

Absolutely Col - as someone who moved into 'Brighton - it's what a community should be' I have observed many people become disillusioned with what they have been sold.

Perhaps because, as you say, you simply can't purchase something as complex as 'community', but instead have to create it - something busy mortgage belt suburbanites can't do easily at all.

I didn't arrive here with any illusions, but I was curious to see if the 'propaganda' would actually become self fulfilling. In actuality it has been a lot of blowing smoke.

Nice to bump into you again (I was a student at SSHS way back)

Colin Penter said...

Gday Andrew. Rememember you well. And thanks for your feedback which is so helpful. You have provided me with evidence from someone who live there of the illusions of it all. And I really like the way you put it. Where actually is Brighton?- have seen all the adverts. Had coffee recently with Reece Barret and we were reminsicing about Scaborough High Days. What you up to? And how did you come across the piece?

Andrew Hamilton said...

G'day Col

I came across you thru Rob Douglas friend list on facebook and as I blog a fair bit myself thought I'd add you to my rss.

The commodification / illusion of community idea is something I've written about and thought about a heap also, but from my perspective as a Christian minister.

I actually went back and taught Phys Ed at SSHS for a few years before it closed down, but more recently have been leading a small local church and running my own retic/turf business.

Brighton is up near Quinns Rocks and we moved here 8 years ago with 4 other families with the specific intention of developing an innovative / creative expression of Christian community. Ironically most of our crew were as busy/disconnected as everyone else so only those of us who purposely chose to work less than full time were able to give time to building connections - and then with people who thought us strange... difficult...

I have penned some of my reflections here FWIW.

Interestingly Satterly have dropped the 'what a community should be' slogan now and replaced it with something less idealistic.

Enjoying your thoughts