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DOI: 10.1177/0038038503037001390
2003 37: 103 Sociology
Michael Marinetto
Involvement
Who Wants to be an Active Citizen?: The Politics and Practice of Community

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103
Soci ol ogy
Copyright 2003
BSA Publications Ltd
Volume 37(1): 103120
[0038-0385(200302)37:1;103118;030390]
SAGE Publications
London, Thousand Oaks,
New Delhi
Who Wants to be an Active Citizen?
The Politics and Practice of Community
Involvement
I
Michael Marinetto
Cardiff University
ABSTRACT
The notions of active citizenship and community involvement have become
increasingly prominent in political discussions and policy practices within Britain in
the past 15 years. This is a signicant development as the modus operandi of
modern liberal democracies has been a representative mode of government in
which the wider citizenry has a passive role. This paper contextualizes active
citizenship in terms of the interrelationship between civic society and the political
realm. The Foucauldian-inspired literature on governmentality has made a con-
certed attempt to examine such issues. Governmentality regards government, not
in the conventional sense as the provenance of centralized institutions, where
interest groups and ideologies play their part, but as a complex and ever-changing
process that forges ways of thinking about governing with a myriad of practices
that proliferate throughout society. Whilst it is informative, it is questioned
whether this analytic approach can fully explain and illuminate political develop-
ments like active citizenship, given its rejection of realist and critical approaches to
government. The second half of the paper addresses such concerns. Here, com-
munity involvement is regarded as a contested notion and one where the central
state has played a prominent role. To highlight these analytical points, the historical
development and political conguration of community involvement over the past
20 years is traced. It is shown that central government, through policies inuenced
by contrasting ideological conceptions of citizenship and political expediency, has
played a key role in shaping community involvement.
KEY WORDS
Active citizenship / classical democracy / community involvement / decentred ver-
sus top-down perspectives / governmentality / policy-making / protective democ-
racy / rationalities of rule
SOC30390 Marinetto 16/1/2003 12:58 pm Page 103
Introduction
ommunity involvement is now regarded as integral to good practice in
policy circles. This is evident across a wide range of initiatives, from health
and education action zones through to local crime measures. The idea of
consulting and actively engaging citizens has not, until recently, been a common
practice in mature industrialized democracies. As a result, the endeavour of
politicians and policymakers to extol the virtues of community involvement is
worthy of some analytical scrutiny. This, in part, must be seen in the context of
how the nature and function of the state has been reshaped, with British
politicians on the Right being at the vanguard of such developments.
The main sociological problematic of this paper is to explore active citi-
zenship in the context of the interrelationship between civil society and the
political realm. In particular, this concept needs to be linked to the way society
is governed and to the political institutions involved in this process. Although
relevant literature is limited, existing socially informed analysis on community
does offer distinct analytical frameworks for exploring these issues in greater
depth. The genealogical approach, based on Foucaults explorations of govern-
mentality, makes the point that community involvement is an effective means of
social regulation. However, this is not linked to a unied, centralized and
powerful state but is rather a feature of the dispersed nature of power in society.
By contrast, more conventional analysis would maintain that politics and
governing institutions such as central government still matter as social forces.
Indeed, the emerging interest surrounding active citizenship in the past 20 years
owes much to the interventions of central government. Historical analysis of the
development of active citizenship throughout the 1980s and 1990s will be used
to illustrate this point, exploring the interventions and inuential role of politi-
cal institutions, especially the central state. The idea of active citizenship has
entered the political calculations and ideological calculations of governments
on both sides of the political spectrum.
Where is the Active Citizen?
An interesting scenario: what would a citizen from the Athenian city republic
of the fourth century BC think of British democracy? From what we know of
this ancient culture, our Greek citizen would probably regard Britains political
system as not even worthy of being described as democratic.
The reason for this conclusion is that the ideals of ancient Greece and its
political communities are in many respects far removed from contemporary
modes of Western democracy. Active citizenship was central to the life of the
ancient city state. The Greek polis that was Athens venerated the idea of
the active, participatory citizen. In this system of self-government, those who
were assigned to be governors were at the same time the governed (Held, 1987:
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18). Direct participation in the Ekklesia (the assembly) was integral to the
fabric and life of the ancient Greek polis.
There are, of course, many caveats and disclaimers about democracy in
ancient Greece. Athenian democracy was, in reality, restricted to certain citizens
and slavery was endemic. The myriad virtues and vices of Athenian society are
well documented (Sinclair, 1988: 10614). Nevertheless, the practice of democ-
racy in the classical world provides a stark, informative contrast with the
nascent political systems of the West. Medieval society, with its prohibitive
feudal practices and belief systems, deemed an ordered hierarchy of status and
monarchical authority as natural conditions legitimated by eternal law.
Citizens were dominated by governing authorities and participation in affairs of
state was out of the question. The notion of modern government of an
impersonal legal authority that legitimately controls a territory was non-exis-
tent. The historical vicissitudes that helped transform medieval politics are
highly convoluted and complex. Increased trade links across territories, peasant
rebellions against the imposition of punitive taxes and the challenge of the
Protestant Reformation were amongst the principal forces that helped to trans-
form medieval society.
These changes were to have a profound inuence on conceptions of democ-
racy, as Europe was the hub of modern political thought. With the decline of
feudal society, the nature and limits of political authority, law, rights and obe-
dience emerged as the preoccupation of European political thought (Held,
1987: 39). From the late 16th century, a secular rule-making body separate
from those who govern began to take shape. In this embryonic social and politi-
cal order, the liberal constitutional tradition became the dominant force in
European politics. This tradition regarded the state as providing a legal and
institutional framework that enabled individuals to live ordered lives whilst
pursuing their selsh interests in a free market. Formative advocates of liberal
democracy, namely Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, grappled with the
dilemma of how far the state should utilize its monopoly over coercive power
to regulate individuals. Henceforth, individuals would need to be protected not
only from themselves but also from potential coercion by the state. Such dis-
cussions established the dominant paradigm in which subsequent theories of
democracy would be discussed.
This model, referred to as protective democracy, came to be fully articu-
lated during the 18th and 19th centuries in the works of the august liberal
thinkers, Jeremy Bentham and James Mill. The rationale of democratic institu-
tions, in this formulation, is to protect the governed from all kinds of tyrannies,
including oppression by the state. This protective democracy is far removed
from the classical polis and banished the active citizen of ancient Greece from
political thought and practice. Instead, the powers of the state, the freedom of
the individual to pursue private interests, the separation between the executive
and legislature: these became the central preoccupations of liberal theorists and
practitioners.
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This is not to say that the active citizen had been expunged from history or
Western political thought since classical times. Aspects of classical democracy
found their way back into Europe through the formation of the Italian city-
republics between the 12th and 14th centuries. The city-republics, conned to
the central and northern regions of Italy, were progressive in the art of collec-
tive rule, fostering a level of participation in the political process that was alien
to medieval society. Moreover, historical research has challenged the orthodox
liberal view that in early capitalist society a strict separation between the public
and private spheres prevailed. The case of the Dutch burhger, Stevin, in his cit-
izens handbook of 1590, Vita Politica illustrates this point (Turner, 1990: 204).
Simon Schama has revised the orthodox position in a signicant study of 17th-
century Dutch society. This study reveals that the ethos of burgher life was
founded less on individualistic acquisition than on civic sensibility, inuenced
by Christian values (Schama, 1987: 5689).
In European thought, classical democracy found an outlet in the writings
of Machiavelli, Rousseau and later Marx and Engels. The latter provided a
critical analysis of liberal democracy and offered the prospects of an alternative
society, based on direct government by its members. Even those scholars writing
in the liberal tradition acknowledge the importance of active citizenship. The
economist, Alfred Marshall, writes that the labouring classes are more likely to
assume public and private duties once they become liberated from the arduous
demands of work. Although it is identied with a government-centred view of
citizenship, T. H. Marshalls discourse on social rights is inextricably linked to
active citizenship. In his account, the capacity to behave as a dutiful and pub-
licly active citizen is gained through the acquisition of various practical, social
skills and attributes which he refers to as rights (Burchell, 1995: 5445).
Clearly, the dominance of liberal politics did not expunge civic life from
early modern society or the ideal of the active citizen from philosophical
thought. Yet, there were good practical reasons why endeavours to accommo-
date active citizenship in the emerging modern democratic polity were ulti-
mately circumscribed. Contemporary communitarian writers such as Michael
Walzer acknowledge that the complexity and differentiated nature of modern
society make for the primacy of the private realm (Walzer, 1989: 218). In other
words, the modern state is not entirely conducive to the form of participatory
democracy practised in the ancient polis.
Contributing to the founding debates of the American constitution, James
Madison regarded popular participation in government as a dangerous condi-
tion, exposing the process of rule to harmful factionalism. In its place, Madison
views a representative system, where government is delegated to a small num-
ber of citizens who achieve their position by popular elections, as more stable
(Hindess, 1997: 264). Of course, this representative system of government is the
mainstay of democratic states. Typically, this is characterized by a separation of
the state from civil society. Citizens in Western democracies, although regarded
as sovereign, have only a passive role in the political and decision-making pro-
cess. There are opportunities to enter the state as political representatives or to
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join distinct interest groups. Nevertheless, for the majority of citizens, their
most telling contribution to government is the intermittent opportunity to
choose democratic representatives. This is a far cry from the ancient Athenian
ideal of democracy enshrined in participatory government.
The maturation and extension of the state through the development of wel-
fare and social functions during the 20th century did little to extend popular
participation in government. It was not until the latter part of the 20th century
that the language of active citizenship began to make a concerted appearance in
mainstream political discourse within Britain. Key political actors and policy-
makers recognized the value of involving people more directly in political insti-
tutions and decision-making. The aim of the following section is to uncover the
reasons why a mature representative democracy has sought to encourage civic
input in government and to reect on the political and social implications of
this development.
Active Citizenship and the Political Realm: A Decentred
or Top-down Perspective?
During the course of the 1980s, citizenship became a contentious ash-point for
rival political factions and ideologies (Hindess, 1993: 19). The political import
of citizenship is not lost on Dahrendorf: People sense that there is something in
citizenship that denes the needs of the future in this they are right but pro-
ceed to bend the term to their own predilections (Dahrendorf, 1994: 12).
Discussion of the issue was not conned to the established territory of rights as
the responsibilities and duties of citizens became integral to the ongoing politi-
cal debate. Protagonists on the Right emphasized the importance of promoting
active citizenship to achieve a balance between rights and duties. This was seen
as a logical extension of the prevailing policy orthodoxy of the time which
sought to reduce the burden of the state and introduce greater private sector
provision of public goods.
Thinkers on the centre-left also took up the question of active citizenship
for quite different reasons. Their concern was to defend the collective fabric of
public life against encroachment by the market. In America, major philosophi-
cal gures on the Left such as Charles Taylor and Michael Walzer looked to
communitarian citizenship as a critical response to Reaganite market neo-
liberalism. Closer to home, figures such as Paul Hirst (1997) advanced radi-
cal democratic visions which embraced participatory citizenship and associative
democracy.
As already stated, the changing political milieu of the 1980s in Britain was
the context for this renewed interest in community involvement. The neo-liberal
turn in Western democracies during this period saw centre-right parties hijack
the levers of government. The result was not a planned revolution, despite the
revisionist tendencies of some key protagonists, but a series of policy initiatives
which, over time, amounted to a substantial programme of reform. Successive
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Conservative governments drew back and redened the boundaries of the state.
More accurately, the social state apparatus (welfare provision, social service
care, social housing), rather than the control state apparatus (the army, police),
was constricted. Important social entitlements were either radically curtailed or
disappeared altogether. Public sector bodies were pressurised, through a bar-
rage of reforms, to assume nancial and managerial priorities. For certain ana-
lysts, the exposure of the public sector to privatization and the efforts made to
encourage greater self-reliance helped to redene the role of the citizen.
Through research into housing privatization, Saunders argues that such policy
interventions resulted in a positive reinvention of citizenship: the conclusion
reached is that the growth of home ownership is associated, not with an
increase in privatism, but with a greater willingness to engage in collective life
and social commitments (Saunders, 1993: 856).
At the same time, the development of community involvement and active
citizenship in recent policy initiatives cannot be simply regarded as a by-product
of privatization or the market reforms of the public sector. Although the neo-
liberal turn of the 1980s provided a vital political backdrop, such policy activi-
ties also have their own distinct political dynamic and rationale. These are very
much linked to the way society is governed and to structural changes in the
nature of political governance. The relationship between civil society and politi-
cal institutions is an important element in this calculation. A sociologically
informed analysis of community and active citizenship is required to explore
such issues.
Sociological literature on community involvement is not extensive and it is
very much preoccupied with reconceptualizing the democratic model, as found
in works on communitarianism and associative democracy. A potentially more
useful source of inquiry is provided by those contemporary social theorists who
have questioned democracy, not as an ideology, but as a practice. These theo-
rists have applied a genealogical approach to a range of social issues, including
community and active citizenship. Although this work is inchoate and variable,
it sets out a sophisticated examination of the infusion of government into many
aspects of social life.
The basis for this approach is Foucaults later writings on the nature of
modern government. Central to this analysis is the concept of governmentality;
a neologism devised by Foucault which fuses government with the concept of a
specic mentality that has characterized state activity in contemporary society.
This mentality is based on the presumption that everything can, should,
must be managed, administered, regulated by authority (Allen, 1998: 179). In
his late-1970s lecture on governmentality, Foucault traces this particular men-
tality to the 16th century where the issue of the art of government became a
dominant theme in political treatises (Foucault, 1991: 87). The demise of feudal
society and its replacement by the secular state was responsible for generating
interest in the topic of government across a wide range of issues. According to
Foucault, concerns regarding the art of government contrasts markedly with
those regarding sovereign and judicial power that prevailed in feudal society.
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Here, government is less about sovereignty and territory and more about the
efcient management of men and things.
It is from this consideration of government in 16th-century political
thought that Foucault cultivates a distinct approach on the operation of govern-
ment and political power in contemporary society (McNay, 1994: 117).
Governmentality provides a critical contrast with orthodox political thought.
To begin with, Foucault is especially wary of the way the state is regarded as
the central provenance and source of power in society. In liberal thought the
state is pitted against the defenceless individual, whilst for Marxist theory
the state is the political embodiment of capitalist economic power (Foucault,
1991: 104). According to Foucault the state has to be marginalized in the study
of power or, as he graphically explains, political philosophy needs to cut off the
Kings head (Foucault, 1980: 122). Instead of a unied view of government,
Foucault proposes that modern government has adopted a range of different
practices, undergoing what is termed a governmentalization of the state. This
underlines the way in which the modern state has positioned itself and aug-
mented its position by deploying a range of practices and rationalities of rule
that neither originate in the state nor are used intentionally.
Writers adopting the notion of Foucaults governmentality have detailed,
using contemporary examples, the actual programmes, techniques and materi-
als through which the rationalities of rule (liberalism, monetarism,
Keynesianism) are translated into practical interventions. One area that has
received certain prominence from these writers is the governmental literature
that revolves around community. Rose (1996), for instance, observes that com-
munity has become a new specialization of government. Although it has long
been a feature of political theory and social critique, community has now
become integrated into professional programmes and knowledge. This techni-
cal use of the concept, according to Rose, has contributed to the way the com-
munity is a new focus for dealing with established social problems. This in turn
has demarcated a new sector for government, one in which the capabilities and
resources of communities could be utilized by policy programmes through
placing the onus on responsible self-help.
In Roses words, it is a matter of government through community (1996:
332). This has involved various government strategies and practices for culti-
vating and utilizing community allegiances. One such method, highlighted by
Rose, is that of active citizenship or community involvement where new modes
of neighbourhood participation, local empowerment and engagement of
residents in decisions over their own lives will, it is thought, reactivate self-
motivation, self-responsibility and self-reliance (1996: 335). Community
involvement is a means of government. Encouraging active citizenship pro-
motes a particular type of personal morality and positive forms of life for com-
munities, individuals and governments. Cruikshank (1994) studied the 1960s
Community Action Programmes in the United States, where active citizenship
was promoted as an empowering force for individuals and communities in
deprived inner city areas. Empowerment through active citizenship, according
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to Cruikshank, amounts to a technology of citizenship. Empowerment culti-
vates a certain type of subjectivity which encourages the active engagement of
the poor in the provision of social services, thus reducing their dependency on
the state. This technology is particularly evident in the policies of centre-right
governments as they seek to pare down welfare services.
From Rose and Cruikshanks Foucauldian-inspired governmental perspec-
tive, active citizenship is regarded as a strategy of government that provides an
efcient means for regulating the population. Social regulation through com-
munity participation, though, is not linked to a powerful, centralized state.
Indeed, the governmentality of community underlines the decentred notion of
government: the fact that governing practices are not immanent in the state but
are dispersed throughout society. Government exploits and uses existing
community-based practices for the purpose of rule but is not implicated in
developing and encouraging such activities. Thus, the governmental approach
intentionally marginalizes the role of the state, neglecting the concrete activities
of government or what has been referred to as the messy actualities of the
state. For critics, this leads to an overly-abstract view of the governing process,
with politics reduced to a rationality or mentality of rule (OMalley et al.,
1997: 5045). This proves to be a signicant oversight as far as community
involvement and active citizenship is concerned.
A recent study by Maloney et al. (2000) on urban governance underlines
the importance of political structures and institutions in associational activity.
Their account offers a top-down perspective in which institutions such as the
state and local authorities feature prominently in shaping the context of com-
munity participation. This is not to say that the relationship between the politi-
cal system and civil society is a deterministic one; rather, as Maloney et al.
maintain, there is an interdependency, or interpenetration between civil society
and the state. Using comparative historical material from Birmingham the
authors show that between 1970 and 1998 there has been a doubling in
the number of non-sport voluntary associations; a civic vibrancy aided by the
city councils provision of grants and community development schemes. The
authors note that political institutions have a signicant role, at least in helping
to sustain civic vibrancy and probably also in stimulating its growth (Maloney
et al., 2000: 803).
A closer inspection of recent historical evidence underlines the salience of
such a top-down approach for research into active citizenship. In contrast to the
governmental perspective, the argument here is that political institutions like
central government continue to play a signicant role in social life. As Parsons
observes: Government may not be in as much control as it (and we) would or
might like, but this does not mean that policy-making is of no importance
(Parsons, 1995: 608). In the case of community involvement, public authorities,
as the gate-keepers to executive power and as the holders of signicant
resources, are crucial to creating the opportunities for active citizenship.
A more detailed historical examination will be made below of the develop-
ment of active citizenship during the 1980s and 1990s. This material shows that
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government has been deeply implicated in the expansion and growing signi-
cance of active citizenship. Government efforts to involve citizenry during the
early to mid-1980s tended to concentrate on urban policy but, over time, com-
munity involvement has gured across other areas of policy, such as the reform
of local government services. Signicantly, governments preoccupation with
active citizenship has been generated by distinct political calculations and by
particular ideological predilections.
A Top-down History of Active Citizenship
Addressing Central Policy Failures
The eld of urban regeneration policy, especially under successive Tory admini-
strations during the 1980s, underlines clearly the way in which central govern-
ment has proved crucial to the development of active citizenship. In particular,
government intervention in urban areas has provided a benchmark for active
citizenry or what, in the context of such policy initiatives, became known as
community involvement. Urban policy did not emerge as a distinct and con-
scious government enterprise until the 1960s. Embryonic schemes such as the
Urban Programme and the Comprehensive Community Programme provided
extra social assistance for depressed city areas. A more concerted effort to
address the urban issue came with the formation of the Community
Development Project in 1969.
Twelve local action teams were formed in localities suffering from multiple
forms of deprivation. These teams initially explored ways of initiating commu-
nity growth by focusing on poverty as a localized phenomenon. It was not until
the 1970s that the project teams began to offer socio-economic explanations of
poverty and radical community-centred solutions. These schemes are regarded
by some commentators as the apotheosis of local involvement in urban re-
generation. Wound up by 1978 and securing few socio-economic improve-
ments, the Community Development Projects nevertheless managed to shape
received opinion (Higgins et al., 1983: 46). Indeed, Peter Shores 1977 White
Paper, Policy for the Inner Cities, embraced structural solutions to the problem
of urban deprivation, particularly unemployment. The focus on community-led
regeneration was negligible but Shores new policy made provision for local
authorities to be the conduits in directing urban schemes. However, the change
of government in 1979 meant Shores new urban programme was in danger of
being dismantled (Hambleton, 1981).
Successive Conservative administrations during the 1980s undertook to
reshape urban policy to reect their own ideological predilections. The policy
orthodoxy that emerged in this period, like Labours White Paper, emphasized
economic development as the panacea for urban blight. This objective was
pursued through private investment and property-led regeneration in urban
areas. The strategy contrasted greatly with that of the previous Labour
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administration. Tory governments peeled away planning regulations in urban
areas in an effort to encourage private-sector led investment, chiey for the pur-
pose of physical regeneration. There was to be a special role for the private sec-
tor in all this. Partnerships between public and private sector agencies were
encouraged and private sector investment was secured through scal incentives.
Several initiatives (enterprise zones, urban development grants, city grants) and
specialist agencies were established (Urban Development Corporations) for the
express purpose of getting hold of private sector resources and expertise
(Lawless, 1988: 5337).
This shift in emphasis was very much at the expense of local authority
engagement in the whole process of inner-city development. Symptomatic of
this was the diminution of the Urban Programme, which was reduced from 150
to 57 participating authorities in 1987 (Hill, 1994: 1745). Conservative
governments relied on government-controlled quango bodies rather than local
authorities (Moore and Booth, 1986). This, in effect, meant a greater degree of
centralization over the regeneration process than had been evident in the past.
Following the 1987 election and for much of the late 1980s, the newly
formed Conservative administration intensied its efforts to develop private-led
strategies to address urban deprivation (see Edwards and Deakin, 1992). Most
of the schemes in this period, encompassed in the key policy document Action
for Cities, focused on inner city rejuvenation. The document stressed the need
to cultivate an enterprise culture within inner-cities. In the late 1970s, com-
merce was regarded as part of the problem, but under the Conservative govern-
ment it became an integral part of the solution (Barnekov et al., 1989: 215).
It was envisaged that this entrepreneurial culture would be developed by
specialist agencies consisting of private and public sector representatives. Thus,
existing organizations such as the Urban Development Corporations were
expanded and new agencies City Action Teams and Task Forces were estab-
lished to cultivate a dynamic economy within deprived inner-city areas.
Academic evaluations conducted at the beginning the 1990s concluded
that, even with the great outpouring of urban initiatives in the previous decade,
these have had no demonstrable effect in reversing or slowing the urban decay
reected by increasing polarization (Robson et al., 1994: 55). As if the dearth
of concrete improvements was not enough, further criticisms were levelled at
the way urban policy was governed and administered.
Possibly the most significant examination came from the Audit
Commission. In its report, Urban Regeneration and Economic Development
(1989), the Commission criticized the transfer of resources and responsibilities
away from local authorities. The tendency over the years had been for govern-
ment to eschew, or treat with suspicion, partnerships with local authorities.
Instead, the onus was on devolving resources and relevant powers for local eco-
nomic intervention to civil service teams and agencies dominated by private
sector representatives appointed by the central government. Within this policy
framework, capital and property-led schemes were prioritized over social
concerns.
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The marginalization of local government was symptomatic of the way
central efforts had focused on the private sector as a panacea for urban depri-
vation at the expense of other stakeholders. Key actors and agencies within
urban localities such as residents, tenants associations, voluntary groups and
community workers had a peripheral or non-existent role in the regeneration
process. By the end of the 1980s, concerned policy gures in government began
to re-evaluate urban intervention. The result was not a sea change but a gradual
move away from the market-orientated approach of the 1980s.
Robinson and Shaw note how the harsh vernacular of the enterprise cul-
ture that accompanied early urban initiatives had by the late 1980s and early
1990s been tempered by softer references to the community, and partner-
ship between government, business and the local people (Robinson and Shaw,
1991: 61). Although substantive policy changes were not evident immediately,
new initiatives began to emerge. A notable development came with the estab-
lishment, in 1988, of regeneration partnerships in four Scottish housing estates.
The Scottish new life partnerships relied on co-ordinated intervention and
broadening the range of regeneration partners to include local representatives
(Hastings et al., 1996: 3). In December 1989 the government announced that
major cities would be allocated ministers with special responsibilities for co-
ordinating policy. These were also made responsible for stimulating partner-
ships between central and local government on matters relating to urban
redevelopment. It seemed that, in response to the perceived failure of past ini-
tiatives, the government was edging towards a more inclusive approach that
involved local communities.
This was evident with two policy initiatives that came into being in the
1990s under John Majors government. The new programmes placed local
government at the centre, indicating a notable shift from the prevailing ortho-
doxies of the 1980s. Moreover, local authorities in both initiatives had to
demonstrate a clear partnership-building capacity with a range of stakeholder
groups. The rst of these, City Challenge, was launched in 1991 by Michael
Heseltine, who had been brought in from the political wilderness to head the
Department of the Environment. Under City Challenge, local authorities were
given funds directly, without the intervention of external agencies. Another shift
with previous orthodoxies was the adoption of a broad-based strategy of inter-
vention with local authorities, communities, business and voluntary groups at
the forefront. The theory was that government was to facilitate, rather than
directly control, proceedings (De Groot, 1992: 205). After two rounds, City
Challenge was replaced in 1993 by the Single Regeneration Budget. This pack-
age was integrated around 20 separate urban-related schemes spanning ve dif-
ferent departments. The objective of the new funding package was to bring a
greater sense of co-ordination. Through a local bidding process open to local
authorities, voluntary groups and private sector organizations, the Single
Regeneration Budget allowed urban regeneration schemes to be shaped from
the bottom up. The practice of community involvement that emerged in
the early 1990s went beyond independent small-scale initiatives. Gradually, the
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local populace was elevated to the apparent status of partner in the regenera-
tion process (Hastings et al., 1996: 5).
Urban renewal schemes centred on housing and estate projects also proved
important conduits for the government support of active citizenship. Here,
tenant involvement in estate management became the pivotal rampart of hous-
ing renewal schemes. The Housing Action Trusts established under the 1988
Housing Act and the Department of the Environments 1995 Estate Renewal
Challenge Fund dangled the twin carrots of substantial extra investment and
tenant control before those living in, and overseeing, run down estates (Harriott
and Matthews, 1998: 241). Under the current Labour government there has
been a continuation of tenant involvement and tenant-managed housing.
Signicantly, the New Labour government, as will be shown below, has made
concerted efforts to extend active citizenship beyond the urban policy arena.
The Local Politics of Modernization
As argued above, the strategic importance of community involvement is best
understood by focusing on the concrete activities of governments. The incum-
bent Labour government in 1997, if anything, sought to make community a
central policy theme. One political commentator was forced to admit that
[n]ever has a government worried so much about community (Toynbee,
2001). This issue has featured prominently in New Labour discourse. Forced to
review historical priorities and commitments in the light of the Thatcherite
hegemony, the notion of community has been used by the New Labour intelli-
gentsia to reinvent the partys social democratic ethos and ideals.
Symptomatic of this ideological re-engineering is the interest shown by
inuential gures such as Gordon Brown and Tony Blair in communitarian
ideas. Fairclough notes how communitarian discourse was used to distinguish
New Labour both from Thatcherite Conservatism and old socialist Labour
(Fairclough, 2000: 378). The arch proponent of this localized, policy-
orientated brand of communitarianism is the American sociologist Amitai
Etzioni. In celebrated texts such as The Spirit of Community (Etzioni, 1995)
and the New Golden Rule (Etzioni, 1997), Etzioni makes a case for the revital-
ization of community and civic life through local networks, active citizenship
and an emphasis on individual responsibility.
Since entering government the Blair leadership has unofcially appointed
the British sociologist, Anthony Giddens, as its ideological guru-in-chief. Key
protagonists in New Labour are attracted by the idea of rehabilitating social
democracy through the concept of a third way (see Blair, 1998). Signicant
elements of Giddens third way undoubtedly draw upon communitarian
thinking. Giddens notes the following in a discussion of third way politics:
Old-style social democracy was inclined to treat rights as unconditional
claims. With expanding individualism should come an extension of individual
obligations (Giddens, 1998: 65).
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Giddens has also made a central totem of partnership between the state and
civil society. This partnership is central to the rejuvenation of associative life
and social cohesion throughout society, acting as a countervailing force to the
excessive individualism fostered by modern global capitalism.
Such ideas and prescriptions have not remained conned to government
papers. Distinct efforts were made throughout the rst term of the Blair govern-
ment to translate such convictions into concrete policies. Again, the issue of
urban deprivation has featured prominently in these policy interventions. Some
of the highlights include the New Deal for Communities, launched in 1998, and
the community partnership scheme, which saw the light of day three years later.
The New Deal for Communities has sought to allocate 800 million to 17 of
the poorest neighbourhoods in the country over a nine-year period. The most
conspicuous feature of this initiative is the way in which partnership areas
operate and set targets (Foley and Martin, 2000: 483). Partnerships have to
demonstrate clear evidence of community involvement in the selection of neigh-
bourhoods and in the delivery of programmes.
Labours aspirations for community involvement have not stopped with
urban policy. Similar concerns have guided efforts to improve public service
provision. Inuential commentators have argued that the welfare state and
public services are ineffective; a consequence of centralization, bureaucratiza-
tion and the dominance of professional interests. A more responsive public
sector that is invested with trust is contingent upon cultivating local ownership
over service provision (Corrigan and Joyce, 1997). Several departmental and
policy unit pronouncements since 1997 attest to the fact that ministers have
embraced such arguments. The 1999 White Paper, Modernising Government,
sets out an agenda for improving public service standards through holistic insti-
tutional structures and citizen-centred modes of service delivery. A further con-
tribution to the debate was the Social Exclusion Units Bringing Britain
Together policy paper which is critical of centralized, top-down forms of service
provision. The paper envisages an alternative, neighbourhood approach to
policy which could strengthen civil society.
Modernizing reforms in local government have been a test-bed for imple-
menting such ideas. The principal modernizing strategy for local government
was the introduction of the Best Value regime. This policy was introduced to
replace the previous Conservative governments use of compulsory competitive
tendering for providing local services. In stark contrast to the economic ratio-
nality that underpinned this tendering process, the Best Value regime seeks to
improve not only cost-effectiveness, but also service quality. This is achieved,
crucially, through giving local residents a more substantive role in holding
councils to account. The 1999 Local Government Act made it a legal require-
ment for local authorities, as well as other local service providers such as police
and re authorities, to consult service users about different aspects of their
service provision.
According to Foley and Martin, authorities under the Best Value regime
have to involve users, citizens and communities in reviewing current service
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provision and setting future performance targets (Foley and Martin, 2000:
484). Towards this end, local authorities have to publish Best Value
Performance Plans which are to be distributed widely to the public. Central
government has also insisted that local authorities attain indicators of user
satisfaction: that is, questionnaire surveys into user views of key council ser-
vices such as housing, benet and waste collection. Research into the piloting
of Best Value practice has shown that authorities have also involved local
people in shaping future services and engaging groups which, in the past, have
proved difcult to reach. For instance, Manchester City Council set up Best
Value Action Teams to work alongside local people to devise services and decide
on strategic priorities for local areas (Martin, 2000: 222).
Labour has undoubtedly been innovative in its commitment to extending
public involvement in the policymaking and democratic process. It is possible
that the espousal of community involvement is a mere rhetorical device. This is,
however, a simplistic interpretation of New Labours policy stance towards
community involvement. Evidence would suggest that the Labour government
has made serious endeavours to develop policies to promote community
involvement. The distribution of urban regeneration funds under the Single
Regeneration Budget reveals a distinct commitment on the part of government
towards local-based schemes. The rst three competitive funding rounds of the
Single Regeneration Budget yielded only seven community-led projects. This
contrasts with the fth round, conducted under the Labour government, in
which there were 22 successful community and voluntary sector-led bids,
accounting for 43 percent of the funding (Foley and Martin, 2000: 483). The
800 million that was made available for the regeneration of neighbourhoods
is another case in point.
That said, research carried out on pilot projects for such programmes as
Best Value suggests that community involvement tends to be conated with
mass focus-group style public consultations. Very few of the pilots have
attempted to promote more active participation by users and/or citizens in
service delivery and or the policy process (Martin and Boaz, 2000: 51). The
limited development of community involvement should be expected, in view of
the embryonic nature of these programmes. Yet, it might be that New Labours
conception of citizen participation is, at best, unclear and, at worst, limited to
a quasi-consumerist approach to the delivery of public services. Whilst minis-
ters have envisaged greater scope for active citizenship, Martin and Boaz (2000)
note that many local service providers due to limited capacity and wide
pressures will opt for a narrower focus on consultation, rather than delega-
tion.
The bounded nature of community involvement under New Labour reects
the fact that such policies have not been accompanied by a substantive transfer
of executive power from the centre to local institutions and people. For all its
support of community involvement, the Labour government has a predilection
towards retaining strong central control over key policy areas; indeed, this is
not an uncommon feature of British government administrations, regardless of
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ideological bent or party allegiance. Smith notes that the central executive is still
more highly resourced in terms of authority, nance, and control over coercion
than any other domestic institution (Smith, 1999: 253). The implementation of
Best Value is an apposite reminder of central governments tendency to retain a
strong hand of control. The pilots of Best Value were certainly responsive to
local diversity and community involvement. At the same time, the statutory
framework subsequently introduced is highly prescriptive and imposes a high
level of standardization on local authorities (Boyne, 2000: 7). Thus, community
involvement and citizen participation should be regarded as being delimited
within certain parameters that have, as yet, to countenance the substantive dis-
placement and transfer of central resources and powers.
Conclusion
In classical Greek society, citizens were expected to be directly involved in the
very institutions that governed their lives. The ideal of active citizenship has
proved highly inuential in modern political thought, inspiring the likes of
Rousseau and contemporary social thinkers such as Etzioni. Modern demo-
cratic forms of government, though, have tended to be structured around rep-
resentative rather than participative forms of democracy. Much of this is due
to the complexity and size of industrial society. However, one of the more
interesting political developments in the British polity during the past 20 years
is the growing importance attached to community involvement.
From a sociological perspective, this burgeoning interest in active citizen-
ship is signicant because of the possible insights it provides about the rela-
tionship between civil society and political institutions. Foucaults
governmental approach to politics has informed contemporary explorations of
the links between governance and active citizenship. Here, ideas of community
and active citizenship operate as strategies, enabling the state to govern more
effectively. Regulation through community participation, though, is not linked
to a powerful centralized state: this reects the diffuse and decentred nature of
the way society is regulated. The governmentality of community underlines the
way in which governing practices are not immanent in the state but are dis-
persed throughout society. Indeed, Foucault and his followers are not alone in
thinking about governing without government: there has been a growing ten-
dency in contemporary analysis, such as the actor-network approach in the
sociology of knowledge and the governance perspective in political science, to
minimize the signicance of the centred society and polity.
In contradistinction to this position, the recent history of active citizenship
shows that central government is not an impotent force in wider social matters.
In fact, government has played an integral part in the burgeoning of active citi-
zenship, using policy intervention in such areas as urban regeneration and local
government to intervene deliberately in supporting active citizenry. Even those
agencies such as the Community Development Trusts that have mushroomed in
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the past ten years for local capacity-building rely extensively on government
support. It should be noted that the onus placed on active citizenship has not
necessarily been accompanied by a substantive transfer of executive power from
the centre to the locality. For governments, the idea of active citizenship is pri-
marily significant because of the part it plays in political rhetoric and in
strategic calculations. The adoption of active citizenship by recent govern-
ments is yet to encompass the actual redistribution of political power: the
emergence of a truly citizen-centred government, a modern type of Ekklesia,
is still far from being realized.
Acknowledgement
I would like to thank Professors George Boyne and Steve Martin for their assis-
tance.
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Michael Marinetto
Is a lecturer at Cardiff Business School, University of Cardiff.
Address: Cardiff Business School, Cardiff University, Aberconway Building, Colum Drive,
Cardiff, CF10 3EU, UK.
E-mail: marinettom@cardiff.ac.uk
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