Big Society(4): Families, networks, neighbourhoods and communities

May 26, 2010 by
Filed under: Social Economy 

To paraphrase Mark Twain: contrary to my previous blog, reports of the death of the Big Society are grossly exagerated. The Cabinet Office recently released an outline of their plans to give the Big Society legs, and there is a distinct possibility that they will run all over the country, although to stretch this already strained metaphor, the idea may take some time to get its shoes on.

"I don't really want to build my own school or my own hospital – I appreciate it if someone else does that for me" Zadie Smith

A noteworthy conceptual point is that the document made reference to “Society – the families, networks, neighbourhoods and communities that form so much of the fabric of our everyday lives”. That’s not quite a definition, but it’s good to see the idea given some tangible structure. As I indicated previously, Margaret Thatcher’s contention that “there is no such thing as society” is often wrenched out of context, because she actually said:

“There is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first. It’s our duty to look after ourselves and then, also to look after our neighbour. People have got the entitlements too much in mind, without the obligations. There’s no such thing as entitlement, unless someone has first met an obligation.” (My italics).

So families and neighbours are already part of the otherwise purportedly nebulous notion of “society”, and now we have the explicit recognition of networks and communities too. This is the core turf of our Connected Communities project, which is, by the way, currently looking to recruit an Associate Director and Researcher.

Recent updates on the unfolding Big Society include the fact that Nat Wei, the founder of Teach First, has been appointed as the new Government advisor on the Big Society. Meanwhile, Ed West at The Daily Telegraph fears the idea is too New Labour,  and author Zadie Smith doesn’t think the idea makes much sense:

“The big society? I don’t know. I don’t really want to build my own school or my own hospital – I appreciate it if someone else does that for me,” she said. “I am not so keen on that kind of people action. I think most people would like their services prepared for them. I am not a great fan of that concept.”

You may not have to build a school or a hospital, but the question still remains – to make society bigger and better, what exactly do you have to build?


Comments

  • David Wilcox

    Hi Jonathan – some ideas emerging yesterday on what the Big Society is about. http://socialbysocial.net/group/designingforcivilsociety/forum/topics/big-society-round-table-yields
    My take: at best it will be about taking any situation – locality, organisation, issue – and co-designing ways to do more with less.

  • David Wilcox

    Hi Jonathan – some ideas emerging yesterday on what the Big Society is about. http://socialbysocial.net/group/designingforciv
    My take: at best it will be about taking any situation – locality, organisation, issue – and co-designing ways to do more with less.

  • Jonathan Rowson

    Thanks David. From your link I was intrigued to see the following quote/statistic:
    “Although from where we stand it looks as if it couldn’t be any other way, actually it could be very radically different. So we’ve got to open up to the best ideas from elsewhere in this country and elsewhere in Europe and recognise that there is a big potential. Over 45 per cent of people in this country do something that has social significance at least once a month. They want to do that – and they want to do it with more help”.
    Any idea where that 45% stat comes from, and how ‘social significance’ is measured?