Concept of community?

Pá 23 září 2005

First of all, this is what I’ve got from a member of my dissertation committee:

What you propose so far is quite interesting, but I still do not get a clear sense of how you propose to study the Boston Miracle. The theories you review are there for explaining crime, but how you link them to the kind of response that produced the so called Boston Miracle needs to be better delineated. I was disappointed in the methodology. This seems to need considerable work. Your proposal to look at newspaper reports is quite sensible. But that doesn’t go far enough in telling what exactly you’ll be looking for in those reports. You need to expand this section. All I can tell from your proposal is that you wish to study newspaper reports and how they represented minorities during this time of crisis. If so I would think that the data at various points are rather thin. You might want to take a sample of what you think might be out there and code accordingly to make the better case for what you propose to do and how you propose to do it.


Given your interest in bureaucracy and where you were raised why not take a critical and deeper look at the concept of community? It is so often used and yet it has come to mean so many things to say many people. You use it. Others do as well. Community policing, community organization, etc. etc.… You could show how the concept of community has driven the Boston miracle, and how the term community has been used in the media. This I think would allow you to work with a wider set of data and enable you to draw on the Boston miracle as just one example of how community is used as a concept and as a way of explaining social change. You can even divide this literature into that which relates the internal and external attributions of community. For instance, you could suggest that the Boston miracle is empirically related to newspaper attributions that see the change related to internal as opposed to external representations of community. External representations I would say link the community to the broader political economy, while internal representations emphasize the local political economy and the values of those directly involved in the community. External would be foundation support, federal and state economic aid, etc.…

This is a lot. Basically, if I understand this correctly, he suggests to throw away most of what I have done so far and begin again. On the other hand, there is a part of me agreeing with him—it seems that there really may not be that much explicit about the image of the community. I would have to interpret even more from the given material—which could lead to pretty stupid conclusions (given my lack of local knowledge), or to something really interesting and new.

Which leads me again to the necessity of going through fundamental conceptual stuff and makes me less certain that I know what I am talking about. I mean, is it really possible to find out something that’s really going on out there, or do I just write again my superstitions into the previously created myth of “The Boston Miracle”? Should I just write how wonderful it is when people work together, talk about each other nicely, and kill each other less often? All that could be covered into nice “scientific” labels of “social capital”, “trust”, or “civic society”?

I am afraid, that after all scientific talking is said and done, it may come down to the question which story I am willing to take as a base of my own thinking. Unfortunately, there isn’t just one story to be told—the one about good pastors raising up the community and empowering themselves to fight crime. There is also much more sad story about the Ten-point Coallition which is (according to some spoken and unconfirmed information) more or less broke, about former co-workers (Rev. Hammond and Rev. Rivers) who were bashing each other in public (that was couple of years ago—what is the situation now?). The latter story may be really about the non-profit organization paid by the federal money which run out (was it because its own success and thus less need to prevent crime or because of the general economic downturn and need to save federal money or maybe even about the cutting down the federal budget?). The last possible story which comes to my mind is altogether nasty—about white voters supporting government’s support of the anti-crime prevention when fearing blacks to kill them (while killing each other), but hesitant to continue when the situation has turned better. The last two stories have in common that they understand TPC success as a seed of its own problems—maybe that is worthy to be investigated.

However, the last story, about fearful voters, can be at least to some degree verified, because at least some (indirect, self-censored, politically very correct, to be sure) footprints should be possible to find in newspapers, if there is at least some level of this discussion in the readers’ community (whatever such community means, yes).

Category: research Tagged: dissertation BostonMiracle