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The Trapdoor of Community

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The devolution of state authority is frequently cited as a central component of neoliberalism. Such devolution reduces the state's obligations for the welfare of its subject populations. “Community” is often invoked as a potential recipient of heightened obligations, in part because of widespread and warm associations with the term. Although much academic work tracks the logic of neoliberal projects, little interrogates the assessment of devolution by the citizens upon whom it presses obligations. I undertake this task here, drawing upon extensive qualitative data gathered from a set of diverse and contiguous neighborhoods in Seattle as part of a project examining one such exercise in devolved authority, community policing. Interviews of residents in these neighborhoods demonstrate that community is not a sturdy support for neoliberalism but rather is best analogized as a trapdoor. Residents do not envision a robust political role for community and outline a range of obstacles to localized self-governance. Further, they question the extent of the state's off-loading of responsibilities. The legitimacy of the state, the data suggest, risks rupture through the trapdoor of community.

Keywords: community; devolution; neoliberalism; policing

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Geography and Law, Societies, and Justice Program, University of Washington

Publication date: 2005-12-01

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