Neither Romance Nor Regulation: Re‐evaluating Community


As the realm of the community has grown increasingly important in the contemporary political economy, the theoretical debates surrounding community have also grown in importance and volume. Too often this literature has been either celebratory or dismissive; either romanticizing the concept and thereby elevating it to primary rank as the focal point of societal initiatives, or objecting to its regulated limits and contradictions and thereby dismissing its importance and political utility. There are important contributions being made by both those who dismiss community and those who celebrate it. But for those interested in understanding the potential for emancipatory social change in the contemporary political economy of neoliberalism there are also severe limitations imposed by these perspectives. After critiquing these literatures and debates, we put forward an understanding of community that is neither dismissive nor celebratory, but instead argues that communities need to be understood as simultaneously products of both their larger, and largely external, contexts, and the practices, organizations and relations that take place within them. Thus, communities, because of their central place in capitalist political economies, can be vital arenas for social change. But they are also arenas that are constrained in their capacities to host such efforts.