Immanent Authority and the Making of Community
Principal Investigator: Claire Blencowe
Research Fellows: Leila Dawney & Julian Brigstocke
Amidst current debates in the UK around ‘The Big Society’, the nature of this ‘something bigger’ is again at stake. There is a wide-spread desire to reinvigorate ‘community’ as a source of creativity, conviviality and ‘bottom-up’ agency. More is being asked of communities, from establishing locally-run ‘free schools’ to directly electing police commissioners. As such a thorough interrogation of what community ‘is’ has become increasingly urgent. This project aims to re-invigorate the theory and practice of community in the present. Power does have a positive part to play in the making of community as an enabling, transformative, creative site of civil life. The power in question is authority – a specific type of power that functions through consent and structures of knowledge. Authority is created through the generation, accumulation and performance of experience-based knowledge.
The project identifies and revives a classical analysis of the formation of community: conceptualising community creation and sustainability in terms of the presence and performance of authority. Classical literature of political sociology and anthropology points to the co-constitution of authoritative power and a sense of community. Authority is generated within communities; it also marks and makes manifest the limitations that constitute the boundaries and shared experiences of community life. Whilst traditionalist and foundationalist cultures of authority have become more difficult in the contemporary context, ‘immanent’ (self-creating) authority proliferates.
Whilst ‘authority’ has been associated with ‘top down’, ‘traditionalist-authoritarian’ or ‘bureaucratic’ productions of community in recent debate, this project draws attention to immanent, ‘bottom-up’, forms of authority. As such, it consolidates understandings of the role of power in the creation, rather than the manipulation, of community. A theoretical analysis of the relationship between authority and community explains and emphasises the importance of practices of experience-based knowledge creation, accumulation and performance in the development and empowerment of community. Experience-based knowledges are ‘excessive’, aesthetic and experimental (exceeding the present moment, individual understanding, and information forms of communication). This highlights the importance of creative, aesthetic and experimental practices and performance in the making of community – practices including public art, place-creation and testimony. Thinking the role of aesthetics in the making of community in terms of authority facilitates the development of a non-essentialist understanding of the importance of culture for community.