Hello and welcome to the TCC Weekly – the Friday bulletin for people who know their epistemology from their epidemiology.
With Christmas lights springing up on our high streets already, the end of the year feels close. So, we’ve begun to ask ourselves what 2018 might look like. Will it be a year of social renewal? Or will things continue in the same vein as 2016 and 2017 – two years when levels of trust and cohesion have been in decline?
To reflect on these questions, we bring you a TCC Weekly focused on what we think are some of the antidotes to rebuilding trust in communities from the bottom-up. Our Engagement Hub looks at how to promote a culture of ‘encounter’, and our politics section at ways to re-build social cohesion.
And from the serious to the frivolous, we bring Sistine chapel inspired council flats and sheep that recognise human faces – all of this, of course, in Charlie’s Attic. This week the loft morphs into an upmarket restaurant where you’ll find Dolly the sheep and Vatican clergymen bonding over (vegetarian) meals.
“The US is experiencing a deep epistemic breach, a split not just in what we value or want, but in who we trust, how we come to know things, and what we believe we know.
“Epistemology is the branch of philosophy having to do with how we know things and what it means for something to be true or false, accurate or inaccurate."
As the quote above from this Vox piece illustrates, trust in politics and what people believe to be true appears to be at breaking point in the US. More and more people seem to hold patently irrational beliefs – like the view that Obama is secretly a Muslim.
Needless to say, the consequences for national cohesion are far-reaching – when basic levels of trust no longer exist, the glue that holds society together begins to come undone. And of course it isn’t just in the US where trust is under threat, with moments like ‘Pencil-gate’ exemplifying some of the ills we’re experiencing at home.
At TCC we’re working to understand, first, what the causes for this break-down are and, second, what to do about it. Our New Conversations guide is our most far-reaching effort on this front to date. The guide is full of case studies and tips which aim to give local authorities the tools to work in a low trust context. We recommend the case study about how Bexley Council responded to a crisis of trust following a tragic event. Click here and scroll through to p.64 to find out more.
We recently listened to ‘A Culture of Encounter’, a radio documentary by former Labour MP Douglas Alexander. It was a fascinating insight, asking how people can be encouraged to make contact with – to ‘encounter’ – people from different backgrounds. The programme is about the tendency to ‘flock together’ on the basis of shared cues and conversational pointers. And it points out that establishing basic contact often isn’t enough to break free of these silos. A deeper emotional and time commitment is usually required.
The programme emphasised the importance of ‘convergence of feet’ – by which people physically meet people who are different. This obviously relates to the idea of social networks, peer-to-peer and face-to-face, and the positive effect this can have on issues like cohesion. We’ve repeatedly found, in our own work, that this is the case – especially in cases of low trust, alienation, or hostility to newcomers. Breakdowns in engagement invariably require the face-to-face contact of frontline staff at councils, as well as those who play ‘connector’ roles in the community.
Social networks are often related to the new digital world. But, as this podcast explains, they’re as old as time itself. Technological social networks can actually often act as a barrier to true social mix. We thought we’d put a few statements about human contact to the test in the Values Lab, to see how connected the three Values tribes (Settlers, Prospectors, and Pioneers) are.
It’s important to live…
…somewhere where the houses are smaller and closer together, but schools, shops, and pubs are within walking distance
…in a place where most people share your political views
…in a place with a mix of people from different racial and ethnic backgrounds
…in a place where many people share your religious faith
The findings are fascinating, showing a more atomised approach on the part of Prospectors when it came to types of housing and area, and a more relaxed approach to political and religious homogeneity, too. This may partly relate to the higher BME proportions among Prospectors.
Meanwhile, on the question of race and ethnicity, the tables are turned, with Settlers much less keen on living in a melting pot of different cultures. This chimes with our own experiences, with Settlers favouring tighter knit approaches and being more suspicious of obvious difference. This makes them a curious values group; the historical bedrock of many close communities, but also the most reluctant to ‘encounter’ difference.
And finally this week, Charlie’s Attic, which is always the place to hide when a man in a military uniform on TV announces “THIS IS NOT A MILITARY COUP!”: