Mr Greenfield’s church

Last week I attended the Faith in the Countryside conference held at the Hayes Centre in Swanwick, Derbyshire. Twenty years after the important ‘sister’ publication to the famous Faith in the City report (which caused so much political foment and put the Church of England on the national map as a big player in social theory), the Faith in the Countryside report was less well-known and made less of an impact for, in those days (the late ’80s and early ’90s) it was the inner cities, council estates and urban areas which were receiving all the attention. Their industries, like steel and coal, had been decimated leaving communities rudderless, their infrastructure destroyed and mass unemployment with all the attendant problems. Rightly, the nation’s attention switched to these places as areas desperate for regeneration and inward investment. The Church played its part in this, and the Church Urban Fund dedicated huge amounts of money to enable new projects to arise and new opportunities to flourish. Many re-ordered churches, local social programmes and much else owe their existence, and the immensely good work they have done and achieved, to this fund. At this time, the countryside was, in the popular imagination, an idyllic place of fresh air, rolling meadows and birdsong with the occasional ruddy-faced farmer wandering past with a wheat stalk in his mouth. The reality was different…

There was, and is, significant rural deprivation and poverty: transport was and is a continuing problem, especially for the young. With small populations and huge geographical areas, the maintenance of an infrastructure for health, education, policing and other needs remains a severe difficulty. Then, as now, affordable housing was a problem: and local people, again especially the young, find it difficult to live in the country areas they were born into. These problems have continued to this day and are exacerbated by the problem of ‘gentrification’, that is wealthier, older people buying up their country retreats and pricing locals out of the market. This is made even worse by local planning regulations which state that building can only take place in ‘sustainable’ communities i,e. there needs to be a school, a post office etc. Those small villages without these facilities are deemed unsustainable and therefore building cannot take place. Very fine for those who want the village to remain their country dream, less good for those locals who can neither afford nor find housing in the village they call home. The upshot is that the countryside is now no longer that which is described in Thomas Hardy novels or the Darling Buds of May. Farms that were once communities of many workers with children and extended families, are now run by one or two people and fields are ploughed by Sat Nav in combine harvesters controlled by banks of computers. The countryside is a more lonely, threatening and alienated place than it has ever been and there are now significant statistics about farmer suicide rates.

At the Conference we learnt from Mark Shucksmith, a Professor from Newcastle University, about the concept of ‘Symbolic Violence’.  The theory was developed by the Frenchman, Pierre Bourdieu and is not, you understand, physical violence, but the social violence that one section of society, often unwittingly , perpetrates upon another: simply put,  influence is brought to bear upon people so that they accept that any hurt which is about to happen to them is good for them: tell people that development of the countryside is a bad thing for conservation, nature etc, and then we accept that houses should not be built or workplaces developed as this will ‘ruin the countryside’: but violence is done to those without jobs or homes. Similar ideas can be put about the present across the board cuts of 25%: we tell folk that it is in their long-term interest and that it is necessary and we all accept the job losses and social upheaval. I find it fascinating as theory and both convincing and descriptive of how power is really wielded. The countryside and its people are certainly subject to symbolic violence.

I wonder where it affects me and mine and you and yours?

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~ by Tim Ellis on November 10, 2010.

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