Connectors, not Communities, in Preventing and Responding to Violence and Disaffection; Marginalised Youth in relation to Complexities of 'Community'.

Lead Research Organisation: Kingston University
Department Name: Sch of Psychology Criminology Sociology


A critical theme emerging from three scoping studies conducted as part of the Connected Communities programme is that, in relation to marginalised young people and their "connections and disconnections" with communities, key individuals ['connectors'] working within and across multiple communities often play a significant role in mediating many of the critical issues facing their lives. The scoping studies suggest that it is these 'connectors', who are positioned at the intersections of sometimes overlapping communities, who act as conduits of connectivity.

In relation to Muslim youth, as a result of significant policy and practice focus upon preventing and responding to Al Qaeda linked terrorism, young Muslims have come under increasing scrutiny and suspicion, identified as the most susceptible to AQ ideology and in need of support. A generation of young Muslims have experienced their formative years in a post-9/11 world in which state and non-state violence - a 'war on terror', on Afghanistan, on Iraq, on 'Islamism', and a stream of terror attacks across the world - have been linked to their own beliefs and identities by the most dominant discourses of their day (McDonald, 2011). White, working class, marginalised youth have experienced similar demonization around issues of criminalisation/gangsterisation alongside 'radicalisation' (Davis and Bourhill, 1997; Squires and Stephen, 2005). Initially mobilised through political rhetoric and legislation designed to tackle 'anti-social' behavior (Squires and Stephen, 2005), the criminalization of poor youth escalated quickly and eventually encompassed significantly more serious criminality including knife and gun crime (Squires and Goldsmith, 2010; Goldson, 2011).

Within these contexts, key 'connectors' have been working with marginalised youth, often in areas marked by poverty, exclusion and gang violence, to support and develop young people and to prevent their 'violent radicalisation' (Baker, 2011; Bulloch and Tilley, 2008). On the streets and in the homes of poor neighbourhoods intricate networks of connection are used by young people to manage the impact of a degraded and disconnected welfare state and as an attempt to ameliorate poverty and exclusion and resist further marginalisation, victimisation and processes of criminalisation (Cavalcanti et al 2011). These connections primarily operate through kith and kin relationships, particularly in more established communities, but can also include others; such as trusted youth workers, sports leaders, and community activists.

Despite the seeming significance of 'connectors' when exploring modes of connectedness and disconnectedness amongst young people, to date very little research has been conducted specifically on the role that 'connectors' play in relation to working and connecting with marginalised youth. This study has the following objectives:

(1) To better understand who 'connectors' are, how they work with marginalised young people, and how they are viewed by wider communities.

(2) To examine how 'connectors' claim and sustain legitimacy and influence.

(3) To examine some of the limits to the connector role and possible pressures to move connectors to the role of 'grass'.

(4) To explore the role of 'connectors' from an historical perspective, exploring key cases in the past where interventions in relation to disaffection and violence might be conceptualized as involving 'connectors'.

These objectives will be pursued by focussing on the following key research questions:

How are individual connectors viewed within the communities they bridge? How have they been viewed through time?
How are individuals 'chosen' by those with whom they interact?
What tensions are felt and/or created by these individuals, and how may they alter the boundaries of communities?
Can connectors critique government policy, and if so, what are the implications for their work with young people?

Planned Impact

This research focuses upon overcoming problems of disaffection and criminalisation, chiefly amongst young men in communities experiencing degrees of social exclusion in contemporary Britain. Despite considerable innovation in community policing styles and approaches over the past three decades, including the development of neighbourhood, 'partnership' and problem-solving policing, the innovation of the 'extended police family' and attempts to develop 'intelligent' local information systems, the police have continued to experience difficulty in adequately engaging with and becoming accountable to diverse communities.

The purpose of the research is to illuminate the roles and potential of these 'connectors' in helping to bridge the often difficult 'disconnections' in young people's lives between themselves and authorities, agencies (including the police) and to facilitate information flows or counter misinformation. In one sense, if this is not too formal a conception of a research output, we are looking at the potential for a 'connector' policy, whilst outlining the possibility for 'connector' training and 'handling' strategy. While expressing these objectives in this fashion it is essential to reiterate that the 'connectors' are not working for the police/authority; they are independent, if anything, they work for the community and the information they deal with flows two ways.

In that sense there are two immediate beneficiaries the: community itself, especially those 'hardest to reach' of its members who will derive increasing support from people whose role has now, perhaps, semi-officially, become about supporting disaffected young people and mediating between them and the authorities, rendering the latter more accountable. It is often assumed that young people are not interested in making communities safer and yet our scoping studies suggest that networks are regularly used by young people to secure their own environments. We aim to produce a policy and practice briefing paper based on the research that we do around 'connectors' and we will hold a forum at the Department of Communities and Local Government with 'connectors', policy makers and other stakeholders like youth workers and local authority young people's services. 'Connectors' can often feel very isolated and so this research can bring different 'connectors' together in order to share experiences and insights, and to provide mutual support. The second range of beneficiaries are police and community safety agencies, who will be able to assess the value of our model of 'connector' networks in the rolling out of their responsibilities with much better intelligence and information about the communities with which they are dealing, and the community issues, tensions and risks which they may need to address.

The police and community safety agencies will benefit by having seen the 'connector' approach, and its benefits modelled and by having the opportunity to develop their own access to a number of community 'connectors' who they will be able to use to fill the vital intelligence/consultation gap between the role played formally by members at the 'whole community' level and criminal informants. Formalising a positive link with community members trusted by those 'hardest to reach'/'most at risk' will benefit policing and community safety, work against disaffection, radicalisation, and 'gangsterisation' and extend the implementation of a decriminalising, problem solving approach in community policing. Developing skills in negotiation, consultation and 'connector' recruitment and liaison, based upon the project lessons, might well become a future policing imperative. More indirectly, government will benefit as a result of the new approach to be taken towards the more effective governance of marginality and the prevention of disaffection and crime. This study can increase the effectiveness of public services and policy, and can enhance quality of life.


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Related Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Award Value
AH/L013169/1 01/02/2014 31/12/2014 £28,756
AH/L013169/2 Transfer AH/L013169/1 12/01/2015 11/04/2015 £5,198
Description 'Connectors' can play an important role in improving wellbeing amongst marginalised youth. Connectors are people who are self-reflective and are able to consciously relate to others through any actual or perceived shared similarities they may have, drawing on their multiple identities (Spalek, 2014). An appreciation of sameness and difference is important because within marginalised and poor community settings there are often complex, differing, allegiances and loyalties that need to be negotiated between different actors and organisations. Connectors are also people who are socially networked, in that they are able to develop bridging relationships within and between different communities and organisations for the purposes of improving wellbeing and reducing crime, disorder and victimisation. It is important to draw upon the knowledge and skills of connectors in order to learn more about what it means to work within disenfranchised community settings. Issues of trust, empathy, credibility, dissent are particularly marked.
Exploitation Route The role of connectors needs to be examined further through comparative research.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Government, Democracy and Justice,Security and Diplomacy,Other

Description I have done some police training at CEPOL, the European College of Policing around communities, immigration, radicalisation and building trust.
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Government, Democracy and Justice,Security and Diplomacy,Other
Impact Types Policy & public services