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1 December, 2008

Not assimilated

I really wish Sheffield researchers hadn't attempted to make a summary of their work more readable by substituting the sociological term 'anomie' with the more colloquial 'loneliness'.  They're not synonymous.

Anomie is a sense of 'not belonging': isolation from a nominal social cohesiveness. I certainly feel anomie – I recoil from the very idea of 'belonging' to anything – and wholeheartedly welcome the social fragmentation alleged by the Sheffield report. I don't give a damn about my immediate neighbours. My friends and family, physically located across the entire planet, are of immense importance to me, but I feel absolutely no affinity with the total strangers who happen to reside in the same street as me. They're irrelevant.

Loneliness is a more loaded term, strongly implying discontent with unwelcome isolation. I don't experience loneliness.

Needless to say, the BBC pounced on the sensational interpretation, saying that the UK 'has become lonelier', as if it's a less happy place than it was; they even speak of 'the health of a community', producing maps and tables purporting to rank regions 'by their sense of loneliness or social fragmentation'. To repeat: loneliness and social fragmentation are entirely different concepts.

This is assuming the academics' alleged indicators are valid: they weren't assessing something as nebulous as 'cohesion' directly, but measurable surrogate factors such as the number of non-married households, one-person households, houses rented from private landlords and people who moved into their current homes within the last year. Do these really indicate decreased community cohesion? Home ownership is a peculiarly British obsession – does it follow that nations such as Germany, where rental is more common, have less 'healthy' communities? What's the relevance of marital status? Or, to follow the BBC's loaded argument, are non-married people lonely & bitter?

An associated article asks whether Britain's communities are 'dying'. I don't know; I don't find the data compelling. But I ****ing hope so.

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