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Reading Response: Block and Palen

September 28, 2011

Prompt: What is the difference between an orientation focused on “problems” as compared to an orientation concentrating on “possibilities”? What does Block suggest about the “breakdown of community”? What results from fear? What are Block’s thoughts on retribution as compared to restoration? Who are the most valuable community leaders, according to Block’s perspective?

Frankly, I can’t see much difference in Block’s explanation of the two. He argues for us not to think of things as a community with problems and solutions, but as a breakdown in community to fix, or “healing our woundedness”. Apparently he doesn’t see how synonymous those all sound. He repeatedly complains about focusing on a community as a set of problems and solutions, but his complaints about this method boil down to “the solutions don’t work.” He is right to complain about our current choice of solutions – extra laws, depending on individual leaders, and a culture of fear – but I don’t understand why we should throw out the idea of solutions just because a particular solution does not work.

His complaint about a culture of “retribution” has a similar problem of vagueness. He never defines the concept of retribution versus restoration explicitly, but he is arguing for solutions that promote connections in the community rather than breaking them. For example, imprisonment breaks an offender’s social connections and increases the risk of a repeat offense. Depending on leaders instead of each other prevents local social connections from forming. And so on.

His focus on “possibilities” boils down to one thing: Accept that bad situations will happen and make the best of them. Try to solve problems in a way that will improve the community. He gives an example of a mental hospital, which rebuilt its programs to give the patients more self-control, and a hypothetical justice system which allows the victim and the offender to mutually reconcile instead of going through the normal legal process. And both of these are interesting and pleasant ideas, I just wish that he hadn’t buried them so far.

Prompt: How is community defined in this reading? What are the types and characteristics of community? What is the Broken Windows theory? What are some of your general “take aways” about urban crime following this reading?

Palen uses the sociologist’s definition of community as a local group, something which connects individuals and families to society as a whole. Palen’s communities are a neighborhood or a small city, and excludes other uses such as a “religious community” or “international community.” He lists several different types of community, such as the “defended area”, the “community of limited liability,” and the “contrived community,” and they are mainly separated by how willing people are to interact. The “defended neighborhood” is where people feel safe and interact easily, “limited liability” is where people go to meet their needs, and the “contrived community” has no real connections, but people feel the need to create the image of a community.

The Broken Window theory is that the best way to control crime is to control the perception of crime. This means preventing crimes and focusing on less important, but publicly noticeable crimes. Small crimes like vandalism create a sense of disorder, which allows more crime to take place. The main take-away of this article is that we take all sorts of unconscious cues from our surroundings, so perception is more important than reality, and quite often, the reality isn’t too bad.

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One Comment
  1. Jessica permalink

    Great review of the readings, Ben, including a critical eye toward Block and his framework relative to thinking about community. I hope you’ll bring this insight into tonight’s class discussion.

    I like that you included this in your blog, as it can be a great placeholder for your own notes and ideas to build a more thorough reflection about the class. At the same time, I want to make sure you’ve also noted the Thought Question prompt that was posted on BB. Let me know if you have any questions or concerns about that piece of requirements.

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