Conscious community : belonging, identities and networks in local communities' response to flooding
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One response to the increasing incidence of flooding in the UK has been to shift more responsibility towards local communities, and to suggest that they become increasingly involved in the Flood Risk Management process and do more to help themselves. Whilst the more recent vulnerability perspective highlights the importance of understanding the social aspects of disasters, relatively little is yet known about responses and impacts within the local community. The term 'community' is itself highly contested within the social sciences and this should be seen in the context of claims by some that the 'local' is being lost to the 'global'. Qualitative research with urban and rural flooded communities in northern England found that the majority of the residents interviewed did identify with their locality and articulated a sense of belonging or attachment; however this could be expressed in a number of different ways. The creation of a local community no longer appeared to arise naturally from residing in the same location but required both reflexivity and active efforts by residents. The research therefore suggests that the local community can be understood as a 'conscious community'. These communities were formed around different shared identities but dense, localised networks remained central to conceptions. Yet, in an increasingly mobile and interconnected world these networks had to be consciously created and maintained. Residents choosing to engage in community construction adopted different strategies to enable local people to meet one another and therefore local communities could take very varied forms. The local structures created by residents and the network patterns this then produced largely determined residents' ability to respond in a collective way to flooding. The research suggests that local community has the potential to offer a way to help people cope more effectively with flooding and other disasters, but only by moving beyond idealised notions of the 'traditional community' which fail to adequately reflect these complex and diverse communities. To support and enhance the ability of local residents to come together to cope with flooding we need to engage with the messy, complexity of conscious communities.