Boundary work: understanding enactments of 'community' in an area-based, empowerment initiative
Critical Public Health
Engaging the community in initiatives to improve health and inequalities is a prominent feature of contemporary public health approaches. Yet, how 'community' might be differently interpreted and experienced through mechanisms of engagement is little understood, with potential implications for how the pathways of effect of such initiatives, and their impacts on health inequalities, might be evaluated. This study sought to explore how community was enacted through the delivery of an area-based,
... of an area-based, empowerment initiative underway in disadvantaged areas of England. An ethnographic approach was used to identify enactments of community arising around the core activities and decision-making processes of the resident-led initiative in two sites. Enactments comprised 'boundary work': the ongoing assertion and negotiation of boundaries around who or what was, and was not, eligible to contribute to decision-making, and / or benefit from the initiative. Boundary work arose around practices of connecting with and consulting residents, protecting locally-defined interests and autonomy, negotiating different sets of interests, and navigating representation. The multiple, shifting enactments of community and its boundaries highlight implications for understanding processes of inclusion and exclusion inherent to community engagement, and for interpreting pathways between collective empowerment and improved health. The study also raises questions for evaluating similar complex, community initiatives, where community cannot be taken as a fixed analytical unit, but something continually in process through the interplay between the initiative and the wider context. This must inform interpretations of how, and for whom, community engagement might -or might not -improve health.