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Community Organizing: “Community” As A Discursive Resource In A Youth Social Services Agency

Abstract: “Community” is a resonant and venerable topic in sociology, and has been invoked in practice, in criminal-justice and other institutional agendas, as both the cause of and the cure for social problems. This study extends the sociology of “community” in a novel way, by addressing how the word “community” is invoked and organized by counsellors in a shopping-mall-based youth social services agency. The principle findings of this paper are that counsellors and other parties to the agency use the expression with great frequency, and resist the common tendency to say “community” in a qualified or pre-modified way, as in terms such as “gay community,” “immigrant community,” and so forth. This paper advances the sociology of community by addressing “community” as a concept organized and formulated in the talk of those acting within it; this paper also suggest how social-services provisions and attempts at the control of juvenile delinquency can benefit from the approach modelled by the agency in question.

This paper concerns the day-to-day work of counsellors at a social services agency for youth. The focus of this report is on the narratives, vocabularies, and other linguistic strategies of counselling staff, with particular focus on the speakers’ own rendering of the expression “community.” The agency is housed in a novel and conspicuously mundane setting: a shopping mall storefront in a working-class neighbourhood of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. In this report I address the staff’s work from their own standpoints.

My focus reflects the fact that counsellors mention “community” with great frequency in these conversations, and I argue that the sense and reference of “community,” as displayed in counsellor’s talk, are notable in their consistency across interviews. As such, “community” constitutes a discursive resource, one ubiquitous and important in interviews but not overtly noted as such, and one that informs and infuses the work of counsellors and the agency, and their relationships with and orientations to their clientele. The emphasis of this investigation thus concerns the concrete details of talk and their place in the lived experiences of interviewees and their interactants. However, I am also concerned with the fortunes of this program and the relationship between the casual uses of a terminology-“community”-and the agency’s policies and successes. I will thus address implications for addressing crime and youthful offenders, in services that are in sites such as shopping malls, more generally. I will consider some of these broader issues first by discussing the meaning and use of “community” in and out of social science.

“Community” as Topic and Resource

“Community” has a venerable history in sociology (cf. Bell and Newby, 1971) and other social sciences, as well as in everyday talk, as a topic of analysis and as a rhetorical and linguistic resource. I will begin by summarizing its history in sociology, and then by reviewing the use of “community” in criminology and criminal/juvenile justice research and policy.

Sociology and “Community”

Among works in the earliest days of sociology, “community” was an important organizing concept. The sense of the expression as formulated by Tönnies (1887) is still extant in much of sociology’s use of the term. Tönnies stipulated that “community” (Gemeinschaft) represented a pre-modern, pastoral, and especially rural idyll in which neighbour knew neighbour and every resident enjoyed mutual interdependence on every other. This conception of community is prominent in the early history of sociology, even in Park and Burgess’ (1926) argument that Tönnies’ understanding of “community” was a fitting topic among the practitioners in the decidedly urban-focussed Chicago School of Sociology. In urban or rural settings, the traditional notion of “community” has been most clearly and much more recently defined by Bellah (1995:50) as “a distinct social and economic interdependence of diversified individuals within a given locale.”

Although Bellah’s (1995) definition has prominent resonance, still, inside and outside sociology, its uses and meanings have often strayed far from these traditional ones. For example, while the interests of the Chicago school in, among other topics, urban community studies have hardly disappeared, a review of recent titles concerning both “community” and “sociology” advises that “community” has evolved as a predominately non-urban concept in sociology, and the bulk of titles that engage community do so from either the sub-fields of rural sociology or the sociology of religion. “Community” is often viewed as a bucolic precursor to a modern form of social organization that, as diverse and non-rural, cannot be a “community” defined as per Tönnies’ romantic conception, or that comprises new social forms that are “communities” in only metaphorical terms. A good example of this latter usage is the supplanting of the original “community” with the more contemporary “network” (Wellman and Leighton, 1981). In more casual discourse, there exists the recurrent and inescapable tendency of modern speakers and writers to refer to “community” as a group that, in starkest contradiction to Bellah’s definition, is non-diverse. Among these “networks” are contemporary neologisms that I, and any participant in North American culture, have encountered recurrently, such as “the Christian community,” “the on-line community,” “the gay community,” “the feminist community,” “the injection drug users community,” and countless others. This rendering of “the ______ community,” to which I refer as its premodified usage, denotes a network bound by commonality and not spatial proximity. These new “communities” are not villages in anything but a metaphorical sense, not neighbourhoods, and most certainly not diversified as Bellah stipulated.

The fact that “community” has acquired new meanings in its uses in sociological and casual discourse does not mean that it, in its traditional definition, no longer exists. A major finding of this investigation is that it may exist precisely in that sense. However, that inclusive definition of “community” has also been supplanted in a different way in so-called “community treatments” as organized in youth justice and mental-health-related efforts in North America. It is more appropriate to refer to some of these approaches as anti-community treatments, because they entail refusing local resources in favour of removing offenders or patients from their neighbourhoods. This removal eliminates the possibility of “community” engagement. As I will next demonstrate, even in youth crime-control approaches adamantly intending to mobilize neighbourhood-based resources and local residents, these efforts depict youth as objects of their endeavours, not as participants in them. In other words, “community” approaches typically entail the mobilization of adults against the perceived threats posed by the youths who reside among them.

“Community” and Youth Crime

Organising “Community” for Delinquency Prevention

The idea that “community” can be organised as an efficacious means for the prevention (and sometimes the treatment) of juvenile delinquents is a venerable one in North America. In a summary of those approaches, Rothman (1979) delineates three categories of community organization: locality development, which entails collaboration among the broadest possible of groups (including social service organizations, businesses, and individual residents) at the local level to mobilize entire neighbourhoods to facilitate their renewal; social planning, which deploys the specialised skills of “experts” in designing and applying “task goals” which relate to specific, tangible problems; and social action, which uses tactics to impel less-advantaged members of the neighbourhood to effect redistribution of resources and changes in public policies. This last approach, unlike the locality development strategy, views business and governmental institutions as targets of change, not as collaborators on community organization.

Each of these approaches to community organization saw use in various delinquency prevention approaches developed in the US, starting with a prominent concern for redevelopment in slums in the 1930s. For example, the Chicago Area Project (Reiss 1986, Shaw and McKay, 1942), with its emphasis on ameliorating the “social disorganization” of Chicago’s inner-city neighbourhoods via the engagement of its residents, was a paradigmatic example of this first approach. Berger (1996) comprehensively delineates the deployment of different approaches by different programs over the years.

It is not my goal here to assess these courses. I will point out that, despite the variety of actions that they recommend, all of the traditional community-based approaches share certain features. First, while all of them reflect definitions of, and thus tacit theories on, “community” as a (perhaps as the) central organizing topic and resource, none specify just what “community” is. Its nature and its borders are implicit. Second, whatever “community” might have been for these approaches, it is clear that youth were construed as exterior to it: Young people were, at best, the object of the social action undertaken on their behalf as when, in New York’s Lower East Side, an organization called Mobilization for (not of) Youth recommended that parents of school-age children protest in front of local school boards (Empey 1982:242). The youth, whose anticipated delinquency was the focus of these efforts, were not participants in the planning or conduct of any of these programs.

Undoing the Corrupting Influence of Neighbourhoods: Anti-Community Approaches

Public and private agencies and institutions that treat or prevent juvenile delinquency have always been informed by often-tacit theories and always-explicit values. Among the most venerable and salient of these values is that which regards the need to remove juveniles from the presumed corrupting impact of their neighbourhoods. As a marked contemporary example of this theory, in many sites in North America there is substantial public, governmental and organizational support for the use of “boot camps” for juvenile offenders. Boot camps instance a modern application of a very old idea in juvenile justice, that espoused by the Child Savers (Pisciotta, 1982): remove the juvenile from his or her neighbourhood, and treat him or her with firm discipline in the “guarded sanctuary” of, in this contemporary instance, a quasi-military setting. Support for boot camps is strong based on the value-laden appeal of their solution, one that resonates with many North Americans and which reflects venerable features of some lay and academic theories that specify the causes of juvenile delinquency: discipline is important; peers are dangerous; urban settings are unhealthy; adult role models are essential.

There are thus two countervailing themes in youth crime-related theory and practice with respect to the role of “community” in crime control. The first, more recent view sees “community” as a resource for the prevention of delinquency and thus depicts communities as potentially benevolent settings that can guide youths’ behaviours in non-criminal directions. The other, more venerable and durable perspective sees community (as organized in modern urban neighbourhoods at least) as a malignant setting from which youth must be rescued. The approach of the program at issue in this report, and its version of “community” as articulated in the casual talk of its employees, differs from both of these traditions, in its construal of “community” as a resource for crime prevention, one that determinedly includes youth in its enactment.

Delinquency Prevention and the DMYS Innovation

The approach and priorities of the “Darlington Mall Youth Services” [1] agency (hereafter DMYS) is, at the organizational, philosophic, and interactional levels different from many of the approaches used to address youth crime and other youth-related social problems in other locations and even at other shopping malls. Its difference attaches to its deliberate placement in, and not separate from, the neighbourhood in which its clients reside, and perhaps more innovatively, in a privately-owned and privately-managed shopping mall.

I define a “client” of DMYS, for practical purposes, as any person who has sought assistance from agency staff, from counselling encounters to attendance at agency-sponsored social functions to brief visits to procure condoms. It is likely that most of these “clients” are not directly under the authority of the juvenile justice system, but since the agency sees itself as, among other things, a resource for delinquency prevention, comparison between it and its alternatives-community organizing on one hand, and anti-community approaches like boot camps on the other-is appropriate. With respect to traditional community organizing, DMYS differs in at least four respects. First, DMYS does not recommend or entail any changes in the structure or function of neighbourhoods per se, aside from taking over a small physical component of its mall that could otherwise remain a retail establishment. Second, DMYS comprises representatives from a consortium of already-existing neighbourhood social services providers (such as Portuguese, Vietnamese and Tamil immigrant-aid organizations) and does not entail the creation of new agencies. Third, DMYS, as part of its charter and its continuing mission, incorporates local youths into most stages of the service, as peer counsellors as well as on its board of directors. Finally, DMYS counsellors express definitions, implicitly as well as overtly, of “community” in these interviews different from those we glean from summaries of other community-based approaches as discussed above. It is this defining work that is the topic of the analytic section of this paper.

The approach of DMYS is, of course, greatly at odds with that of boot camps. The agency is housed in a shopping mall, one that comprises the heart of a dramatically multicultural urban neighbourhood, one that is, according to the mall manager, “the most ethnically-diverse neighbourhood in the most ethnically-diverse city in the world.” Instead of attempting the “magic bullet,” one-shot approaches to preventing and treating delinquency that has defined and plagued the enterprise throughout the last century (Lundman, 1993), DMYS deploys a decidedly diverse set of approaches, from traditional psychotherapeutic counselling by social workers to job placement (with the assistance of mall business owners) to social events in and out of the DMYS office space. The agency embraces principles almost universally at odds with those that inform boot camps: The neighbourhood is not corrupting, but rather is a necessary player in delinquency prevention. Instead of deploying a firm hand for disciplinary purposes, youths need to be given space and a myriad of choices and must make decisions for themselves. Peers are not dangerous; they are the most important resource for delinquency prevention, and so teenagers play an important role in determining the content of the agency’s services. Finally, the agency is utterly part of the surrounding neighbourhood, and this relationship between agency and community resonates in the narratives of staff and mall management.

Some assessments suggest that the community-centred approach of DMYS is the more efficacious one. According to a review and program evaluation of US boot camps by Jones and Ross (1997), they are counterproductive: a boot camp “graduate” is more likely to recidivate than a youth who has experienced conventional probation. The DMYS experiment, on the other hand, has been lauded for its role in a dramatic turnaround in the mall: a dramatic (39%) decrease in total criminal incidents (from 1213 to 744) in the first five years (1991-1995) of the program’s existence, a decrease comprising notable reductions in crime such as shoplifting, armed and unarmed robbery, bicycle theft, and an astonishing drop of more than 90% in thefts from persons (Metropolitan Toronto Police Information Centre, n.d.). The same period saw increases in mall patronage and retail occupancy.

Although these successes are part of the concerted work of mall security, merchants, and the mall management, as well as changes in the physical culture of the mall (such as elimination of large-group seating in the food court), the only genuinely unique aspect of this mall is its provision of social services. This provision is a notable innovation in orientations to delinquency prevention, and in the organization of private “retail” space. I next examine one feature of this program here, namely, how counsellors in the agency discuss their day-to-day work, their communities, and the place of their clients in both.

Data and Method

My research entailed ethnographic observation, documentary analysis and especially interviews with agency staff over a three-month period. I conducted semi-structured interviews with four of nine staff and with the mall manager, who was instrumental in bringing social services to the mall, among other innovative initiatives. I also had informal conversations with others. I asked respondents about duties, clients, and contexts of the mall: the immediate neighbourhood, Toronto’s particular urban culture, and even whether they saw their enterprise as “Canadian” on some level. The interviews lasted approximately 60 minutes each.

A research assistant transcribed the interviews verbatim, after which I scrutinized transcripts to uncover recurring patterns of talk and salient discursive themes. My decision to focus on “community” was due to the evident frequency with which speakers deploy that word. In analytic terms, I emulate the approach of Boden (1987:15) in her study of talk in corporate settings and particularly her emphasis on the relationship between discourse and context. My approach examines how context informs and is informed by the lived, mundane experiences of persons who work in that context, that is, by interpersonal encounters that take place there and the participants’ spoken discourse within it. Some ways in which I wished to address how talk and context are bound up concerned participants’ standpoints on the meanings and challenges of social services provision; how the broader social environment is invoked in talking about those services; and what micro-interactional studies engaging the minutiae of talk can tell about issues such as social services, community, crime, and other topics outside the interview setting.

“Community” as a Discursive Device

In the interviews of agency staff members, it appears that there are several themes that recur but few are as prominent as the theme of “community.” As evidence of the salience of the concept, consider that the word “community” was referenced, on average, 17 times in the course of the interviews and emerges continually in documents promoting or reporting on the centre. Moreover, in only a minuscule percentage of the uses of “community,” and in none of its usages by counsellors, is the term premodified, as with the very common tendency referenced earlier to denote the “religious community,” the “gay community,” the “black community,” and other such phenomena. The concept thus constitutes part of the participants’ descriptions and the culture of discourse through which they construct their work and their formulations of their clients and their clients’ positions in the larger world.

The Incidence of “Community” in the Interviews

Table 1 specifies the number of utterances of “community,” and the proportion that are premodified, for each interviewee. These data demonstrate that speakers overwhelmingly articulate “community” on its own, without modification. I have specified what words preceded “community” for those few instances, uttered by the Mall Manager and the Program Director, where “community” was premodified.

Table 1: Incidences of Use of “Community” for All Interviewees
Number of Uses of “Community”

Number Pre-modified
Percentage Non-pre-modified
Mall Manager
3 (2 “outside,” 1 “residential”)
Program Director
1 (“local”)
Counsellor 1
Counsellor 2
Counsellor 3
Inspection of Interview Excerpts

In each of the extracts that follow, “community” displays a subtly different sense. I have culled examples that evidence what “community” is as a geographical designation, whom “community” includes and excludes, and finally that the use of “community” as a rhetorical resource in these interviews was owned and produced by the interviewees as a members’, and not an analyst’s, owned phenomenon.

Excerpts 1 and 2: “Community” and “Neighbourhood” are Equivalent

In the first interview excerpt, counsellor 1 deploys “community” as a geographic construct (analogous to “neighbourhood”) and suggests, without qualification, that “young people” comprise part of it, insofar as they reside in that geographical abstraction. In this utterance she clarifies whom “community” includes. She moreover implies that, due to the local accessibility of the mall to them, unlike in three other Toronto malls, youth (“the young people”) are part of the “community,” because “community” includes all who live near Darlington Mall.

Excerpt 1 (Counsellor 1):

This is right in the middle of the community, it’s not like Yorkdale or Scarborough Centre or even Eaton Centre, that people come to from a ways…so, yeah, many of the young people that I do see here, they walk over here from school, they walk over here from their house, they don’t have to take a bus or get driven or…

In a similar vein, the Mall Manager, although not a counsellor and not directly under the auspices of the social services office, proffers a use of community that also eliminates the distinction between mall and surrounding neighbourhood. Like counsellor 1, he does not exclude any of the prospective members of the “community.”

Excerpt 2 (Mall Manager):

Q: What do you foresee as the future of this mall in terms of retail social services provisions or whatever?

A: It’s hard to tell, because the community determines the direction, so a lot of it is a reflection of the neighbourhood. The question, I suppose, should be “Where do we see the West End going?”

These first two excerpts constitute “community” as (1) geographically defined, and (2) explicitly (in counsellor 1’s case) comprising “young people.” However, one might counter that “young people” and young offenders are not equivalent, and that other counsellors might depict “community” as that group of residents that are attempting to mobilize against lawbreakers. In Excerpt 3, the program director articulates a version of “community” that even includes young offenders.

Excerpt 3: “Community” Does Not Exclude Offenders

This next data extract demonstrates that even when an interviewee relates how “boys” in the mall’s catchment area are allegedly engaging in illegal activity, they still constitute members of the community; they are “in this community,” they are not presented as outside it. The director does not articulate “community” as something that would exclude them:

Excerpt 3 (Director):

…when we have our staff meeting next week I’m going to be presenting these cases to the staff and saying “What can we do that’s creative for these boys that who we know are in this community, getting into trouble in this community…” I’m getting phone calls from all over the community about this particular corner, where kids are hanging out, it’s becoming a real gang corner, and coincidentally, these same boys, in my meeting last week, have been identified as troublemakers on that corner as well. So it’s a community thing.

It might be argued next that, even as young offenders are depicted as “in the community,” the social services efforts that seek to treat them are organized by adults, just as with the 1960s “community organizing” summarized earlier. The following excerpt clarifies that “community,” and the community-based efforts to treat and curb delinquency, partake of the participation of young people as well.

Excerpt 4: “Community” and the Agency Specifically Comprise Young Persons

The next excerpt comprises a good example of how “community” and the agency’s clientele are coterminous, and how the agency’s work is, in part, that of young people in the neighbourhood. To address the community is to address the clientele. Counsellor2 does not, in this excerpt, draw a distinction between youth and the “larger” community; she in fact links her agency with community and clientele, and therefore community and youths, as objects of her work and as contributors to it.

Excerpt 4 (Counsellor 2):

Q: And the youth council, that’s an advisory sort of–?

A: Yeah, they’re basically a youth group that meets weekly to just do whatever they want to discuss, issues, to get involved with the community, part at this community programming. We definitely ask for their advice on a lot of community issues and whatnot.

Nowhere in the interviews were respondents encouraged or directed to discuss community or to employ the expression in their narratives. In fact, the only interlocutor who used the term premodified (in several instances of the terms “Portuguese community” and “immigrant community”) was the interviewer. Thus, there are two candidate explanations for the prominence of “community” that I can eliminate. The first is that the use of the term “community” is a natural result of its invocation by the interviewer as a topic of discussion. This was not the case. I did not anticipate the salience of the word “community” in these interviews; I only noted these patterns of usage after the fact. A second explanation is that the interviewer encouraged interviewees in this particular use of “community” by using it in a non-premodified way himself, and thus organised its use within the interviews. If this was the case, then the findings about its use are simply outcomes of interviewees being “coached.”

This practice was also not present. In fact, the consistent non-premodified use of this word was the interviewees’ device almost exclusively. As I have noted, the only participant who used terms in a premodified way was the interviewer. The interviewees resisted such terminologies that would alter their preferred use of the expression. This phenomenon is clearly theirs, not the interviewer’s, and not merely an outcome of usage in the interview itself. The next excerpt encapsulates this point.

Excerpt 5: The Use of Non-premodified “Community” is a Members’, and not an Analyst’s, Phenomenon

Excerpt 5 (Counsellor 1):

Q: Okay, this question might be ideal to ask you then. Any general thoughts regarding how this mall reflects or exemplifies the social life here, and by here I mean, do you see this mall as in some way reflecting Canada, or Toronto, or this neighbourhood, the Portuguese community, some mixture, or what? Is there something Canadian about this–not just this mall, but this service?

A: Well, there’s this part that would like to be very patriotic and say yeah, look at the–walk down the mall and see all the diversity. And just walk around the community and see the diversity and the co-existence and all that.

After my turn of talk, in which I reference (among other things) the “Portuguese community,” counsellor 1 begins his response with what Sacks (1987) identified as a marker of “dispreference,” the word “well.” This is a speech particle that prefaces “dispreferred” responses to utterances. The conversation-analytic concept of “preference structure” advises that the “preferred” response to an invitation is an acceptance; Pomerantz (1987) brought the same analysis to preference organization and responses to assessments. Generally, agreement is a “preferred” response to statements such as assessments; acceptances of invitations are “preferred”; returning greetings are “preferred” responses to initial greetings, and so forth. Preferred responses are given without delay. Dispreferred responses are delivered with qualification, pauses, and the use of utterances such as “uhm,” “it’s just that,” or “well” among a myriad of other techniques of delay. Dispreferred responses imply disagreement, refusal, and other actions that are, in conversations, indelicate.

Counsellor 1 begins his turn of talk with “well,” and if this implies disagreement, one must ask with what he disagrees. My turn of talk did not necessarily entail an assessment, but it does include the term “Portuguese community” which is not repeated in the next turn. Instead, it is “corrected” in a manner specified by Jefferson (1987): An exposed correction would have seen the interviewee say something like, “it’s just community.” This does not occur here, and as a face-threatening act, overt disagreement in the form of exposed correction rarely would in non-adversarial settings such as this interview. Instead, counsellor1 deploys embedded correction, not calling overt attention to my “error” in the prior turn of talk but altering “Portuguese community” to “the community.” This is not a combative style of expression, but given the respondent’s demurral in reusing my term and the prefacing with a disagreement-implying “well,” it is reasonable to interpret this sequence as one that accomplishes a correction: It is just “community,” according to the way DMYS does business.

These examples constitute only a relatively small (but in no sense unrepresentative) number of the references to “community.” They nonetheless demonstrate that “community” is a linguistic feature to which all staff and management orient. What is more, they almost never use the term with a qualifier as has become common in casual and institutional North American language. Currently the term is widely used with reference to non-diverse groups. The meaning, in its use by the persons I interviewed, of “community” at the agency reflects the spirit of Bellah’s definition that I cited earlier. Part of the work, and perhaps the success, of this agency, I would argue, entails the consistent adherence to this particular meaning and use of “community” that refers to an inclusive phenomenon, one in which the youth are active participants.

Interpretive Analysis

There are several ways to interpret these findings, and I offer two. The first is ethnomethodological and concerns ways in which evident, profoundly recurrent, yet generally (in conventional social science) ignored behaviours organize and constitute the social world for its participants. The second employs the notion of “community” as an element of counsellors’ vocabularies of motive and relatedly their cognitions about the social world.

In a study that mirrored Boden’s (1994) work on the relationship between the talk that occurs in an organization and the organization itself, Della-Piana and Anderson (1995) suggest that talking about community specifically (in community-service agencies) also functions as a means of defining organizational culture, and this finding might clarify my interviewees’ reliance on the concept here as well. However, my argument in this report is broader than this. I think that there is no question about the important place of the expression “community” in the culture of DMYS. I would argue further that community, as a lived, everyday, dynamic phenomenon, is constituted in and outside the walls of the DMYS office in that talk. Ethnomethodology advises that the “work” of any group, in mundane conversation or in institutional tasks, is equivalent to the talk and related activities that take place among the persons within it. Organizational products and outcomes cannot be divorced from the mundane, inescapable but largely unremarkable (from both participants’ and analysts’ views) discursive work that goes into those “outcomes.” The speakers in this study, in their discussions of their work, are not only making their theories about community and other matters visible for the good of the organization’s climate or for my own clarification. They are also creating their agencies, and indeed their own, world. They are talking “community,” configured as an inclusive phenomenon, into being.

The ethnomethodological perspective can be used to propose the importance of certain linguistic practices in fighting forms of bias and discrimination, but ethnomethodology advises that these linguistic policies not only have the effect of changing attitudes; they also change “society” since “society,” from the ethnomethodological perspective, is an ongoing interpersonal, cultural, linguistic, and it its truest sense mundane product coterminous with the talk that produces it. Talking about “community” as these participants do makes community, for all practical purposes. This claim is analogous to the finding that Maynard and Manzo (1993) discovered regarding how the word “justice” acquired a novel meaning in its use by jurors: talking about justice re-made justice. “Community,” I argue, has the same status in these interviews.

Vocabularies of motive, as perceived originally in the work of C. Wright Mills (1940) and transformed most famously in the work of Sykes and Matza (1957) on “techniques of neutralization,” are cognitive and linguistic concepts that furnish motives (before the fact) and accounts (after the fact) for committing certain classes of behaviours. The concept has seen greatest use as an explanation for the tendency for persons to drift in and out of criminal or otherwise deviant behaviour, as with studies of vocabularies of motive that encompass deviant acts from suicide (Stephens, 1984) to murder (Scully and Marolla, 1984). The concept has also informed understandings relating to the motivations of some victims of domestic violence to remain with their abusers (Ferraro and Johnson, 1983); “vocabulary of motive” thus need not only be a resource to permit the forming of motive to commit deviant or criminal acts. I contend that police, judges, social workers, and others who work in criminal justice and related areas, employ received vocabularies of motive that inform attitudes and decisions in dealing with suspects, arrestees, and clients. Even though “community” is not a phrase or extended utterance (as is “I can steal from my employer, because I’m not paid enough,” and so forth) its sense (used without premodification) obliges counsellors to orient to youth as one of this inclusive collectivity. If counsellors’ language does not permit the existence of a “larger community,” but only a “community” without qualification, then youths are non-distinct and part of the whole. In short, they are who we are, and we aren’t criminals.


NB: This research was supported through intramural grants from the College of Arts and Sciences, the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, and the Research Office of the University of the South Alabama. Earlier versions of this manuscript were presented at the Annual Meetings of the American Society of Criminology, Chicago, 1996 and Toronto, 1999. The author gratefully thanks the study participants.

[1] . Except for names of cities, provinces and countries, all identifying names and places in this report are pseudonymous.

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Author: John Manzo is assistant professor of sociology at the University of Calgary. He identifies as an ethnomethodologist, and his work has concerned discourse and grounded activities in several different institutional settings. His current project attends to security practices, especially the work of private security officers, in shopping malls in Canada and the US.

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