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This paper interrogates a concept at the core of a social policy agenda that has dominated thinking in the UK over the past decade. It argues that the notion of 'community cohesion' is based on a fundamentally flawed interpretation of the sources of tension and conflict in Britain's towns and cities. It overly ethnicizes societal divisions and essentializes ethnicity. Examining the development of government policy since 2001 the paper shows that the result has been a predominantly culturalist agenda that obscures key sources of division, most notably those related to social class and material inequality. It is argued that the hegemonic status of this policy stream has also undermined the equalities agenda. The paper concludes with a reflection on the implications of the emergence of a Conservative-led coalition government in May 2010. © The Author(s) 2012.

Original publication




Journal article


Critical Social Policy

Publication Date





262 - 281