‘Gatedness’ and risk society – Dupuis and Thorns


In their analysis of gated communities (using New Zealand gated communities as a case study), Ann Dupuis & David Thorns suggest we “…push the concept of gatedness beyond a type of physical location into a more general social process.” (p.149) They suggest “gating can be interpreted as a manifestation of a particular type of mentality that arises from a set of deeply felt concerns about the nature of late modern [-p.150] society.” (pp.149-150)

“Contemporary gated communities have been described as the newest form of fortified community (Blakely & Snyder, 1995, p. 2). Such communities, where security and protection are major features, can be found in different forms across the world. These include security villages and neighbourhood enclosures in South Africa (Jurgens & Landman, 2006), common interest developments in the USA (McKenzie, 2006), gated developments in post-Communist China (Giroir, 2006; Webster et al., 2006), private guarded neighbourhoods in the Middle East (Glasze, 2006) and enclaves for transnational elites in diverse countries (Webster et al., 2002).” (p.145)

“In this article we argue that gated communities can be viewed as one form of global urban response to deep-seated concerns people face in the contemporary world, where change has been rapid and previous modes of living have been disrupted. Change, at the level of personal lives, within communities, urban areas and at the national level is evident in, for example, increased mobility, large-scale migration, population diversity, workplace changes and increased anxiety over personal safety arising from increased risk of terrorist attacks. Such widespread change has created conditions where the quest for safety and security has become more central to everyday living (Tulloch & Lupton, 2003).

To encompass these broader currents of change we suggest moving from the specificity of gated communities to consider a broader concept of ‘gatedness’. We describe gatedness as a psychological response which results in and leads to a range of ‘forting up’ behaviours that appear to share similar characteristics. To explain this transition we draw on the risk society literature as the starting point for our argument. Within this literature the problems cited as features of contemporary society are linked to an increased level of risk and flowing from this a heightened sense of anxiety and a general decline of trust. These features result in the weakening of the role and institutions of the state,with an attendant emphasis on the importance of markets and individual communities, not as gated communities per se, but rather as an empirical phenomenon which can be analysed through the risk literature. The connection is then made between risk consciousness, the development of widely held anxieties and the decline in trust evident in recent decades. Finally, the analysis explores the idea of the ‘mentality of gatedness’ and the link between this condition and the growth in forting up practices in everyday life which are responses to increased levels of anxiety and risk.” (p.147)

A limitation of the current explanations for the rise of gated communities is that they do not link this rise to broader societal concerns. While there has been much debate in the literature about the value of gated communities, the tendency has been to explore issues within the framework of urban planning debates or political control and governance issues and the privatisation of public space. However, Foldvary (1994) has attempted to extend the debate and draw the connection between gated communities and a neo-liberal political agenda by arguing that gated communities exemplify urban efficiency allowing collectively consumed goods to be supplied in optimal quantities by the market. McKenzie (2003) adds further to this debate by being critical of gated communities precisely because they reflect neo-liberal views on privatism and the role of the state. / In our view the connection between the ascendancy of neo-liberal politics and the growth of gated communities is relevant to our consideration of the development of gated communities in New Zealand.” (p.148)

Describing the concept of ‘The Risk Society’ Dupuis and Thorns write:
“Possibly the most influential theorist in the sociological literature on risk has been Ulrich Beck. His book Risk Society (Beck, 1992a) set the parameters of the debate around the nature of risk in contemporary Western societies. This text was followed up in 1995 by Ecological Politics in the Age of Risk and in 1999 by World Risk Society and by a number of journal articles and book chapters (Beck, 1992b, 1996a, b) and by two important texts with collaborators (Beck et al., 1994; Beck & Beck-Gernsheim, 1995).
Beck’s general thesis is that risk is the key feature which sets apart the current period, which he terms ‘reflexive modernity’, from earlier ‘simple modernity’ (or industrial society). It is therefore risk that has been the basis for the fundamental changes that have occurred since the 1970s (Lash & Wynne, 1992, p. 3). Beck is not arguing that risk is new. There have always been risks; what has changed however is the nature of risk in reflexive modernity. For example, worker exploitation leading to unemployment and workplace accidents is a typical risk of modernity, whereas the risks of late modernity take the form of ‘manufactured uncertainties’, emanating largely from two sources: high-tech risks and ecologically based risks (Beck, 1999). An example of the former is computer viruses with the potential to disrupt every facet of the infrastructure of entire cities or even countries, while examples of the latter are genetic engineering, and the contamination of food crops and global warming. Many risks connect both technology and ecology. The key difference Beck notes is that in modernity wealth and ‘goods’ were produced, but in late modernity the production of ‘goods’ is accompanied simultaneously with the production of ‘bads’, or risks. As a consequence Beck depicts late modernity as ‘a catastrophic society’ where catastrophes are brought about by the repeated crises of science and technology.

In contrast to previous eras, where risks to do with the environment such as floods or famines were understood to have their basis in nature and so were seen as problems external to human beings, contemporary risks are created by humans themselves. The “ecological, biomedical, social, military, political, economic, financial, symbolic and informational” (Van Loon, 2002, p. 1) risks of late modernity, while clearly impacting on nature, cannot be said to have their basis in nature. Rather, the source of risk is the “internal crisis of science- and technology-based industrial society, affecting both its production process and its core institutions” (Strydom, 2002, p. 55), the basis of which is the complexity of the social and technical systems in which risks are embedded. This complexity is such that on the one hand, the possibility of self-annihilation is very real, and on the other, there is no individual, group or governing apparatus that can take control and rein in the dangers or, for that matter, be accountable, or take ultimate responsibility for their production. The contradiction for Beck is one of ‘paradigm confusion’, where the new types of risks characteristic of late modernity are still being confronted with the inadequate approaches of modernity.” (p.150)

“Within the risk society literature much is made of the role of the media in disseminating risk awareness.” (p.150)

Ref: (emphases in blue bold, mine) Ann Dupuis & David Thorns (2008): Gated Communities as Exemplars of ‘Forting Up’ Practices in a Risk Society, Urban Policy and Research, 26:2, 145-157

ABSTRACT This article challenges existing ways of thinking about the proliferation of gated communities. The catalyst for the article was the observation that gated communities have appeared recently in New Zealand where many of the extreme conditions that have driven their emergence in other places are much less obvious. This counterfactual encouraged an exploration of an alternative explanation for the prevalence of gated communities to those of lifestyle, elitism, fear of crime and protection of property values. In this endeavour the emphasis shifts from gated communities as physical and spatial objects to the idea of ‘gatedness’, a mental construct that characterises the nature of existence in a risk society. It is argued that the proliferation of gated communities is one example of individualised ‘forting up’ practices that have become increasingly common as the trust in public institutions to manage the perceived increase in risk has declined. What ensues at the level of everyday life is greater attention to home security and concerns with bodily safety and travel. The article points to the need for empirical work to explore further the extent to which the mentality of gatedness shapes current social practices.

Reference is to: Tulloch, J. & Lupton, D. (2003) Risk and Everyday Life (London: Sage).


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s