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Return to Eden and Eden Lost – A Case Study in Problematic Masculinity?

Starting in Spring 2016, Channel 4’s ‘Return to Eden’ was a year long social experiment in which 23 people moved to Inverness-shire in the Scottish Highlands – their mission – to form a community and survive for one year.

The experiment was a somewhat artificial community-experiment – in that the people were selected by the show, on the basis of their having the different skills thought to be required for a community to survive for a year; and with the exception of electricity and modern technology (most significantly phones and computers) they were given a shed load of equipment necessary to meet their basic needs – although they did have to grow their own food.

Oh, and the community members all had cameras, along with a bunch of fixed position cameras to film the whole experience.

Eden Lost 

‘Return to Eden’ initially aired in summer 2016, documenting the first three months of the experiment. Originally, it seemed that Channel Four were going to provide updates on the community throughout the year, but after the initial summer raft of episodes, there was a near total media blackout until the show ‘returned’ as ‘Eden Lost‘ in summer 2017, 3 months after the year long experiment ended.

Eden Lost starts in the summer of 2016, following the participants from 3 months to the end of their stay (by the end, there are only 10 people left, 13 people dropped out, mostly women, before the conclusion of the experiment).

After the first three months – the camp has basically divided into three – a group of five males who have ‘bonded’, 2 ‘outsiders’ who are living in a cabin on their own, and everyone else.

Episode 1 of ‘Eden Lost’ focuses on the group of five males, seemingly led by a character (a plumber) called Titch who at one point proposes a ‘gendered division of labour’ which offends pretty much everyone else outside of the clique of five. This group of lads seems to be quite the ‘Laddish subculture’ – openly joking about ‘sharing women’ in front of, well, the women in the community, and teasing them for ‘getting emotional’ when they got upset about their laddish behaviour.

You can see them throughout the episode justifying their behaviour, employing various of Matza’s ‘techniques of neutralisation’, clearly never taking responsibility for or really ever seeming to care about how their juvenile misogyny was having a negative effect on group dynamics.

The formation of this group seems to have led to yet more women leaving, further entrenching their position of power in the wider community (five in a group of fifteen, which is roughly how many were left by this point is quite a significant number too!)

Episode two focuses on the two outsiders – who effectively get voted out (75% majority required) by the others. These two seem to have been used as a scapegoat, constructed as a venting point for certain people in the main community.

Episode three – ‘Valley Boys’ focuses on the developing split between the five ‘valley boys’ and the other six people left in the original group. These five increasingly isolated themselves from the wider community, wanting to focus more on ‘themselves’ rather than doing things for the community as a whole.

It also seems that the lads deteriorate further into their laddishness, with scenes of derogatory ‘banter’ directed against the gay guy in the group (justified as just ‘banter’ by the lads).

At one point, the lads start eating nothing but meat, pushing the slaughter rate of animals up from one a week to six a week, which offends Rob P, the vet who has respect for animals and can’t see to see so many ‘shot in the face to feed greedy wankers’ (or something along those lines – and he becomes another one who leaves, effectively forced out by the relentless laddish subculture.

NB – what’s particularly grim about they way they deal with their meat fest is that they leave bits of bone and carcass lying around the valley, which makes it ‘stink of death’.

The final episode stars off with  Christmas Day – which seems to be going fine until Artist Katie, the girlfriend of the vet who left in the previous month, decides to leave the party stating she doesn’t want to spend the day with any of the people there because they’re all revolting (as far as she’s concerned)

There’s an issue with people getting contraband smuggled into Eden, and a debacle over someone having been using a mobile phone, although we never actually find out who was using it. which kind of makes a mockery of the whole experiment.

By this final episode, the two groups are living entirely separate lives, but they come together for a final fire-party on the beach.

What does Channel 4’s recent social experiment tell us about ‘community’ and social life more generally?

TBH I think it tells us very little…

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Controlling and Reducing Crime – The Role of the Community

Most people manage to get through their whole lives without getting on the ‘wrong side’ of the formal agents of social control (the police, the courts and prison), so it should be no surprise hat many of the perspectives emphasize the role that the community plays in preventing crime and controlling crime.

Consensus Theory and Right Realism

Both Consensus Theory and Right Realism emphasise the importance of informal social control at the level of the community in keeping crime rates low. The following theories all emphasise the importance of the community in controlling crime:

  • Hirschi’s ‘Bonds of Attachment’ theory
  • Charles Murray’s Underclass Theory/ NEETS
  • Wilson and Kelling’s Broken Windows theory

Left Realism

According to left realism, crime is highest in those areas which suffer the highest levels of relative deprivation and marginalisation.

  • Relative deprivation refers to the discontent people feel when they compare their positions to those similarly situated and find that they have less than their peers.

  • Marginalisation is where one is ‘pushed to the edge’ of that society – on the outside of normal society looking in, lacking the resources to fully participate in that society.

According to Left Realists, the conditions of relative deprivation and social exclusion ‘breed crime’, most obviously because criminal means (rather than legitimate means) are often the only way people in such areas can ever hope to achieve material success, while you have relatively little to lose if you get caught.

Left Realists argue that the government should focus on tackling marginalisation and relative deprivation and marginalisation through Community Intervention Projects (aka Social outreach projects).

Community intervention projects involve such things as local councils working with members of local communities to provide improved opportunities for young people ‘at risk of offending’ through providing training opportunities or a more active and engaging education for certain children.

Marxism

According to Marxism, the fact that we have whole communities of the underclass is a structural feature of Late-Capitalism because with technological advances, Capitalism requires an ever smaller workforce. Thus we now have millions of permanently unemployed and underemployed people living in Britain.

Just for emphasis – this is the same as Underclass Theory, but from the Marxist Perspective, members of the underclass are victims of Capitalism creating unemployment through technological obsolescence.

Postmodernism/ Late Modernism

Postmodernists argue that the capacity of local communities to control crime informally, even with the help of state-intervention, is limited because communities today have a high turnover of population – communities tend to be unstable, short-lived and fleeting. Moreover, Postmodernists point out that the concept of ‘community’ is irrelevant to many people’s lives today because society is not made up of ‘communities’, it is made up of ‘networks’ Rather than being integrated into tight-knit communities restricted to one place, we have weaker connections to a higher number of people via virtual networks which spread over large distances.

These networks mean that we become susceptible to a whole range of ‘new crimes’ such as cyber-bullying, trolling, phishing, identity theft, which take place in ‘virtual space’ and there is thus nothing local communities can do to control such crimes. Moreover, members of these virtual networks are also relatively powerless to stop criminals operating through virtual networks. In short, in the postmodern, networked society, communities are powerless to control crime.

Related Posts 

Right Realist Criminology – Includes an introduction to Realism and detailed class notes on Right Realism covering rational choice theory, broken windows theory, Charles Murray’s views on the underclass, situational crime prevention and environmental crime prevention (mainly zero tolerance policing)

Left Realist Criminology – class notes covering relative deprivation, marginalisation, subcultures, early intervention, community based solutions to crime and community policing.