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(2019-2020) How does an anthropological perspective help us to understand the role of development in Moss Side?

by | Dec 6, 2019 |

By Honor Gitsham, Sara Kurdi, Ellis Harbord, Sioned Williams, Elspeth Denison, Kathryn Leaver, Rohan Williams.

Anthropology has a complex history with development as both a discourse and a practice (Lewis, 2014). During colonialism, anthropologists repeatedly reinforced a dichotomy between ‘Third’ and ‘First World’ countries, where the former was reduced to a site of study in need of ‘modernisation’ (or ‘development’), whilst the latter – already considered ‘developed’ – was neglected as a site of study (Prato and Prado, 2012; Ferguson, 1997: 155, 158). Since then, neoliberal capitalism has led to a global increase in inequality and has meant that poverty – or ‘underdevelopment’ – is ‘no longer [only] features of an exoticized global South’ (Kehr, 2018: 370; see also Ferguson, 1997: 163). This trend, alongside a process of decolonisation, have led anthropologists to turn their attention to study ‘at home’ (Kehr, 2018: 370; Prato and Prado: 90; Ferguson, 1997: 163). Accordingly, the dichotomy between the ‘global South’ and ‘global North’, in the context of development, has been increasingly challenged. In this blog post we further emphasise the need to think about ‘development’ beyond the developing world and recognise that development practices are equally as important, prevalent and needed in places that are considered ‘developed’. With this in mind we consider how an anthropological perspective can help us to understand youth violence in Moss Side, Manchester, and the role of development in tackling this problem.

Since the onslaught of neoliberalism, with ‘the precarisation of work and the retrenchment of welfare’, many have ‘relied increasingly on nongovernmental charity institutions to survive, not just in times of crisis precipitated by disasters, but in their everyday lives’ (Wacquant, 2012: 74; see also Adams, 2013: 128). This shift in responsibility for the most vulnerable in society, previously the responsibility of the state, has been left to the third sector. What are the consequences of this for young people living in Moss Side and how effective is the third sector in tackling youth violence? 

In the 1990s, Moss Side was represented in the media as ‘violent’ and ‘dangerous’, where ‘young people took to the streets and [vied] for control of their neighbourhoods’ (Gregory, 2015). Clashes between the police and residents in 1981 and 1994 further dampened the reputation of Moss Side, widening the gap between the local community and the state system (Briggs, 1995). 54% of Moss Side’s population leave school with no qualifications and anti-social behaviour orders are used to enforce child discipline in schools (Pak in Rahman 2010). Moss Side, therefore, can be considered what Meyers and Hunt term ‘another global South’ — or in other words, a place in need of development (Meyers and Hunt, 2014 in Ticktin, 2018: 3).

An example of a government-driven attempt to repair social welfare and tackle youth violence in the neighbourhood is the Millennium Powerhouse, a multifunctional youth hub that supports young people in Moss Side with facilities and activities (MMU, 2019).  From dance sessions, to mental health and library services, the Powerhouse attempts to be ‘more than just a youth centre’ (MMU, 2019). However, the lack of state funding allocated since neoliberal reform, has left the Powerhouse – and the people who use it – neglected.  Fathers Against Violence (FAV), a non-for-profit organisation, is attempting to provide opportunities to young people living in Moss Side and reduce levels of youth violence (Gregory, 2015). Whilst this fills the gap the state has left, Ticktin notes in the case of France that there can be ‘unintended consequences’ of relegating the third sector as responsible for society’s most vulnerable as ‘it is more about the ethical and moral imperative to bringing relief to those suffering and save lives’ rather than ‘grounded in law, […] responsibility, and accountability’ (Ticktin, 2006: 35). Like Ticktin, we think about the consequences of this shift for young people living in Moss Side and ask where does FAV succeed in ‘bringing relief’ to an epidemic of youth violence? And where does it remain limited, bound only by ‘compassion’ as opposed to ‘accountability’ (2006: 33)?

FAV’s aim is to support young people in their development, providing alternatives to the knife crime and gang violence they would otherwise find on the streets (FAV, 2019). Can U Kick It? is one of their football coaching initiatives that uses mentoring and sports as tools to build confidence, camaraderie, and provide employment for Moss Side youth. In contrast to the top-down intervention approach of Millennial Powerhouse, FAV – in the words of its founder – fosters ‘community cohesion built from the ground upwards’. This is a dynamic that is mostly out of reach for state services who fail to provide the support, safety and community engagement necessary to combat the cause of violence (FAV 2019; Wacquant, 2012). Therefore, it can be considered a success in that it tackles the crisis of youth violence through directly remodelling a culture that breeds violence (FAV, 2019).                       

However, it remains limited in that it focuses on supporting young men in Moss Side — Can U Kick It? Is a programme available to BME men (FAV, 2019). Young women suffer directly from youth violence, but also indirectly through male counterparts – being at higher risk of domestic violence, sexual and psychological abuse, drug use and distorted views of what it means to be a girlfriend (JAGS Foundation, 2018: 5). This questions the ability of the third sector to respond to the crisis of youth violence in Moss Side as it is often unable to support both young men and women equally. Therefore, to effectively respond to youth violence and its gendered nature, women-only spaces need to be created and maintained that offer support to young women as well (JAGS Foundation, 2018: 5). 

Whilst it is paramount to give credit to organisations such as FAV who provide a band aid to the wound the neoliberal state has caused, it distracts us from questioning who is responsible for society’s most vulnerable and risks leading us to forget who the third sector is unable – or forgets – to support, being based on ‘compassion’ as opposed to a (‘legal’) responsibility to act (Ticktin, 2006: 33). 


Adams, V. (2013) Markets of Sorrow, Labors of Faith: New Orleans in the Wake of Katrina. Durham: Duke University Press. 

Briggs, C. 1995. ‘Policing Moss Side: A Probation Response. Probation Journal, 42(2), pp 62-66. 

Families Against Violence (FAV) (2019). Home Page. Available at: (Accessed: 3 December 2019).

Ferguson, J. (1997) ‘Anthropology and Its Evil Twin: “Development” in the Constitution of a Discipline’, in Cooper, F. and Packard, R. (eds.) International Development and the Social Sciences. Berkeley: University of California Press, pp.150-175. 

Gregory, J (2015). Fathers of Tomorrow [YouTube]. Available at: (Accessed: 3 December 2019).

JAGS Foundation. (2018). A Multiplicity of Roles: Girls, Young Women and Youth Violence. Youth Violence Commission. Available at: (Accessed: 3 December 2019).

Kehr, J. (2018) ‘“Exotic No More”: Tuberculosis, Public Debt and Global Health in Berlin’, Global Public Health, 13(3), pp. 369–382. 

Lewis, D. 2014. ‘Heading South: Time to Abandon the “Parallel Worlds” of International Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) and Domestic Third Sector Scholarship?’, VOLUNTAS, 25(5), pp. 1132–1150.

Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) (2019). Creating our Future Histories. Available at: (Available: 3 December 2019).

Meyers, T., and Hunt, N.R. 2014. ‘The Other Global South’, The Lancet, 384(9958), pp. 1921–1922.

Prato, B. G. and Pardo, I. (2013). ‘Urban Anthropology’, Urbanities, 3(2), pp. 80-110.

Rahman, T (2010). True Blues, Blacks and in-betweens: Urban Regeneration in Moss Side, Manchester. PhD University of Manchester (Faculty of Humanities, Social Anthropology). Available at: (Accessed: 3 December 2019).

Ticktin, M. (2006). ‘Where Ethics and Politics Meet: The Violence of Humanitarianism in France’, American Ethnologist, 33(1), pp. 33–49. 

Wacquant, L. (2012). ‘Three steps to a historical anthropology of actually existing neoliberalism’, Social Anthropology, 20(1), pp. 66-79.