Community

A community usually refers to a group of people who interact and share certain things as a group, but it can refer to various collections of organisms sharing an environment, plant or animal. This article focuses on human communities, in which intent, belief, resources, preferences, needs, risks and a number of other conditions may be present and common, affecting the identity of the participants and their degree of adhesion.

The word community comes from the Latin communis, meaning "common, public, shared by all or many."[1] The Latin term "communitatus" from which the English word "community" comes, is comprised of three elements, "Com-" - a Latin prefix meaning with or together, "-Munis-" - ultimately Proto-Indo-European in origin, it has been suggested that it means "the changes or exchanges that link" (Both municipal and monetary take their meaning here), and "-tatus" a Latin suffix suggesting diminutive, small, intimate or local.

Contents

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Perspectives from various disciplines

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Sociology

German sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies presented a concise differentiation between the terms "community" (gemeinschaft) and "society" (gesellschaft). In his 1887 work, Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft, Tönnies argued that "community" is perceived to be a tighter and more cohesive social entity within the context of the larger society, due to the presence of a "unity of will."[2] He added that family and kinship were the perfect expressions of community, but that other shared characteristics, such as place or belief, could also result in gemeinschaft.

A community of interest gathers at Stonehenge, England, for the summer solstice.
A community of interest gathers at Stonehenge, England, for the summer solstice.
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Social capital

If the sense of community exists, both freedom and security exist as well. The community then takes on a life of its own, as people become free enough to share and secure enough to get along. The sense of connectedness and formation of social networks comprise what has become known as social capital.[3]

Social capital is defined by Robert D. Putnam as "the collective value of all social networks (who people know) and the inclinations that arise from these networks to do things for each other (norms of reciprocity)." Social capital in action can be seen in groups of varying formality, including neighbors keeping an eye on each others' homes. However, as Putnam notes in Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (2000), social capital has been falling in the United States. Putnam found that over the past 25 years, attendance at club meetings has fallen 58 percent, family dinners are down 33 percent, and having friends visit has fallen 45 percent.[4]

Western cultures are thus said to be losing the spirit of community that once were found in institutions including churches and community centers. Sociologist Ray Oldenburg states in The Great Good Place that people need three places: 1) The home, 2) the workplace, and, 3) the community hangout or gathering place.[5]

With this philosophy in mind, many grassroots efforts such as The Project for Public Spaces are being started to create this "Third Place" in communities. They are taking form in independent bookstores, coffeehouses, local pubs and through many innovative means to create the social capital needed to foster the sense and spirit of community.[6]

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Individual and community

A group of youth interacting
A group of youth interacting

During human growth and maturation, people encounter sets of other individuals and experiences. Infants encounter first their immediate family, then extended family, and then local community (such as school and work). They thus develop individual and group identity through associations that connect them to life-long community experiences.[7]

As people grow, they learn about and form perceptions of social structures. During this progression, they form personal and cultural values, a world view and attitudes toward the larger society. Gaining an understanding of group dynamics and how to "fit in" is part of socialization. Individuals develop interpersonal relationships and begin to make choices about whom to associate with and under what circumstances.[7]

During adolescence and adulthood, the individual tends to develop a more sophisticated identity, often taking on a role as a leader or follower in groups. If associated individuals develop the intent to give of themselves, and commit to the collective well-being of the group, they begin to acquire a sense of community.

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Psychology

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Sense of community

The sense of community
The sense of community

Continuity of the connections between leaders, between leaders and followers, and among followers is vital to the strength of a community. Members individually hold the collective personality of the whole. With sustained connections and continued conversations, participants in communities develop emotional bonds, intellectual pathways, enhanced linguistic abilities, and even a higher capacity for critical thinking and problem-solving. It could be argued that successive and sustained contact with other people might help to remove some of the tension of isolation, due to alienation, thus opening creative avenues that would have otherwise remained impassable.

Conversely, sustained involvement in tight communities may tend to increase tension in some people. However, in many cases, it is easy enough to distance oneself from the "hive" temporarily to ease this stress. Psychological maturity and effective communication skills are thought to be a function of this ability. In nearly every context, individual and collective behaviours are required to find a balance between inclusion and exclusion; for the individual, a matter of choice; for the group, a matter of charter. The sum of the creative energy (often referred to as "synergy") and the strength of the mechanisms that maintain this balance is manifest as an observable and resilient sense of community.

McMillan and Chavis (1986) identify four elements of "sense of community": 1) membership, 2) influence, 3) integration and fulfillment of needs, and 4) shared emotional connection. They give the following example of the interplay between these factors:

Someone puts an announcement on the dormitory bulletin board about the formation of an intramural dormitory basketball team. People attend the organizational meeting as strangers out of their individual needs (integration and fulfillment of needs). The team is bound by place of residence (membership boundaries are set) and spends time together in practice (the contact hypothesis). They play a game and win (successful shared valent event). While playing, members exert energy on behalf of the team (personal investment in the group). As the team continues to win, team members become recognized and congratulated (gaining honor and status for being members). Someone suggests that they all buy matching shirts and shoes (common symbols) and they do so (influence).[8]

A Sense of Community Index (SCI) has been developed by Chavis and colleagues and revised and adapted by others. Although originally designed to assess sense of community in neighborhoods, the index has been adapted for use in schools, the workplace and a variety of types of communities.[9]

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Anthropology

Community and its features are central to anthropological research.

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Social philosophy

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Communitarianism

Communitarianism as a group of related but distinct philosophies (or ideologies) began in the late 20th century, opposing classical liberalism, capitalism and socialism while advocating phenomena such as civil society. Not necessarily hostile to social liberalism, communitarianism rather has a different emphasis, shifting the focus of interest toward communities and societies and away from the individual. The question of priority, whether for the individual or community, must be determined in dealing with pressing ethical questions about a variety of social issues, such as health care, abortion, multiculturalism, and hate speech.

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Business and communications

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Organizational communication

Effective communication practices in group and organizational settings are important to the formation and maintenance of communities. How ideas and values are communicated within communities are important to the induction of new members, the formulation of agendas, the selection of leaders and many other aspects. Organizational communication is the study of how people communicate within an organizational context and the influences and interactions within organizational structures. Group members depend on the flow of communication to establish their own identity within these structures and learn to function in the group setting. Although organizational communication, as a field of study, is usually geared toward companies and business groups, these may also be seen as communities. The principles of organizational communication can also be applied to other types of communities.

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Interdisciplinary perspectives

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Socialization

Lewes Bonfire Night procession commemorating 17 Protestant martyrs burnt at the stake from 1555 to 1557.
Lewes Bonfire Night procession commemorating 17 Protestant martyrs burnt at the stake from 1555 to 1557.

The process of learning to adopt the behavior patterns of the community is called socialization. The most fertile time of socialization is usually the early stages of life, during which individuals develop the skills and knowledge and learn the roles necessary to function within their culture and social environment.[7] For some psychologists, especially those in the psychodynamic tradition, the most important period of socialization is between the ages of 1 and 10. But socialization also includes adults moving into a significantly different environment, where they must learn a new set of behaviors.[10]

Socialization is influenced primarily by the family, through which children first learn community norms. Other important influences include school, peer groups, mass media, the workplace and government. The degree to which the norms of a particular society or community are adopted determines one's willingness to engage with others. The norms of tolerance, reciprocity and trust are important "habits of the heart," as de Tocqueville put it, in an individual's involvement in community.[11]

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Community development

Azadi Tower is a town square in modern Iran.
Azadi Tower is a town square in modern Iran.

Community development is often formally conducted by universities or government agencies to improve the social well-being of local, regional and, sometimes, national communities. Less formal efforts, called community building or community organizing, seek to empower individuals and groups of people by providing them with the skills they need to effect change in their own communities. These skills often assist in building political power through the formation of large social groups working for a common agenda. Community development practitioners must understand both how to work with individuals and how to affect communities' positions within the context of larger social institutions.

Formal programs conducted by universities are often used to build a knowledge base to drive curricula in sociology and community studies. The General Social Survey from the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago and the Saguaro Seminar at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University are examples of national community development in the United States. In The United Kingdom, Oxford University has led in providing extensive research in the field through its Community Development Journal, [12] used worldwide by sociologists and community development practitioners.

At the intersection between community development and community building are a number of programs and organizations with community development tools. One example of this is the program of the Asset Based Community Development Institute of Northwestern University. The institute makes available downloadable tools[13] to assess community assets and make connections between non-profit groups and other organizations that can help in community building. The Institute focuses on helping communities develop by "mobilizing neighborhood assets" — building from the inside out rather than the outside in.[14]

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Community building and organizing

M. Scott Peck is of the view that the almost accidental sense of community which exists at times of crisis, for example in New York City after the September 11, 2001 attacks, can be consciously built. Peck believes that the process of "conscious community building" is a process of building a shared story, and consensual decision making, built upon respect for all individuals and inclusivity of difference. He is of the belief that this process goes through four stages:

  1. Pseudo-community: Where participants are "nice with each other", playing-safe, and presenting what they feel is the most favourable sides of their personalities.
  2. Chaos: When people move beyond the inauthenticity of pseudo-community and feel safe enough to present their "shadow" selves. This stage places great demands upon the facilitator for greater leadership and organisation, but Peck believes that "organisations are not communities", and this pressure should be resisted.
  3. Emptying: This stage moves beyond the attempts to fix, heal and convert of the chaos stage, when all people become capable of acknowledging their own woundedness and brokenness, common to us all as human beings. Out of this emptying comes
  4. Authentic community: the process of deep respect and true listening for the needs of the other people in this community. This stage Peck believes can only be described as "glory" and reflects a deep yearning in every human soul for compassionate understanding from one's fellows.

More recently Scott Peck has remarked that building a sense of community is easy. It is maintaining this sense of community that is difficult in the modern world.

Community building can use a wide variety of practices, ranging from simple events such as potlucks and small book clubs to larger–scale efforts such as mass festivals and construction projects that involve local participants rather than outside contractors. Some communities have developed their own "Local Exchange Trading Systems" (LETS)[15] and local currencies, such as the Ithaca Hours system,[16] to encourage economic growth and an enhanced sense of community.

The anti-war affinity group "Collateral Damage" protesting the Iraq war
The anti-war affinity group "Collateral Damage" protesting the Iraq war

Community building that is geared toward activism is usually termed "community organizing." In these cases, organized community groups seek accountability from elected officials and increased direct representation within decision-making bodies. Where good-faith negotiations fail, these constituency-led organizations seek to pressure the decision-makers through a variety of means, including picketing, boycotting, sit-ins, petitioning, and electoral politics. The ARISE Detroit! coalition and the Toronto Public Space Committee are examples of activist networks committed to shielding local communities from government and corporate domination and inordinate influence.

Community organizing is sometimes focused on more than just resolving specific issues. Organizing often means building a widely accessible power structure, often with the end goal of distributing power equally throughout the community. Community organizers generally seek to build groups that are open and democratic in governance. Such groups facilitate and encourage consensus decision-making with a focus on the general health of the community rather than a specific interest group.

The three basic types of community organizing are grassroots organizing, coalition building, and faith-based community organizing (also called "institution-based community organizing," "broad-based community organizing" or "congregation-based community organizing").

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Community service

Community service is usually performed in connection with a nonprofit organization, but it may also be undertaken under the auspices of government, one or more businesses, or by individuals. It is typically unpaid and voluntary. However, it can be part of alternative sentencing approaches in a justice system and it can be required by educational institutions.

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Types of community

Participants in Diana Leafe Christian's "Heart of a Healthy Community" seminar circle during an afternoon session at O.U.R. Ecovillage
Participants in Diana Leafe Christian's "Heart of a Healthy Community" seminar circle during an afternoon session at O.U.R. Ecovillage

Location

The most common usage of the word "community" indicates a large group living in close proximity. Examples of local community include:

Identity

In some contexts, "community" indicates a group of people with a common identity other than location. Members often interact regularly. Common examples in everyday usage include:

Overlaps

Some communities share both location and other attributes. Members choose to live near each other because of one or more common interests.

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Special nature of human community

Music in Central Park, a public space
Music in Central Park, a public space

Definitions of community as "organisms inhabiting a common environment and interacting with one another,"[17] while scientifically accurate, do not convey the richness, diversity and complexity of human communities. Their classification, likewise is almost never precise. Untidy as it may be, community is vital for humans. M. Scott Peck expressed this in the following way: "There can be no vulnerability without risk; there can be no community without vulnerability; there can be no peace, and ultimately no life, without community."[18] This conveys some of the distinctiveness of human community.

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See also

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Notes

  1. Harper, D. 2001. Online Etymology Dictionary.
  2. Tönnies, F. 1887. Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft, p. 22.
  3. Putnam, D. 2000. Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of the American Community, p. 19.
  4. Bowling Alone web site
  5. Project for Public Spaces. 2006. Ray Oldenburg.
  6. University of Florida. 2006. Social Capital in Tampa Bay: An Update Report.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Newman, D. 2005. Chapter 5. "Building Identity: Socialization" pp. 134-140.
  8. McMillan, D.W., & Chavis, D.M. 1986. "Sense of community: A definition and theory," p. 16.
  9. Perkins, D.D., Florin, P., Rich, R.C., Wandersman, A. & Chavis, D.M. (1990). Participation and the social and physical environment of residential blocks: Crime and community context. American Journal of Community Psychology, 18, 83-115. Chipuer, H. M., & Pretty, G. M. H. (1999). A review of the Sense of Community Index: Current uses, factor structure, reliability, and further development. Journal of Community Psychology, 27(6), 643-658. Long, D.A., & Perkins, D.D. (2003). Confirmatory Factor Analysis of the Sense of Community Index and Development of a Brief SCI. Journal of Community Psychology, 31, 279-296.
  10. Newman, D. 2005, p. 141.
  11. Smith, M. 2001. Community.
  12. Community Development Journal, Oxford University Press
  13. ABCD Institute, in cooperation with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. 2006. Discovering Community Power: A Guide to Mobilizing Local Assets and Your Organization's Capacity.
  14. ABCD Institute. 2006. Welcome to ABCD.
  15. Local Exchange Trading Systems were first developed by Michael Linton, in Courtenay, BC, see "LETSystems - new money". Retrieved: 2006-08-01.
  16. The Ithaca Hours system, developed by Paul Glover is outlined in "Creating Community Economics with Local Currency". Retrieved: 2006-08-01.
  17. Australian Academy of Science. Nova: Science in the News. Retrieved: 2006-07-21.
  18. M. Scott Peck, 1987. The Different Drum: Community-Making and Peace, p. 233.
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References

— 2000. What is globalization? Cambridge: Polity Press.
— 1986. "Commentary: The emergence of a conceptual center." Journal of Community Psychology, 14, 405-407.
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External links

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General -- entries in other encyclopedias

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Miscellaneous

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