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A community is a small or large social unit (a group of living things) who have something in common, such as norms, religion, values, or identity. Communities often share a sense of place that is situated in a given geographical area (e.g. a country, village, town, or neighborhood) or in virtual space through communication platforms. Durable relations that extend beyond immediate genealogical ties also define a sense of community. People tend to define those social ties as important to their identity, practice, and roles in social institutions like family, home, work, government, society, or humanity, at large. Although communities are usually small relative to personal social ties (micro-level), "community" may also refer to large group affiliations (or macro-level), such as national communities, international communities, and virtual communities.
In archaeological studies of social communities the term "community" is used in two ways, paralleling usage in other areas. The first is an informal definition of community as a place where people used to live. In this sense it is synonymous with the concept of an ancient settlement, whether a hamlet, village, town, or city. The second meaning is similar to the usage of the term in other social sciences: a community is a group of people living near one another who interact socially. Social interaction on a small scale can be difficult to identify with archaeological data. Most reconstructions of social communities by archaeologists rely on the principle that social interaction is conditioned by physical distance. Therefore, a small village settlement likely constituted a social community, and spatial subdivisions of cities and other large settlements may have formed communities. Archaeologists typically use similarities in material culture—from house types to styles of pottery—to reconstruct communities in the past. This is based on the assumption that people or households will share more similarities in the types and styles of their material goods with other members of a social community than they will with outsiders.
In ecology, a community is an assemblage of populations of different species, interacting with one another. Community ecology is the branch of ecology that studies interactions between and among species. It considers how such interactions, along with interactions between species and the abiotic environment, affect community structure and species richness, diversity and patterns of abundance. Species interact in three ways: competition, predation and mutualism. Competition typically results in a double negative—that is both species lose in the interaction. Predation is a win/lose situation with one species winning. Mutualism, on the other hand, involves both species cooperating in some way, with both winning. The two main types of communities are major which are self-sustaining and self-regulating (such as a forest or a lake) and minor communities which rely on other communities (like fungi decomposing a log) and are the building blocks of major communities.
In Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft (1887), German sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies described two types of human association: Gemeinschaft (usually translated as "community") and Gesellschaft ("society" or "association"). Tönnies proposed the Gemeinschaft–Gesellschaft dichotomy as a way to think about social ties. No group is exclusively one or the other. Gemeinschaft stress personal social interactions, and the roles, values, and beliefs based on such interactions. Gesellschaft stress indirect interactions, impersonal roles, formal values, and beliefs based on such interactions.
Groups of people are complex, in ways that make those groups hard to form and hard to sustain; much of the shape of traditional institutions is a response to those difficulties. New social tools relieve some of those burdens, allowing for new kinds of group-forming, like using simple sharing to anchor the creation of new groups.
One simple form of cooperation, almost universal with social tools, is conversation; when people are in one another's company, even virtually, they like to talk. Conversation creates more of a sense of community than sharing does.
Collaborative production is a more involved form of cooperation, as it increases the tension between individual and group goals. The litmus test for collaborative production is simple: no one person can take credit for what gets created, and the project could not come into being without the participation of many.
An online community builds weaker bonds if allows users to be anonymous. Clay Shirky, a researcher on digital media, states in reference to the audience of an online community, "An audience isn’t just a big community; it can be more anonymous, with many fewer ties among users. A community isn’t just a small audience either; it has a social density that audiences lack." The sites that offer online communities, like Myspace, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, and Pinterest allow users to "stalk" their community and act anonymously.
Effective communication practices in group and organizational settings are very important to the formation and maintenance of communities. The ways that 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.
Public administration is the province of local, state and federal governments, with local governments responsible for units in towns, cities, villages, and counties, among others. The most well known "community department" is housing and community development which has responsibility for both economic development initiatives, and as public housing and community infrastructure (e.g., business development).
In a seminal 1986 study, McMillan and Chavis identify four elements of "sense of community":
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), Influencing new members to join and continue to do the same. Someone suggests that they all buy matching shirts and shoes (common symbols) and they do so (influence).
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.
Studies conducted by the APPA show substantial evidence that young adults who feel a sense of belonging in a community, particularly small communities, develop fewer psychiatric and depressive disorders than those who do not have the feeling of love and belonging.
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. For some psychologists, especially those in the psychodynamic tradition, the most important period of socialization is between the ages of one and ten. But socialization also includes adults moving into a significantly different environment, where they must learn a new set of behaviors.
Socialization is influenced primarily by the family, through which children first learn community norms. Other important influences include schools, peer groups, people, 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.
Community development is often linked with community work or community planning, and may involve stakeholders, foundations, governments, or contracted entities including non-government organisations (NGOs), universities or government agencies to progress the social well-being of local, regional and, sometimes, national communities. More grassroots 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. Public administrators, in contrast, need to understand community development in the context of rural and urban development, housing and economic development, and community, organizational and business development.
Formal accredited programs conducted by universities, as part of degree granting institutions, are often used to build a knowledge base to drive curricula in public administration, 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. The Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University in New York State offers core courses in community and economic development, and in areas ranging from non-profit development to US budgeting (federal to local, community funds). In the United Kingdom, Oxford University has led in providing extensive research in the field through its Community Development Journal, 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 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. In the disability field, community building was prevalent in the 1980s and 1990s with roots in John McKnight's approaches.
In The Different Drum: Community-Making and Peace, Scott Peck argues that the almost accidental sense of community that exists at times of crisis can be consciously built. Peck believes that conscious community building is a process of deliberate design based on the knowledge and application of certain rules. He states that this process goes through four stages:
More recently Peck remarked that building a sense of community is easy but maintaining this sense of community 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.
Community building that is geared toward citizen action 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 "institution-based community organizing," (also called "broad-based community organizing," an example of which is faith-based community organizing, or Congregation-based Community Organizing).
If communities are developed based on something they share in common, whether that be location or values, then one challenge for developing communities is how to incorporate individuality and differences. Indeed, as Rebekah Nathan suggests in her book, My Freshman Year, we are actually drawn to developing communities totally based on sameness, despite stated commitments to diversity, such as those found on university websites. Nathan states that certain commonalities allow college students to cohere: "What holds students together, really, is age, pop culture, a handful of (recent) historical events, and getting a degree" (qtd. In Barrios 229). Universities may try to create community through all freshman reads, freshman seminars, and school pride; however, Nathan argues students will only form communities based on the attributes, such as age and pop culture, that they bring with them to college. Nathan's point, then, is that people come to college and don't expand their social horizons and cultural tolerance, which can prevent the development of your social community. (Barrios, Barclay. Emerging: Contemporary Readings for Writers. New York: Bedford St. Martins, 2010.)
Some communities have developed their own "Local Exchange Trading Systems" (LETS) and local currencies, such as the Ithaca Hours system, to encourage economic growth and an enhanced sense of community. Community currencies have recently proven valuable in meeting the needs of people living in various South American nations, particularly Argentina, that recently suffered as a result of the collapse of the Argentinian national currency.
Community services are a wide range of community institutions, governmental and non-governmental services, voluntary, third sector organizations, and grassroots and neighborhood efforts in local communities, towns, cities, and suburban-exurban areas. In line with governmental and community thinking, volunteering and unpaid services are often preferred (e.g., altruism, beneficence) to large and continued investments in infrastructure and community services personnel, with private-public partnerships often common.
Non-profit organizations from youth services, to family and neighborhood centers, recreation facilities, civic clubs, and employment, housing and poverty agencies are often the foundation of community services programs, but it may also be undertaken under the auspices of government (which funds all NGOs), one or more businesses, or by individuals or newly formed collaboratives. Community services is also the broad term given to health and the human services in local communities and was specifically used as the framework for deinstitutionalization and community integration to homes, families and local communities (e.g., community residential services).
In a broad discussion of community services, schools, hospitals, clinics, rehabilitation and criminal justice institutions also view themselves as community planners and decisionmakers together with governmental leadership (e.g., city and county offices, state-regional offices). However, while many community services are voluntary, some may be part of alternative sentencing approaches in a justice system and it can be required by educational institutions as part of internships, employment training, and post-graduation plans.
Community services may be paid for through different revenue streams which include targeted federal funds, taxpayer contributions, state and local grants and contracts, voluntary donations, Medicaid or health care funds, community development block grants, targeted education funds, and so forth. In the 2000s, the business sector began to contract with government, and also consult on government policies, and has shifted the framework of community services to the for-profit domains.
However, by the 1990s, the call was to return to community and to go beyond community services to belonging, relationships, community building and welcoming new population groups and diversity in community life.
Bangladesh Community is a rapidly expanding and extending community in Canada with its professionals, students and families. In Alberta, Bangladesh Heritage and Ethnic Society (BHESA), a not-for-profit socio-cultural and heritage association known to lead to greater understanding of culture and heritage of Bangladesh, and characterized by planning, action and mobilization of community, the promotion of multicultural changes and, ultimately, influence within larger systems. Through establishing its link to the larger or more extended communities with national, international, and virtual community.
A number of ways to categorize types of community have been proposed. One such breakdown is as follows:
The usual categorizations of community relations have a number of problems: (1) they tend to give the impression that a particular community can be defined as just this kind or another; (2) they tend to conflate modern and customary community relations; (3) they tend to take sociological categories such as ethnicity or race as given, forgetting that different ethnically defined persons live in different kinds of communities — grounded, interest-based, diasporic, etc.
In response to these problems, Paul James and his colleagues have developed a taxonomy that maps community relations, and recognizes that actual communities can be characterized by different kinds of relations at the same time:
In these terms, communities can be nested and/or intersecting; one community can contain another—for example a location-based community may contain a number of ethnic communities. Both lists above can used in a cross-cutting matrix in relation to each other.
Possibly the most common usage of the word "community" indicates a large group living in close proximity. Examples of local community include:
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:
Some communities share both location and other attributes. Members choose to live near each other because of one or more common interests.
Definitions of community as "organisms inhabiting a common environment and interacting with one another," 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 expresses 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."
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