Do you recognize community when you see it?
I’m sure some of you replied, ‘well, yeah!’ But are you really seeing community, or are you seeing something else? Does it matter?
The short answer is yes, it does. As I discussed in this post, we use the word ‘community’ far too easily. The online community. The community I live in. The business community. And so on. As it’s commonly used, it’s an understood but nebulous term – we understand what others mean, but the pieces and relationships in each of these are vastly different…and thus it’s not really what we think it is when we say it.
So you might be wondering how you’ll know when you see community emerge around you?
Let’s think about the building blocks you might see where you live or work. You and others are actors, or people who are out there in the community ‘getting it done’. This ‘getting it done’ is accomplished through actions, or the things you do to solve problems where you live. Associations are the components helping actors to focus their actions, such as church groups, volunteer organizations, or even businesses. As actors and associations come together they form interest configurations, or the institutions within a place that create and express its image.
On any particular day you might work with others to address a problem within your particular group or organization. But let’s say a larger issue comes along which require more people and organizations in your area to become involved. As you and others from these different group work together over time, you start to form what are known as social fields.
Generally, actors and associations work toward their own personal or group goals – their interests. However, as more and more social fields come together, the focus of interests shift from individual or group goals toward common interests. This shift, called generalization, is important because it helps connect social fields together, and provides a base for community development to occur by pooling interest, expertise, and resources.
Social interaction is also important because it helps to define a place as a community. As social fields come together and generalize across their interests, the focus of social interaction shifts from a personal or group basis toward the locality within which they operate. The generalization of locality-oriented actions across the interests of multiple social fields is what allows community to emerge.
Thus, community is the collective action of individuals – acting through a variety of groups, agencies, and associations – resulting in locality oriented actions toward the common good.
So what does this mean for you?
Think about where you live. Do you know your neighbors? How many organizations or groups do you know of in your community? What issues or interests do they work on? What happens when they do come together over an issue – is there cooperation or conflict? What impact does this have on where you live when an issue or disaster occurs?
The level of interaction amongst individuals and organizations in your locality is what allows social fields to emerge and transform into community fields. Interaction is also important because it is what allows the pooling of resources or allows localities to come together after disasters. Barriers to interaction are also barriers to these responses.
Localities with high levels of interaction are able to grow, adapt, and prosper while others with low levels of (meaningful) interaction do not. Entrepreneurial communities in particular are able to leverage social interactions and resources to be able to support and grow local business opportunities.
So as you go about your day-to-day activities and engagements with others in your area, stop for a few minutes and think about the interactions you are experiencing. What is their focus? Their purpose? Their impact on you and others? You might be surprised at what you are actually experiencing and what it means in terms of allowing community to emerge – and what you can do to help it to emerge!
You also might see why some people take the use of the word community rather seriously.
Thanks for reading!