Explore the Ways in Which We Can Understand the Concept of Community

Name: Emma Burwell Module: Community Studies Word Count: 2049 ‘Explore the ways in which we can understand the concept of ‘community’. By Emma Burwell. The purpose of this essay is to explore the ways in which we can understand the concept of ‘community’. In doing so the essay will aim to introduce community with its many definitions and articulate a discussion around its ambiguous hidden meanings. The essay will explore theoretical perspectives such as Durkheim and Tonnies, to help elaborate on the many connotations attached to the concept of community.

In doing so the essay will highlight qualitative evidence with regards to both the positive and negative aspects attached to the term community. The essay will aim to critically evaluate different ideas to the changing nature of community, considering elements such as Industrialisation, Globalisation and Immigration. Points of discussion will include relevant ideas of the ways in which community can or can not be defined, traditional ideology of the community, the changing nature of community and community in Modern British Society.

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The overall aim of the essay will be to demonstrate effectively an understanding of the concepts of community. The term community in Modern British Society is still a very complex concept to define; it could be argued that community has not one simple definition whereby ‘a single set of generally applicable criteria’ (Mooney & Neal, 2009, p. 3) gives the term one whole meaning, but rather a notion of collective yet very different meanings making the whole concept itself indefinable.

It could be argued that community can be linked to many different aspects such as location, identity and institutions, each of which overlapping in one form or another in Modern British Society, yet each holding certain elements by which people relate to and share a common belief or a common form of bonding. As Bauman aluminates the idea through metaphoric attachments, he describes community as being, ‘like a fireplace at which we warm our hands on a frosty day’ (Bauman, cited in Mooney & Neal, 2009, p. 2).

It could be argued that Bauman is referring to the warm and caring nature of a community, each looking out for each other and taking care of each other, his ideals seem heavily influenced by the whole sentimental attachment of traditional community which disguises any negative connotations. Through research provided in the field by Willmott and Young the notion of community is that likened to ‘place communities’, in which groups of people tied by family, kinship and long standing residency provided the basis of the concept of homogeneous community.

Willmott and Young (1957) concluded ‘The interaction between length of residence and kinship is therefore the crux of our interpretation. Neither by itself is a sufficient explanation’ (p. 115). It could be suggested that both Willmott and Young’s qualitative evidence also relied heavily on the traditional view of the concept of community. It could be argued that the ‘Romanticised Ideology’ of traditional community was one of kinship and friendship, whereby people engaged in community life and embraced the ties of common residency, shared common beliefs and interest.

It could be suggested that due to the latter, people where able to feel a sense of belonging which in turn creates strong solidarity within the community itself. Industrialisation caused major change within society and some theorist perceived this to be the beginning of the disintegration of traditional community, as with Industrialisation, modern occupation and geographical mobility arose the growth of the individual.

Durkheim argues that there were two forms of solidarity which held communities together, the ‘mechanical’ solidarity whereby people had strong interlocking social networks linked to that of locality, kinships, values and beliefs, and the ‘organic’ solidarity, whereby people were geographically mobile and interdependent yet complimentary in such contractual relationships giving people a sense of unity.

It could be suggested that the fear felt by some was that due to the rise of Industrialisation the ‘organic’ unity would replace ‘mechanical’ solidarity in turn feeding the growth of the individual, creating greed, selfishness and non conformity to collective obligations resulting in the decline of the traditional term of community. As Parkin (1992) offered Durkheim’s conclusion being ‘members of closely knit groups or cohesive moral communities enjoy the greatest protection; conversely, people who lack social roots or suffers isolation are prime candidates for meeting the suicide quota’ (p. 5). It could be suggested that Durkheim was no supporter of the ‘organic’ unity and much preferred the idea of mechanical solidarity instead. By considering Durkheim’s theory of ‘mechanical’ and ‘organic’ solidarity we can start to assess and compare other theories such as Tonnies. Tonnies also referred to two types of explanations for the concept of community, known as ‘Gemeinschaft’ meaning community and ‘Gesellschaft’ meaning association, of which he also related certain elements of each to either the traditional sense of community or the modern emphasised individualistic community.

It could be suggested that ‘Gemeinschaft’ rural communities function on the elements that make up ‘mechanical’ solidarity, therefore ‘Gesellschaft’ which Tonnies related to the modern capitalist society, it could be argued functioned on the elements of ‘organic’ solidarity. Tonnies believed that both ‘Gemeinschaft’ and ‘Gesellschaft’ were in direct opposition and that again due to the rise of capitalist society ‘Gemeinschaft’ was under threat of eroding completely.

Tonnies however did not anticipate the rise of ‘Gemeinschaft’ within Modern British towns and cities, as Willmott and Young’s research of Bethnal Green in the 1950’s suggests that ‘Gemeinschaft’ was evident and thriving in urbanised society. Willmott and Young (1957) commented ‘Bethnal Green, or at any rate the precinct, is, it appears, a community which has some sense of being one. There is a sense of community, that is a feeling of solidarity between people who occupy the common territory, which springs from the fact that people and their families have lived there a long time’ (p. 13). If we are to accept Durkheim and Tonnies view of traditional community then in doing so we must first however, have to establish that ‘mechanical’ solidarity were in fact as well received by its participants as suggested in Durkheim’s theories. It could be argued that in fact ‘mechanical’ communities produced ‘too much community’ (Willmott ; Young, 1957, p. 2) meaning that these boundaries could be stifling for the individual, overbearing and hard to conform to the rules of the general population in their community. It can also be noted that within such ‘mechanical’ ommunities this over ‘romanticised’ sense of custom, values and beliefs could still be perceived in a negative way, for where there is inclusion and exclusive membership there is also exclusion and non membership. It could therefore be suggested in the ‘Gemeinschaft’, ‘mechanical’ communities there are strong boundaries and should you not form part of the locality or the kinship ties you were seen as outsiders. Also it could be suggested, should such boundaries of general regulations be overstepped by one within its own community, the hostility which manifests within the residents of the ‘mechanical’ community can become quite ferocious.

As Willmott and Young (1957) stated this type of community has disadvantages ‘If you know other people’s business, they know yours. Feuds may be all the more bitter for being contained in such a small place’ (p. 116) If we now consider the changing nature of community through factors such as Industrialisation, Globalisation and Immigration we can also start to consider the notions of community linked to identity, and can be thought of as ‘the imagined community’.

Industrialisation and Globalisation alongside the rise of the Capitalist Society, saw many changes take place, factors in economic opportunities such as the changing nature of occupational opportunities, individuals taking on manufacturing jobs in the towns and cities rather than that of agricultural occupations, which in turn lead to greater geographical opportunities, each of these elements collectively helped to shape and condition society and thus the concept of community was rapidly changing.

Giddens (1993) argued ‘since those who live in urban areas tend to be highly mobile, there are relatively weak bonds between them….. Competition prevails over cooperation’ (p. 571). In other words the busy lifestyle that Industrialisation and Globalisation guaranteed did not however, leave the individual with enough time to form social bonds with neighbours, and as capitalist society apparently runs on meritocracy the individual need to succeed becomes a higher priority than that of community spirit.

During the 1960’s immigration was also on the rise and saw the beginning foundations being laid down for the multicultural society of today. It could be suggested that from this perspective community in Modern British Society can be likened to identity groups, whereby people relate to each other in the sense of minority and majority ethnic groups. For example it could be suggested that groups such as English, Bangladeshi and Polish ethnic groups all form the basis for a community due to the sense of belonging and sharing common factors.

It could be suggested that identity communities can also be linked to personal beliefs or sexuality for example, the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual and Transsexual (LGBT) community or from a religious perspective, the Jewish, Muslim and Catholic communities. In this sense it could also be argued that community can be linked to institutions, whereby people gather together in institutions such as churches or mosques due to their religious beliefs or Universities and Schools from an educational perspective.

The above ideas of community relate not to locality or kinship concepts but rather to identity and institutions, yet the need for the sense of belonging is attached, bringing them together to form a different yet established concept of community. It could be argued that all of the above characteristics of identity communities are also exclusionary, and with the ever changing nature of community these also could be in danger of eroding, as Giddens (1993) states ‘The more such areas are absorbed into wider patterns of city life, however, the less these characteristics survive’ (p. 571).

It could be suggested that even strong ties such as race and religion can be overlooked by individuals in modern poverty stricken societies, whereby the race for scarce resources and lack of access to the means of production can cause crime rates to soar within the community. After considering and contrasting concepts of community through location, kinship, identity and institutions we can now look at community through a more political perspective. It could be suggested that social capital is that which refers mostly to the connections among individuals living within a community.

By engaging in social networks and attending certain institutions within the community in turn can promote trust between the individuals, McDonnell (2004) states ‘Ultimately, it becomes a shared set of values and expectations within society as a whole’ (p. 29). It could be suggested that McDonnell is stressing the importance of individuals within a certain community, regardless of kinship and race, should attend some form of social club or activity to help strengthen the bonds, which helps promote trust and acceptance between individuals creating what’s known as social apital. It could be argued that political parties use the notion of community and social capital with vested interest depending on the current issues within society at that time, as Rose states ‘community becomes governmental when it is the instrument through which governments focus their strategies for controlling and regulating social conduct’ (Rose, cited in Moony ; Neal, 2009, p. 24).

In other words the concept of community from a political perspective is that of a tool used by politicians to either support or oppose the ongoing issues in Modern British Society, therefore the concept of community is not only associated to explanations of social disorder but also as a way of addressing social problems and metaphorically speaking, using the notion as a bandage to patch up society as a whole. There is also the notion that Politicians use this concept as a way of deluding individuals into taking care of each other rather than leaning on the government for the answer to social order.

Again there are many positive and negative connotations linked to community from a political perspective as highlighted above, however, negative or positive the term community is alive and thriving in Modern British Politics. In conclusion the essay has explored a variety of ways in which we can understand the concepts of ‘community’, by considering different ideas of the community linked to locality, kinship, identity and institutions.

By researching different theories such as Durkheim and Tonnies, the essay has highlighted ideas of community through material and imagined factors, in doing so, this has helped to elaborate on the functions, similarities and differences of the concepts of community. Through analysing such theories it could be plausible to state that community has not one definition but many definitions with a variety of connotations both positive and negative, and each ever changing and overlapping due to the ongoing Modernisation of British Society.

The essay has highlighted ideas with regards to the relations of community and government using social capital as the focal point of discussion, examining how social capital is abused by the government due to their vested interest. The essay aimed to explore the changing nature of community and identify specific factors which influenced these changes such as Industrialisation and Immigration, in doing so the essay provided material as to the growth of the individual and the supposed isintegration of the traditional concept of community. As the essay provided qualitative evidence from Willmott and Young’s field work with regards to community being alive and well in Modern British Society, it could be plausible to suggest that community has merely evolved over periods of time, making the boundary lines less easy to distinguish, rather than that of eroding and disappearing completely.

Researching the Guardian on the 22nd October 2009, the term community was mentioned 1102 times in different articles just over the past 30 days. And so in conclusion, despite its ambiguous meanings, community is a term which people will refer to on a daily basis and it could be argued, that community is one concept which has broken through the barriers of time and managed to secure its place in Modern British Society.



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