A Theory of Community

 

  1. Human beings are innately social. We live together in groups.

  2. Living together brings a number of benefits: we can protect ourselves, we can pool resources, we can find safety when vulnerable due to illness, we can raise children, we can better shelter ourselves from elements. These things motivate our group life. In part, they are why we live in society rather than apart.

  3. Living together also brings with it a set of challenges, related directly to the benefits:
    • Crime. Fellow group members threaten us (either physically, or our property). How do we protect ourselves?
    • Economy. The place in which we live become a locus of exchange. How do we make it one where we can thrive?
    • Poverty. Differences in how exchange takes place creates some who have too few resources. What do we do about people who have trouble surviving (poverty)?
    • Health. Proximity brings with it increased disease. We depend on others to care for us when vulnerable. How do we care for group members?
    • Education. Our young ones must acquire the norms and habits that we require of one another. How do we create citizens of our group?
    • Environment. The byproducts of life become concentrated (waste, extraction of resources). How can we manage this?

  4. These challenges are not problems to be solved, but conditions to be managed. The possible ways to address them are myriad, require collective actions, and there is not an objectively correct outcome.

  5. Any group of people living together in a place will face such challenges. These are the challenges that come with being a “community.”

  6. These problems, in varying degree, face everyone in the group. Everyone is therefore trying, in their own ways to address them. This is happening throughout the group, always.
One definition of community:
  • The places where, and collective means by which, such opportunities and challenges are collectively addressed.

Published by

Brad Rourke

Executive editor of issue guides and program officer at the Kettering Foundation.

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