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Does the Idea of Community Still Exist Today?

Does the Idea of Community Still Exist Today?

This essay will be examining the concept of community, looking at how and why it was developed and necessary in the past, and how community has evolved and adapted in the present day. This essay will also allow me to explore how modern community takes shape and will allow me to determine whether is a greater or lesser need for community compared in present times than there was in the past. I will also aim, in this essay, to examine whether community has disappeared within this postmodern society or if it has evolved and still exists in different forms, which are more relevant in the modern world. Lastly, this essay will also be exploring research around how modern communities operate and how they influence global culture.

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Social interaction and co-operation have always been essential elements into how communities influence modern culture.The evolution and survival of mankind with social bonds playing the part of the building blocks that allow us to access the world at large (Bruhn 2011). Through mutual cooperation and working as groups, humans have fought, conquered and protected themselves against dangerous predators and foreign invaders through the ages. In today’s post-modern era we as humans still need positive and stimulating social interactions with other humans outside of the family unit, and it is through communities that we are able to fulfil these needs. The social relationships provided in a community are important in helping to maintain our physical health and mental wellbeing (Berkman and Syme 1979, Reynolds & Kaplan 1990).

The difficulties of trying to define community is an onerous task and is one that, historically, has always proven to be problematic for social thinkers as it is a topic that causes much debate and disagreement (Delenty 2003).The term ‘community’ has many definitions, purposes, and faces; and research by Hillery (1955),suggested that there are 94 definitions for community.Nevertheless, historically the term community was used broadly to define specific groups within society; these groups could be based on ethnicity, religion, class or politics. In the past the term was also often used descriptively to label certain groups of classes of people that resided within a particular geographical area. However, it can be seen that, as society develops the key components that are seen as required for someone to feel part of a community transcend social and geographical boundaries. Durkheim (1964) argued that modern society can also play an influential part in developing communities based around interests and skills, rather than being focused on locality. Community is still essentially and always has been about self identity, shared goals, and values and practices. Even if some members of a community may never actually meet, if they are motivated by a common goal or have a shared ideology, they can be seen as still being part of that community.


One of the many types of community is the concept of an “imagined” community. Anderson (1983) argues that any community that is larger than a traditional village is essentially an “imagined “community and it is not defined by a physical locality. One of the most important features of this type of community is that although the individuals that form the community may be from different ethnicities, socio-economic, or even political groups, they have all chosen to associate with each other and be a part of the community; consequently, the members of this community build mutual trust, commitment, and respect for each other. Imagined communities can be seen in the present day through models such as twitter where individuals who holds accounts may never meet each other but often form relationships and bonds over shared interests and goals. This view is also supported by Bruhn (2011), who states that the relationships that are formed in these communities are more than mere casual associations or acknowledgments; these communities are made up of people who have chosen to have a commitment and bond with each other, and who celebrate and mourn together.


The German sociologist F. Tonnies, introduced the dual concepts of gemeinschaft and gesellschaft in 1887, which  translate as “community” and “society” respectively. Tonnies stated that ‘gemeinschaft’ represented a group that puts the good of the collective before their own personal benefit, he cited the family as a perfect example of gemeinschaft. Gesellschaft, however, represents an association in which the individual and their own personal self-interests are the priority (Tonnies 1887)An example of gemeinschaft in the world today can be seen in the Amish community as they have shared morals, values, institutions, and a strong emphasis on group and family ties. Examples of gesellschaft can be seen in large corporations, social groups or even in universities, because these relationships have the shared goal, but they are essentially contractual in nature, students seek education and the purpose of universities is to provide students with education.

Gusfield (1975) distinguished two major meanings and uses behind the term ‘community’. Whilst the first meaning is surrounding the territorial and geographical notion of community – i.e. neighbourhoods, towns, cities; the alternative meaning proposes a more relational relationship, where it is more focused on the ‘quality of character of human relationship’ disregarding any links to location. It was concluded that the two uses of ‘community’ are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

Berger and Luckman (1984) posit that everything we know is learned through socialisation and reinforcement of learned definitions. From birth we are socialised by our families through tools such as language, symbols, and social cues that teach us how to respond to our environment and the people we meet; this is also known as primary socialisation. After this   we enter the school system and this is where we are exposed to new social influences, when we meet and are influenced by people outside of our own family circle. This also where learn about new and different ways of socialising, this is our secondary socialisation. Here we are exposed to new cultures, practises and ideas that can differ from our own, with the freedom to choose if and how we associate with these groups.

Throughout our lives we continue to be socialised repeatedly through our exposure to media, work and cultural influences around us. Our behaviour and interests are shaped by this socialisation allowing us to fit into the social class, gender or culture of our imagined realityHammersley (1992) argues that reality can be socially defined and the experience of society is a subjective reality which is achieved through primary, and to a lesser degree, secondary socialisation.  Burr (1995) also states that identity is formed not from within an individual but rather from the social realmBerger and Luckman (1991) argue that knowledge is gained through interactions of individuals within society and while reality is socially defined, it is individuals and groups of individuals who define it.It is through our socialisation that we internalise our experiences with community.


From understanding how community has played such a vital part in the past it is important to see whether community still holds the same functionality within modern society. Some theorists would argue that the idea of community is an outdated notion due to the cultural, social, political, and geographical changes in the modern world (Puddifoot, (1995), Cooke, (1989) Nancy (1991)). However, Delanty (2003), argues that community is a powerful idea of belonging that is relevant in all ages and cannot be reduced to a social or political tool. Howarth (2001) states that community is a salient part of our everyday lives, and yet, its existence is still highly contested.

Community is constantly evolving and adapting and means different things in different times for example Karl Marx saw communism as a reassertion of community, in a higher form and on a vastly expanded, in fact  global, scale. (Adler P, 2015) and marxists sociologists view the role of community as a “critical component of the capitalist labour-process”. Adler (2015) also posits that community has a new form, that he calls “genossenschaft”, which translates as “collaborative” he states that this form of community in fact represents a dialectical synthesis of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft and he argues that this new form of community represents communism developing in the heart of capitalism.

It is easier today than it ever has been in the past to establish or become part of a community as due to globalization and deindustrialization, the growth of communication systems, international travel and a growing awareness of socio-cultural diversity, place and locality no longer matter in the ways they once did (Graham, 1998; Sassen, 2000). Individuals still have the intrinsic need to be part to a part of something bigger than themselves, and being part of a community provides them with the tools and resources and opportunities to give something back and make a difference to the world. There are many social and emotional benefits to being part of a community, these benefits include: support, guidance and advice from fellow members in times of need, access to resources and services, opportunities to build friendships, a sense of belonging, acceptance and validation as well as chance to gain and share knowledge about a common interest or passion.

We can see an example of how community is still important and benefits individuals today as much as in the past  in the response to the Grenfell fire tragedy in June 2017. Many of the residents of the fire received immediate assistance from their neighbours and members of their geographical community in terms of help in initially escaping the towers. After this local churches and mosque opened their doors to survivors and their families providing food, shelter, water and safety. A high percentage of the residents affected by the Grenfell Towers fire were of the muslim faith, and muslim community groups responded quickly both at the local, national and eventually international level. Local mosques and muslim residents were at the forefront of the disaster relief effort helping their members to access religiously appropriate aid such as halal food or prayer mats and appropriate clothing (such as headscarves for female who usually wore them). They were also able to make funeral arrangements following muslim traditions on behalf of the families of those who died in the tragedy. In the weeks after the fire community groups continued to be fully engaged on a local level. A new community called Grenfell United was also established in the weeks after the fire, this group was established to represent the interests of the residents of the towers (Plastow 2018). The Grenfell Tower disaster is just one example of how a community continues to be of both a practical and an ideological,significance to most people.

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“As the world grows increasingly connected online, people are finding more inclusive and expansive ways to build communities around shared needs and interests” (Facebook IQ 2018). Individuals may use social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to build communities around the passions, causes, and experiences that matter the most to them and have the most impact or influence in their lives. These communities that form from a need to be part of something bigger than themselves can often become foundational social support structures that can grow nationally and even globally. An example of an online community that endeavours to make world wide change is the Black Lives Matter movement; this is a community of people (some of which will never meet each other in real life) who support and protest the rights of Black people across the world. Modern communities are an interconnected physical and digital world. They allow the opinions of the online world to make a difference in the physical world, and allow the physical world to be shared and cemented online.

A symbolic interactionist perspective on ‘cyber-communities’ suggest that ‘community’ is a metaphor that is used in the online world to convey togetherness without real responsibility (Fernback 2007). Benedikt (1991) states that virtual space is significantly parallel to physical space as it has both geographic and physical properties; however, contemporary views of community have less focus on locality and are much more oriented around processes. Modern communities that are based online include processes of social solidarity, collective experience, cultural experience. There is an evolutionary and dynamic construction of community that is globally relevant as a result of the excess of online communication technology (Fernback 2007). It has been found that online groups with ‘richly developed cultures’ that transform the internet and different social media platforms into a communal space (Baym 1995). Some say that the real power of virtual communities come from the ability of individuals to create and build these groups, not just choose them or be born into them (Whittle 1997). All these points pose the argument that, although some may argue that advancements in technology are the cause of the destruction of community, online technology and community can be used restoratively to strengthen the bonds of humanity and to create and sustain community, and often virtual communities are used as to perform the solidifying functions that may have been found in traditional, pre-industrial communities (Rheingold 1993, Miller 1996).

Companies and corporations use online communities to help interface with customers, and build their brand whilst expanding their overall communications. When organisations establish their companies on public platforms as a community it allows an effective way to integrate all the different parts of their business with their customers. Having an online community can also help boost interactions with customers as they may feel more involved and informed with the choices the company makes.

Every community in the world has its own culture; which are the traditions of how people live. Culture includes: ideas, history, purpose, and social outlook. In order for organisations to fully reap the benefits of online communities they need to create a social culture. This can be done by deciding on a common agreed goal.

Raymond Williams as cited in Drake (2004) stated that community, more than other social organisations such as the state, nation or society always seems to be viewed in a favourable light; and by attaching the word community to any given issue, we attach greater meaning and significance to the issue. However, not all communities are established for positive reasons and just like in all other areas of life communities can also be destructive or negative.  Examples of such communities can be seen in extremist groups such as Islamic State , the Klu Klutz Klan or crime syndicates, these communities have strong, bounded connections that are not necessarily based on friendships, activities or beliefs but they do share a common aim or purpose. Communities such as these can be exploitative and oppressive of members they may have antisocial, harmful or dangerous goals seeking to cause social disruption or conflicts within society for example the extinction rebellion are a community of people who protest their socio-political movement that aims to use civil disobedience and nonviolent resistance to protest against issues and global concerns such as climate breakdown, biodiversity loss, and the risk of social and ecological collapse. Communities which are founded on class, gender, ethnicity, nationality, gender, sexuality can become exclutionary communities an example of such a community was given by Anderson 1983 who argued that nationalistic community may engage in or promote ethnic clensing. Members of these socially exclusionary communities can also exploit members of their community, Paoli, 2003 argued that the Mafia crime family could be described as an exploitative community.

Being part of a community  has always been seen to be a positive and beneficial for individuals as it provides opportunities for social and emotional advancement and development  of self-identity, Kegley (1997) said that engaging with a community can help individuals wellbeing. However communities whose members are from socially oppressed, marginalised or excluded groups such as the homeless or refugees may have difficulties in building and maintaining communities as their members may be unable to offer the levels of commitment required to build strong, productive and stable communities. The  due the vulnerability of their own place in society and their unstable situations. Social and language barriers may prevent them from engaging and connecting with society at a wider level.

There is some research around identifying and navigating the power structures that exist within communities. The debate between pluralist and elitist theories have opened the question of how power is distributed and used in local decision making, equity, and social interaction within a wide range of community settings. Previous studies that have explored this area aim to understand and operationalise the distribution of power within organisations and local communities; these studies often identified either elitist (Hunter, 1953; Mills, 1956) or pluralist (Dahl, 1961; Truman, 1951) structures. However, it has been argued that determining whether power structures of contemporary communities are elitist or pluralist is not vital; instead research should be done on  which aspects of community are pluralist, which aspects are elitist, to what degree, in what circumstances, and on which issues ((Hyman, Higdon and Martin, 2001 : 223).

There are very few typologies that help us to classify modern communities however Brint (2001) has compiled a classification which has identified 8 main types of community. The basis for his typology is the number of member interactions, frequency and priority placed on member interactions, and finally the primary motive for the interaction. The 8 types of community he found were are based on local neighborhoods, communes/collectives, friendship/ cultural groups activity, belief, virtual, elective and imagined communities. Although this typology aims to provide a system for categorising  it does not adequately cover different types of membership systems or specialized communities.

In conclusion, I feel that communities are still relevant and needed by humans today as much as they have been historically because through them we can and have in the past been able to create opportunities for social change such as the campaign for women’s rights to vote by Emmaline Prankhurst and her community of suffragettes or the march against the Iraq war. These societal changes cannot be bought by individuals alone. Community is a social and political tool that provides a platform to influence governments and society that individuals may not be able to reach alone. Communities influenced modern culture through



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