Community

When the word “community” comes to mind, I think about people who form groups based on similar interests, activities, background, socio-economic class, or geography. But that’s just on the surface. In order to understand and efficiently utilize the word in the context of media studies, one has to look deeper and really comprehend the history and theories surrounding the word “community”.

The word “community” originates from the Old French word “communité” and Latin word “communitatem” from “communis”, meaning “common, public, general, shared by all or many” (from the Online Etymology Dictionary).

Why do people form communities?

Coming from an undergraduate psychology background, my perspective is that people form communities in order to develop a sense of community, i.e. to belong to a group, to survive better. Among teenagers, especially, a sense of belonging is important, particularly when one is growing up and making friends in school, where the pressure to fit in is constantly there, and where deviants are subject to bullying. If you think of this in terms of cavemen, groups that stick together have higher chances of survival – groups are faster and more efficient, they benefit from groupwork, they can defend themselves from animal attacks.

People today, then, form communities so that they don’t get victimized, so that they can get benefits from having a ‘voice’ of their own, so that they can “survive”. For example, communities such as the minorities in any given country may find that their opinion is taken more seriously (e.g. against state or government policies) as opposed to if one person had objected. In other words, there’s strength in numbers.

Of course, there are many types of communities such as virtual communities (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, blogs), cultural communities (based on ethnic background, race, etc.), geographical communities (town communities, countries, etc.), and identity-based communities (based on similar interests, activities, etc.).

Week 1’s reading, ‘Community and society–myths of modernity’, Gerard Delanty talks about the idea of community as an alternative to society, and he bases his article on modern perceptions of sociology and antrhopology. He argues that modernity produces tradition, and even invents new ones, but still bases itself on old traditions. Hence, modern society still reflects the traits of old tradition. In arguing the concept of community vs society, Delanty suggests that both concepts are not opposed; rather, they are “mutual forms of sociability” (p. 30), because community is not only based on traditions, but also on symbolic social relationships.

I think the view proposed by Turner (p. 46) that community is symbolic in nature has some truth to it. Turner proposes that communities create powerful links between its members, where these powerful links are “symbolic construction[s] of boundaries” (p. 46), and that people form symbolic and ideological references based on how they are individually socially oriented into a community. In this sense, then, people in the same community will have different experiences and construct different meanings from one another. This further suggests that communities are not entirely based on uniformity; hence, communities are able to fluctuate, and are open to change. Although Delanty points out some flaws to Turner’s perspective of a symbolic form of community, I think Turner’s idea is useful as it is helps us understand how and why people fit themselves into certain communities and not others. I understand it as their own construction of their self and their identity that creates this symbolic boundary, so that each individual identifies with communities that they themselves can relate to.

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