Wednesday, July 13, 2016

What is community?

I know that a lot of people have asked this question before but I find myself asking it again: what does the word community mean? I am currently writing a short piece in which I'm using this word liberally and confidently, and yet I'm uncomfortable with its implications. Do I really mean to imply what the word traditionally implies? Or am I using it because it is now the norm to use the word rather indiscriminately? The word community is now used as a substitute for 'demographic' or 'population'; it is a much more pleasing and much less clinical word. It evokes a sense of togetherness and commonality. But therein lies the rub. The word can be misleading. Often the sense of togetherness and commonality that the word suggests is insufficiently found in that which the word is seeking to describe. Community suggests (some degree of) coherence; a defined boundary that encompasses a range of people who really can be understood as 'belonging together'. In its current usage, the word continues to suggest coherence and togetherness but it does so without any substantial basis. The writer often assumes that there is coherence and homogeneity within the category so described, but that assumption is often flawed. It cannot be anyone's case that a community should be entirely without differences and internal diversity; that would be ridiculous. However, when the variety, diversity and heterogeneity within that category overshadows any commonality, using the word community to describe that category is inadequate at best and misleading at worst. That said, the next question that comes to mind is this: who decides whether a group is adequately coherent for it to be described as a community? This is where individual perspective comes in. How you view community is a subjective matter, shaped by whether or not you see coherence, commonality and togetherness through your lived experience and based on empirical grounds. If you don't, you will feel uncomfortable with current usage of the word, and slightly strange while using it yourself. On the other hand, if you do see coherence, etc., then you will be content to accept the validity of that label.