Our community ! Understanding communities ! Dysfunctional communities
Characteristics of a community ! Characteristics of an institution
Building better communitiesAn alternative model ! Cartoons

The social construction of the community


What is society?

What is community?

Characteristics of a community






Skills and resources


Teams, groups

What is society?: (Top)
“A society or a human society is (1) a group of people related to each other through persistent relations. (2) A large social grouping that shares the same geographical territory, subject to the same political authority and dominant cultural expectations.

The term society came from the Latin word societas, which in turn was derived from the noun socius ("comrade, friend, ally"; adjectival form socialis) thus used to describe a bond or interaction among parties that are friendly, or at least civil. Human societies are characterized by patterns of relationships (social relations) between individuals sharing a distinctive culture and institutions; a given society may be described as the sum total of such relationships among its constituent members. Without an article, the term refers either to the entirety of humanity or a contextually specific subset of people. In social sciences, a society invariably entails social stratification and/or dominance hierarchy.”

Societies are more than a bunch of people stuck together in the same space and time. They are organised into groups that have various functions within society. These functions are organised into various roles that fit together like a clock or a play.

These groups can be described in any number of ways according to the relationship of the group with other groups in society. They provide a way to understand our relationships with each other and the others around us:
... Society: probably the most inclusive or generalised
... Community: defines our relationships within society
... Clubs: defines our relationships within the community
... Teams: defines our relationships within clubs
... Groups: defines our relationships within teams
(These groups can be reorganised any way according to the perspective of the user)

The expressions "society", "social" and "community" have often been used to mean the same things. A social group describes the common characteristics of a group, but not the personal relationships within the group. A community group is the shared interests, networks and relationships we have with each other within society. While a person can move from one community to another easily according to his/her needs at a particular time, it is more difficult to move from one society to another. As a result we see lots of communities that are a part of the same social group.

If someone wants to build a nuclear reactor in a suburb, I would be more inclined to protest if it was planned to be built in my suburb. If the nuclear reactor became a social issue, there would be a great deal of discussion about the project.

Simply put, society could be best described as the way we do things, and, community is who we do those things with.

What is community?: (Top)
A community is not "My Community". It is "Our Community".
Communities are as varied and individual as its members. Often people belong to two or more communities. Family, education, business, work, sport, religion, culture all involve communities that we take for granted as a normal part of our lives. They seem to be a part of the background. It’s only when things are not going the way that we want, that we take any notice of them.

Most people think of communities as a place or setting, or a suburb or city that they live in. Communities are much more that that. They are the very essence of how we live and socialise with others. We have our own personal communities, the communities that we are a part of and the communities that we associate with. Communities are the building blocks that allow us to make sense of the world in which we live, participate and share experiences. They provide a sense of identity and purpose, a sense of being a part of and belonging.

The origin of community is from the latin word:
"In sociology, the concept of community has led to significant debate, and sociologists are yet to reach agreement on a definition of the term. There were ninety-four discrete definitions of the term by the mid-1950s. Traditionally a "community" has been defined as a group of interacting people living in a common location. The word is often used to refer to a group that is organized around common values and is attributed with social cohesion within a shared geographical location, generally in social units larger than a household. The word can also refer to the national community or global community.
The word "community" is derived from the Old French communité which is derived from the Latin communitas (cum, "with/together" + munus, "gift"), a broad term for fellowship or organized society." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Community)

"Community: The origin of the word "community" comes from the Latin munus, which means the gift, and cum, which means together, among each other. So community literally means to give among each other." (http://www.seek2know.net/word.html)

The idea of "community" probably came about where people gathered around a common area for their mutual benefit. Sharing a language, customs, ideas, skills, goods and services, or protection from enemies would be some of the advantages in being a part of a group. Over the years the idea of community has change to accomodate different things. While different definitions mean different things, the idea is the same; that a group comes together or lives together to share something that is of value to the members of that community. Today the word "community" has taken on whole new meanings, New technology in communitation and transportation mean that a community is no longer where we live. While we may live in a suburb, town, city or some geographical location, they no longer define the communities that we are a part of. Communities have also become so specalised these days that we no longer look for one community to fulfill our needs.

Characteristics of a community: (Top)
While communities are as individual as their members, they are usually organised or built around a set of principles that allows the members to participate in the community
... Access: the members must be able to access the community
... Communication: the members must be able to communicate with each other
... Presence: the members must have some sort of relationship with the other members (see themselves, and are seen, as a part of the community)
... Participation: the members must have some sort of involvement within the community

The community also needs ...
... A way of defining itself as a community
:... An agreement between the members about what the community does and how it is to be done

These principles could be described as the characteristcits of the community.
Characteristics of a community:
... Has one or more roles that define its identity within society.
... Has a set of goals - provides a sense of direction.
... Is organised within a set of formal/informal beliefs, values, expectations and behaviours that defines the boundary of the community.
... The boundary may be explicit (physical) or implicit (defined by the shared characteristics of its members).
... Has ownership of it's members.
... There is some form of communication between members.
... Has skills and resources that are shared between the members.
... Balance the needs of the community with the needs of its members.
... Often has clubs, teams, groups etc. within the community.

While different communities have different roles in society, they all share the same characteristcits. These characteristics could also be described as its social construction. They provide the building blocks that the community is built on. While it is preferable for communities to have all these characteristics, communities that do not have all, or where a characteristic is severly lacking, could be considered as a Dysfunctional community. An institution is an improtant part of the social construction of the community. The institution describes the means of cooperation, order and stability within the community.

The social construction of a community (see Understanding communities)

Roles: (Top)
Communities have five main roles or finctions:
… To provide a service to the members,
… To provide the skills and rescources necessary for the community.
… To maintain the community to a standard that can be used by all members.
… To balance the needs of the members with the needs of the community,
… To share and draw on skills / resources where needed.

Each community is based on a model that loosley describes it's function or role within society.
Three broad (and simplistic) models could be described as, but not limited to:

… Social (holistic): is concerned with who we are, and how we socialise with each other. Human interaction with each other and the environment play an important part. Settings are all about how the members interact with each other and how the environment affects the members as a group. Members also have the opportunity to change their own environment to their own needs without affecting the community as a whole. The purpose (objectives, goals, policies etc.) of the community are less formal with less defined roles.

… Professional (holistic/specialised): is concerned with providing an environment that accommodates the particular profession or the activity of the profession (educational / medical / business). The members have to fit in to structured environments that are less accommodating to the needs of individual members and how they interact with each other. Settings are about groups of people, and how the person fits into the environment rather than how the environment fits into the person. The purpose (objectives, goals, policies etc.) of the community is formal with clearly defined roles for its members. Community services are often built around the professional model, where staff or volunteers are employed by the service to support the service users within the goals, values etc. of the service provider. Records are kept on budgets, expenses, care plans, progress notes, medical histories etc.

… Scientific (specialised): is concerned with research, facts and figures. The setting is highly structured around a set of standards, procedures and principles that do not allow for individuals. Focus is on objective systematic enquiry of objects, patterns of behavior and interactions, time and resources, balance sheets and budgets, efficiencies of scale, opportunity cost etc. Research communities need to have a consistent approach to inquiry so results can be analysed and compared. Sporting communities are about finding the best performance of the players to achieve a desired outcome - to win the game.

The three models and how they relate to the community.

Communities are generally a mixture of the three types (Social, Professional and Scientific). Social groups need to have the freedom to socialise, but also need some order and structure to coordinate activities and work within budgets etc. Work places etc. need formal structures and environments to achieve the desired goals, but there also needs to be some flexibility to allow for individual needs. Scientific communities study, measure and analyse the behavior, performance and the environment of the individual and the group, but they also need to have some flexibility to allow for individual needs.

The role of the community provides the members with a sense of belonging and purpose. Community roles can be active in providing a service, supportive, where the members support the activities of another community, or a mixture where the members share experiences, resources, skills and knowledge with each other. Communities can be recreational, and provide a social role in enabling its members to participate in various activities, or provide an educational role in providing its members with knowledge, skills and resources. A community could also be a service provider, an organisation, a local community group or any service that supports people with high support needs (Characteristics of the service provider), or fulfill any other role that is valued in society as well as other communities that it is a part of.

Valued roles provide a common cause or focus for the community. The members develop a sense of pride and purpose in being a part of the community that bond and strengthen the community. The role is valued in a sense that it brings something to the wider community that it is a part of, as well as the members of the community. Valued roles are also about community leadership that is intouch with the community and can create a feeling of importance within the members.

... Community members that support disadvantaged people in their community are valued by those people, as well as the community that they are a part of, Meals on Wheels etc. Members offer support and provide a service in helping others in their community. I remember the LIONS club was involved in supporting people in the community. It is possible for any community to institute this culture. We often see this happening spontaneously in communities where a member is sick etc.
... Recreation communities are valued within the wider community in providing a means for its members to participate in activities, develop skills, share experiences and and friendships within the activity.
... Supporters that support a sporting club are valued by the club and have a valued role in the club. The club also has a valued role in the wider community.
... Volunteers that work for and support organisations are valued by the organisation and have a valued role within the organisation.
... Events such as 'Clean up Australia' provide a valued role for communities and groups to clean up Australia.

There are lots of other examples of communities and groups that have a valued role.
This can happen in any community where disadvantaged people can be included in activities through various strategies.
By providing a valued role for a community (living, recreation, education or employment) through some form of participation where a person is included in the community (active role), rather than the current model (supportive role), the community learns new values and skills in supporting people people with high support needs.

Minority communities generally have devalued roles in society. These communities have a charecteristic, agenda or function that is not representive of the society in which the community participates.

Institutions: (Top) (See also Characteristics of an institution.)
Institutions define the way we interact with each other within the community. They are determined by the formal and informal cultures and values of the society in which the community participates, and provide order and stability within the community.
"Institutions are structures and mechanisms of social order and cooperation governing the behavior of a set of individuals. Institutions are identified with a social purpose and permanence, transcending individual human lives and intentions, and with the making and enforcing of rules governing cooperative human behavior. The term, institution, is commonly applied to customs and behavior patterns important to a society, as well as to particular formal organizations of government and public service. As structures and mechanisms of social order among humans, institutions are one of the principal objects of study in the social sciences, including sociology, political science and economics. Institutions are a central concern for law, the formal regime for political rule-making and enforcement. The creation and evolution of institutions is a primary topic for history." (Wikipedia: Institutions)

Without a form of order and stability ...
... the community can not fulfill its role,
... there are no boundaries that define the community,
... the members do not see themselves as a part of the community,
... communication brakes down, or is nonexistent
... the commnity looses its skills and reources,
... the community can not fulfill its needs,
... clubs, teams, groups etc are no longer are a part of the community,

Characteristics of an institution.

These 6 broad characteristics can be further broken down to describe a particular insitution.
Institutions can be thought of within two main groups:
1) Institutional care: provides the mechanisms for providing support for a group in society.
... Short term care
... Long term care
2) Social institutions: provides the mechanisms for social interaction and participation.

Types of institutions:
... Community
... Cultural
... Religious
... Health
... Sporting
... Educational
... Recreational
... Professional

Boundaries: (Top)
Boundaries can be physical, virtual or psychological. They define the identity of the community. All communities need a way to determine what the community does and how it does it. Without boundaries, the roles of the community become meaningless. Does a sporting community focus on transportation or scientific research? While transportation or scientific research may be a part of the community, they are not a part of the role on the community in society.

Without boundaries the community may ...
... become unfocused,
... become too diversified and uncoordinated,
... not adequately provide for its own needs, or the needs of its members,
... create tensions within communities that it is a part of, or a part of it,
... create layers of bureaucracy that become communities in their own right,

Boundaries are often defined by the ...
... the institutions of the community
... the members of the community
... the settings (physical, virtual or psychological)
... government (local state and federal) policy and practice
... other communities that it is are a part of, or are a part of it

Members: (Top)
... there is a sense of ownership and responsibility of the members that are a part of the community,
... coordination and cooperation between members is vital for any community to achieve its goals,
... leadership - leadership defines institutions of the community.

Just as a community has valued/devalued roles in society, the members also have valued/devalued roles within the community. These roles provide the members with a sense of purpose in achieving the goals of the community. Members with low valued roles are generally marginalised in the community.

Valued roles:
Teacher - student, doctor - patient, painter - art lover, friend - friend all suggest there is a positive co-relationship between the roles. Other roles such as policeman, politician, professor, accountant, fisherman, businessman, banker all suggest a value in providing a service within the community. How these roles are practiced depends on the person in the role. A policeman or banker for example have valued roles, but may use the role to their own advantage in abusing his/her power or stealing money.

Devalued roles:
Devalued roles are usually assigned to people that do not fit into the community (marginalised). These roles describe a negative characteristic of a person that sticks out. Others may also be assigned the same role (labeling) in order to legitimise or justify the person or group being treated differently to others in the community. Deviant, sick, druggie, dole bludger etc. are some labels that are used to devalue a person or group.

Communication: (Top)
The community needs to be able to communicate with its members in order to achieve its goals.
The members communicate with each other to share thoughts, feelings, experiences, skills and knowledge. Clear thinking and expression of thoughts is essential to effective communication.

The community also needs to communicate with others outside the community. To function effectively as a community, the community needs to be able to respond to events that are outside the community and have an impact on the community.

“Communication is the process of exchanging information, beliefs and feelings among people; it may be oral, written, or nonverbal. Information may travel up, down, or horizontally.” [5]

Oral communication:
The most common form.
Written communication:
People communicate using words, signs, pictures etc.
Nonverbal communication:
The most misunderstood form of communication. All behaviour is communication. When we talk to someone or write to someone we also convey messages in our behaviour (gestures etc) to reinforce the communication. When there is no verbal or written communication associated with the behaviour, the respondent has to interpret the behaviour into something that can be made sense of. Mostly the message is obvious but sometimes the message does not get through.

A good example:
Person A is shouting and screaming.
Person B may think:
Person A is shouting and screaming because the person happy.
Person A is shouting and screaming because the person is upset, angry or in pain.
Person A is shouting and screaming at me and needs to be disciplined.
Person A is shouting and screaming to draw attention to some event (the place is on fire etc).

The main function of communication is to make decisions. The effectiveness of the community is dependent upon the quality of the decisions, and the quality of the decisions is dependent upon the quality of the communication between its members. Communication and decision making involve the exchange of facts, ideas, and opinions. Winn & Guditus [5] describe communication, as well as decision making, as essential to all other functions such as planning, organising, coordinating, goal setting, directing, evaluating, managing conflict, and managing change.

For a community to be able to effectively communicate to each other, there needs to be a code, or set of principles. Anderson [6] lists some examples of productive behaviours.
... All members participate and freely express themselves
... Members are listened to and receive empathic responses
... Supporting and having respect for each other
... Treating everyone equally, whilst valuing difference eg. Gender
... Taking time to appreciate one another’s point of view
... Aiming for mutual understanding
... Respecting the knowledge and experience each brings to the task
... Being non-judgemental / avoiding negative criticism
... Being open to learning

Skills and recources: (Top)
Data collection and information
... Understanding the services and service processes
... Identify existing resources in the community
... Identify resources not in the community
... Adequate and appropriate service delivery strategies and mechanisms in place
... Innovating

An available source of wealth that can be drawn upon when needed.
The community needs to have resources that it can depend on in order to achieve its goals.

Inventory and control of resources
... The most important resources are the members themselves. Members bring their own resources (experiences, skills, knowledge, tools, equipment etc) to the community.
... Tools and equipment
... Facilities
... Natural resources

Allows for reliable, effective and efficient use of the resources.
Resources can be quickly distributed and used where necessary.
Resources that are not used can be identified.

A community generally needs a set of skills and resources in order to achieve it's goals. They provide an available source of wealth that can be drawn upon when needed.

The skills and resources of the community ...
... knowledge based skills : the particular skills of the community. While communities generally have a set of skills, there is a specific skill or charasteristic that defines the community.
... physical resources : community facilities or services that are available to the members.

While community skills and resources are available to the community, they may not be available to all members within the community. The members also need their own skills and resources to access those skills and resources. Just as a country may have a known amount of resources, these resources ane not automatically available to its citizens. The members may need to invest some personal time and resources in gaining access to the skills and resources of the community. There may also be some negotiation, payment, policy, process, induction or rite of passage that allows or disallows a person access to those skills and resources.

The skills and resources of its members ...
... the skills that can be shared by the members
... the physicial wealth that can be shared by the members
... the social networks of its members

While the community has it's skills and resources, the members also have their own skills and resources. These are needed to access the community. They are also shared between the members where there is a common need between the members. The members may also share their personal skills and resources in times of crises or where the community is threatened. Often the needs of the community come before the needs of it's members, and as a result some members may become disadvantaged where their skills and resources may be taken from them and used to provide for the needs of the community. Rates and taxes that are used to provide community services and facilities is one example where personal wealth (skills and resources) is used to fulfill a need that all members may be unable to acces. A community need may be a new football stadium, however, only a small group of members will take advantage of the stadium. What happens to the poor, the aged, the members with no education, health or transportation?

Needs: (Top)
Communities are "a one size fits all", where individual needs are less inportant to the overall health of the community. Where a particular personal need is not prioritised as a community need, a specalised service may be provided to fulfill that need. Any minortiy groups within a community have this problem where their individual need is not important to the survival of the community. It is only through social action, change and awareness that an issue can be resolved. Often this may create other problems where other members are disadvantaged through the change.

Communities (clubs, businesses, services and organisations etc) have internal needs as well as external needs. This distinction has often been misunderstood, and as a result, communities often treat these needs the same way. Internal needs are essential to the community fulfilling its role in society, external needs allow the community to participate in society. While external needs are essential to the survival of the community, they are not essential to the role of the community. External needs are needs that do not need to be sourced within the community, While communication is an internal need, the type of communication used is an external need. While transportation may seem to be an internal need (to get from one place to another), it is an external need, unless the role of the community is to provide transportation. While community access is an internal need, I would argue that the way the members access the community is a personal need, unless the existance of the community is threatened. A person or group of people may negotiate with others in the community, or, provide regulations or services that facilitate access into the community.

Communities that do not prioritise these needs often find that their role becomes blurred, unfocused or to generalised. This also creates a state of imbalance within its own role in society, and the roles of the other communities that it associates with in society. We see communities taking on roles that are already provided by other communities. Societies are probably responsible for this blurring of community roles. Social values, attitudes and expectations dictate government policy and practice in determining what a community can and can't do.

The community needs to function as a community. The principles described above allow the members to participate with each other as a community.
... presence and participation - the community must see itself as a community by its members and others within the wider community.
... access - the members must be able to access the community
... space (physical or virtual) - defines the arena of the community.
... leadership - leadership defines institutions of the community.
... goals - provide a sense of direction.
... boundaries - allows the community to define itself as a community.
... safety needs - members feel that they can call on other members in times of need or when threatened.
... belongingness and love needs - ownership, shareing, affection, relationships, etc.
... esteem needs - self-esteem, values, expectations and behaviours, etc.
... self-actualization needs - empowernment, realising potential, self-fulfillment.
(Taken from Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs)

What factors influence the way the community fulfills its internal needs?
... what skills and resources are available within the community?
... what skills and reaources are available outside the community?
... government policy and practice - rules, regulations.
... available skills and resources within the wider community.
... relationships with other communities - how do other communities advantage or disadvantage the community?

Teams, groups: (Top)
Societies are more than a bunch of people stuck together in the same space and time. They are organised into groups that have various functions within society. These functions are organised into various roles that fit together like a clock or a play. These groups can be described in any number of ways according to the relationship of the group with other groups in society.

These groups provide a way to understand our relationships with each other and the others around us:
... Society: probably the most inclusive or generalised
... Community: defines our relationships within society
... Clubs: defines our relationships within the community
... Teams: defines our relationships within clubs
... Groups: defines our relationships within teams
(These groups can be reorganised any way according to the perspective of the user)

Communities are generally organised into teams or groups. These teams or groups provide the mechanisms for coordinalion and cooperation between the members. The success of the community in fulfilling it's role in society is dependent on each team or group fulfilling its role within the community

When providing the most appropriate care for people with high support needs ...
1) The community is not where the person is living, but where the person participates, shares experiences and has valued relationships with others.
2) People with high support needs (severe disability, aged etc.) will always need support structures as a part of their lives.
3) The amount of participation in a community (living, education, employment or recreation) is directly related to the skills and resources of the person, and, the skills and resources of the community that the person wishes to participate in.
4) Institutions are going to be around in one form or another whether we like it or not, It is the way that they are used that is the problem.
5) The institutions of a society towards a particular group determine the way the group participates in society.
6) The institutions of a particular government department, organisation, profession or service define the way the person is supported within that society.
7) Facilities that support people with high support needs do not need to be the nursing homes or prisons in the sense that they are today, but can become warm inviting community places that offer a range of services to the community, as well as be a part of the wider community within that society.
8) People with high support needs are a minority group in our society, and will have the same problems as other minority groups in being a part of society.

Peter Anderson