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


What is community?


What is society?

What is community?

Different communities fulfill different needs

Communities have various roles

Communities have rights and responsibilities

Damage control

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 a 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

Different communities fulfill different needs:
The spiritual community
The family community
The living community
The recreational community
The learning community
The employment community
The health community

Communities have various roles: (Top)
Each community has a particular role that fulfills a particular need.

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, or fulfill any other role that is valued in society as well as other communities that it is a part of.

Valued community 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.

Social role valorisation provides valued roles for ALL members of the community.
Communities also need skills and resources to provide for the needs of its members..

Communities that have valued roles in society …
... The spiritual community
... The family community
... The living community
... The recreational community
... The learning community
... The employment community
... The health community
... The internet community
... The blind community
... The disability community

Communities that have de-valued roles in society …
... The AIDS community
... The drugs / rave communities
... The criminal community
... The gay / lesbian communities
... The Muslim community
... The bikie community
... The street community
... The unemployment / homeless communities
... The aged community
... The single parent community

Communities have rights and responsibilities: (Top)
... the right to its own identity
... the right to set its own agenda, constitution and institutions
... the right to participate within the wider community
... the right to access skills and resources within the wider community
... the right to support its members within the wider community
... the right to protect its members from influences that disadvantage its members
... the right to refuse entry to members that do not fit into the community
... the right to evict members that do not accept the agenda, constitution and institutions of the community
... the right to refuse skills and resources to the wider community, where its members are disadvantaged
... the right to determine its own destiny

... to ensure the agenda, constitution and institutions of the community, protect and support its members, as well as other communities and their members
... to provide a safe, secure environment for its members, as well as other communities and their members
... to facilitate the development of valued roles and relationships for the community, its members, as well as other communities and their members
... to ensure that the community communicates with its members as well as other communities and their members
... to ensure the community does not disadvantage other communities or their members
... to responsibility use, and share, skills and resources to the advantage of its members, as well as other communities and their members
... to respect, protect and promote the rights, cultures and institutions of other communities and their members
... to engage with other communities in an interdependent relationship

Damage control: (Top)
Generally, the human services are lurching from one crisis to the next.
Disability services
Health care
Justice system
Aged care
Indigenous services
Rehabilitation services
Refuge services (homeless, poor, destitute, refugees etc)

All suffer from the same problem …
The growing economy
growing population.
the existing resources are being stretched to the max.
a smaller work force to draw on.
higher cost for goods and services.
increasing population pressures on existing services.

While the human services cannot change the above, I believe that we (collectively) can adapt to the new situation.

I believe that it is now time to take the next step and evolve (so to speak) to meet the changing needs of the community within the current social framework. While there are things we cannot change, there are things that can, and I believe that we (collectively) need a new perspective on our role in supporting disadvantaged people.

By providing valued roles for each community that we participate in,as well as valued social roles for its members, each community has the opportunity to actively support its members, and the various services provide a supportive role in supporting the community in meeting its needs.

From ....
Disadvantaged people ---> community support ---> community
To ....
Disadvantaged people ---> community <--- community support

Community support is dependent on a community having the skills and resources in supporting a person or group. Just because a person may wish to be a part of a community does not mean that the person can be supported within that community. Community support is not about supporting disadvantaged people in society, but about supporting communities in providing for the needs of their members. Where a person can not be supported within a community, new communities are created that have the specialised skills and resources to meet the needs of the members.

Scheerenberger, Goffman, Narje, Wolfsnsberger and others have written about the plight of people with intellectual disabilities. SRV was intended as a vehicle for social change, not the social change itself (Joe Osburn: An Overview of Social Role Valorization Theory). We are shown that these people have the same feelings and needs as ourselves, and therefore have the same rights in participating in valued relationships and activities i.e.: that they are just like you and me. While theory has been effective in providing a better quality of life for disadvantaged people, institutions and institutionalisation is still here today in all parts of society (and will always be). Whether these are used for good or bad depends on the values of the culture of the society in which they are being used.

People with high support needs are also a minority group, and as a consequence, will have the same problems as other minority groups in respect to being assigned a devalued status.
We actually see exactly the same thing has happened today where a group of people (Muslims) are devalued as a group because of the behaviours of some extremists within the group. The same thing happened with the Germans, the Chinese, the Japanese, people that smoke, are over weight  etc. etc. etc. The same thing can happen to any group at any time.

While the intentions are good in as much as disadvantaged people have the opportunity for a better life, there has also been some damage along the way. in as much as it has created a split within the human service profession as to the best approach to service delivery.
While theory was appropriate for the 60's - 90's, I feel that there needs to be some reassessment in the policy making process towards service delivery and outcomes (especially in the current economic climate).

The traditional methods of service delivery of social work and disability services seem to be opposed to each other:
… Social work looks at the community and the social barriers that people have in participating in a community.
… On the other hand, disability services looks at the personal barriers (their social roles) that people have in participating in a community.
(Connectedness and Citizenship: Redefining Social Integration)

There is a great deal written about normalisation, social integration, empowerment, SRV etc. from the perspective of people that have a physical or intellectual disability (how the community should do this and that) and very little (if any) about providing a valued role for communities towards becoming empowered in providing for the needs of people that have a physical or intellectual disability. There is a huge resource out there about empowering communities, but for some reason best known to themselves, this resource has generally been ignored.

My feeling is that the current theory can not cope within the current social climate, A new approach is needed to meet the changing needs of communities within the current social framework. New technology means that the members are healthier and live longer today. The members are also getting older which means that pressures on existing services are increasing from year to year. Communities are also being redefined as each new technological innovation redefines our relationships with each other. I think we need a new perspective on our role in supporting disadvantaged people in today's society. I also believe that the future of the human services lies in a balanced approach, where both paradigms complement and support each other in service delivery.

We should use the past as a reminder and a guide in the future towards building better communities. By redefining its role as a service to humanity, the service provider has a different perspective on its own role in promoting and supporting people that have a physical or intellectual disability and the role of communities in being a part of the process.

Just as communities of 2nd and 3rd generation unemployed in England and Europe have lost the skills to actively engage in a productive work culture (Their parents and others have not provided the necessary roles - getting up to go to work etc.), and therefore depend (are dependent) on social welfare, so too, communities have lost the skills (or never had them) in providing for the needs of people that have a physical or intellectual disability.

Originally families of people that have a physical or intellectual disability got together to support each other and develop social networks. Even though this was a small start, the parents still had ownership. Over a period of time the group evolved into a service provider. The parents lost ownership in providing for their needs. The current generation is growing up in a society where service providers provide direct intervention in the care of disadvantaged people and the community supports these activities. They see the ads, read the literature. Their families and peers strengthen this culture and so it becomes the social norm.

Today we see all sorts of charities, benevolent societies, fundraising organisations, associations etc that support disadvantaged people in society. These support groups have a valued role in providing services to the wider community, or supporting people that do not have any personal support structures. These support groups also need wider community support in order to provide the services to their members. I know this because I get numerous phone calls and letters asking for support and donations. TV and the radio also remind me of the valuable services these groups provide in society. Unfortunately, I have limited resources, and there is no way that I can support all these groups. I have to make some decisions in who I can support. These decisions are generally based on the profile of the service. The higher the profile, the more likely I am inclined to support the service. There is always the problem that if there is to much exposure to the promotions of a service I may become desensitised to the service, or that there are others that support the service and I don't need to contribute. Another problem is that a person or group of people that most need support are the least likely to receive the support if the service does not have a high profile. While I may choose to support a service with a low profile, the chances of others supporting the service are less than if the service had a high profile.

As new technology and scientific understanding of various human conditions and ailements increases, new support groups are created to provide for the specalised needs of these groups. Today these services are specialised in and designed around a specific characteristic or need. These services generally have a scientific knowledge base as well as a set of interventions that are designed to provide the best outcomes for their members. These programs are built on the idea of evidence based practice. The more specialised the service is, the less involvement the wider community has in the activities of the service.

We as a human service need to build better communities, within the wider community, that actively support people that have a physical or intellectual disability, within the current social structure and government hierarchy (Law, policies etc.).

… Communities that have clearly defined roles/goals
… Communities that have shared beliefs, values, cultures (institutions).
… Communities that have clearly defined boundaries
… Communities that have ownership of their members
… Communities that provide valued roles for their members
… Communities that communicate effectively with their members
… Communities that can depend on their own skills/resources
… Communities that balance their own needs
… Communities that can share and draw on skills/resources where needed

A community that supports itself is an empowered community.
An empowered community has the ability to effectively respond to the needs of its members.
This is NOT ...
... a sense of independence or dependence on other communities that it is a part of, or are a part of it - communities complement each other and need to work together in fulfilling the needs of their members.
... dictating to community members what they should or should not be doing - there needs to be a sense of shared ownership and responsibility within the community.
... dictating to other communities what they should or should not be doing - there needs to be a sense of shared ownership and responsibility within society.
... using skills and resources to the detriment of other communities - skills and resources don't get used responsibly or effectively.
... growing or expanding - is not an end, but a means to an end.

There are issues such as who is going to pay for wages and services, how are the resources going to be distributed, medical issues, legal issues etc.
This will not happen next year, or the year after, but it is something we need to work towards.

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.

Top of Page