Sense of Community

If men are to remain civilized or to become civilized, the art of association must develop and improve among them at the same speed as equality of conditions spreads.

Alexis De’Tocqueville


A popular issue in contemporary politics is how to generate something called a ‘sense of community’. The phrase can be found being used across the political spectrum and even has its own dedicated website; But what exactly is the issue? As always, a good, concise quote from a Grateful Dead lyricist is enlightening:

So much of what I thought of community…was deeply embedded in…the small towns that arose around farms, and those were all going away…

(John Perry Barlow, interviewed for the BBC Radio Four programme: The Secret History of Social Networking)

In essence this is the key issue surrounding the loss of a ‘sense of community’ in the modern world; that in the 21st Century, in the age of the individual, where plurality and expressions of individuality are becoming ever more significant; how can a community maintain cohesiveness and continue to call itself a community? Many people believe that civil society is one answer to this problem. Advocates of civil society posit that a strong civil society generates the social capital and civic-association that makes for a strong community (see dictionary for definitions). For advocates such as the American theorist Robert Putnam, social capital can be generated by any communal activity; from merely playing cards with another person to organising a bowling league.

However, what are the building blocks of civil society organisations? That’s right, volunteers! Volunteers create a sense of community through generating social capital and creating bonds and ties of civic association. They do this more than card-playing groups, knitting circles, or Putnams famous bowling leagues. In fact, volunteering usually does it better than any other method because more often than not the common goal that volunteers are pursuing is one that strengthens the community through its act and not just the process. Whilst organising a whist drive or a book group are noble aims in themselves and generate reams of social capital and civic association, formal volunteering does that whilst also achieving the aim of the voluntary act itself. By playing cards I will certainly get to know someone better and thus increase the ‘sense of community’. However after the card game has finished, apart from strengthening social ties, I will be left with nothing other than a lighter wallet. However after formal volunteering, I will not only have strengthened social ties with other volunteers, but I will have also contributed towards whatever cause the group is working towards. More often than not this cause will have a local focus; thus directly strengthening the community itself.

The nature of civic-associational activity is constantly changing and the battle to retain a ‘sense of community’ is being redefined. The way in which society interacts with itself has changed massively with the technologically driven information-revolution of the last two decades. Old methods of civic-association are increasingly only pursued by older generations. Declining trends of communal acts such as eating together, attending church and participating in team-sports are posited by many to be threatening communities. How new generations will form social-capital and engage in associational activity remains to be seen. However what is certain is that volunteering remains one of the most viable and effective methods to generate social capital and thus strengthen a ‘sense of community’.


One Comment to “Sense of Community”

  1. I love it when people come together and share opinions, great blog, keep it up.

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