Crittically Examine The Use Of The Term Community Critically examine the use of the term community in the 1990s. The essay should be structured in such a way that it incorporates reference to Social Policy, Legislation and practice issues. Students will be required to make use of theoretical studies, particularly from relevant academic and other sources such as books, journals and relevant publications. The meaning of community is a tricky one. It is used in many different contexts and is a concept that means very different things to different people. A useful starting point is in the book Keywords by Raymond Williams.
His research on the word community indicates that it has been part of English language since the 14th century, originally used to refer to the common people as opposed to those of rank, or to state or organised society. By the 16th century it was used to refer to the quality of having something in common and to a sense of common identity and characteristics. In time Community also came to refer to a particular quality of relationship, as well as a distinction between community and civil society on one hand and the state on the other. There are many different types of community and the word is very ambiguous, but it is possible to distinguish between several types according to their contrasting features and characteristics, such as density of their social networks, the degree of their openness and their duration. Sociologically it is usually taken to mean people who live in a common geographical area or it can be defined in terms of common interest. It implies some kind of association, perhaps even sharing, and participation in common relationships.
It is in these shared characteristics which bind people together where we start to understand the term and its implications, although even within sociology community takes many different forms. In 1995 researcher Hillery found 94 sociological definitions and the only common thread was that they all dealt with people. The classic form of community which many think of when they here the word is the traditional working class communities found throughout industrial Britain during the earlier part of the 20th century. These were tightly knit settlements of workers and their families who grew up around the mines, factories, ports and other workplaces. However with an increasingly efficient transport network many British industries came under threat from cheaper and better quality products from abroad, and within those industries that Britain still held, the workers were replaced with machines.
This loss of industry had a crippling effect on local areas, many of which had grown up around the industry. Research into such areas revealed that such communities are very conservative. They are also seeped in tradition related to these ideologies. Such traditions include a moral obligation to maintain a respectable standard of living and a strong commitment to the work ethic. Howes research on a working class district of Eastlough in Protestant East Belfast showed despite a high unemployment rate the dole was still seen as an interruption of work, and it was legitimate employment which was sought and desired. This was strongly supported by long standing attitudes and values. Being on the dole induced strong feelings of private shame, which, in turn often led people to withdraw from the community.
As a result Howe found their lives to become further impoverished by social isolation, fragmentation and distrust (Howe 1990). With the decline of these so-called occupational communities comes the notion that the concept of community is not relevant in the 21st century. The Elderly who once belonged to such so called occupational communities reminisce about the good old days, when everyone knew and looked out for each other. They talk about a strong community consciousness generated by common residence and common necessity – a social support network that they feel is lacking in modern day society. Not just among the elderly but in general, there is a widely held belief that modern times have witnessed a decline of community.
In my opinion this comes about because selective, romanticised views of the past are often adopted and the less sentimental memories of characteristics and events from the past are often forgotten. The conflicts and internal tensions of life are omitted and instead replaced with patterns of kinship and community solidarity. My personal view is that this is untrue and community is still important in all our lives, it just manifests itself differently Things have changed dramatically since our grandparents were young. The rapid growth of conurbations accompanied by peoples new desire to travel and not stay in the place they were born meant that in general people are a lot more anonymous in society. Many elderly people as a result feel they live in a world of strangers. Wellman et al carried out research on the changing nature of local communities in cities.
As a result of this he came up with three terms: Community lost, community saved and community liberated. Community lost is this notion of a decline of community. Larger, denser cities led to the breakdown of locality based or community life and local, face to face relationships were replaced with secondary links through workplace and interest groups. Importantly, ties to locality are less important and individuals are instead submerged in the general anonymity of city life. In one part of North London dominated by large housing estates, one study found that only 2 in 5 people felt like they belong to a community. (Although as weve seen what 1 person means by community may be totally different to the next) Community saved is the counter argument.
This acknowledges that neighbourhood and kinship networks continue to flourish in the city and locality and primary ties do in fact still exist. It is the argument that urban populations have simply sifted into a mosaic of more alike residential areas where the communal desire for informal social control exerts itself. U.S and U.K studies have shown that people in cities draw on the same sources of support as people in rural areas- kin neighbours and friends. Community liberated is a point somewhere between these two, which sees communities as having evolved and taking a different form. Community still exists but in networks rather than neighbourhoods. Simply because community is not about locality does not mean it no longer exists. This idea recognises the importance of community ties and the variety of links people have within the larger metropolitan area in networks. It this third viewpoint that I think best describes the notion of community in the 21st century.
The concept of community however is not solely based within the discipline of sociology. In modern times the term is often used with political orientation with reference to social policy, legislation and practice issues. Community has become a buzz word with regards to political issues such as these. Areas such as community development, community care community policing, community education all draw on the idea of community and its ideologies. The inclusion of community as a theme in these policies represents a more modern look at the problems of the people. The concept rejects the more old-fashioned bureaucratic, large-scale approach to policy making and instead brings in more participatory, responsive, models.
While I think this is right line to take the word is often misused. Today governments use community as if it were an arousal can, to be sprayed on any social programme, giving it a more progressive and sympathetic cachet (Cochrane 1986) One such policy that demonstrates this different way of thinking is care in the community. A high profile policy in which community is an essential part. Traditionally people with disabling physical and mental conditions were institutionalised. This involved social segregation and essentially removed them from society, housing them in large asylum type accommodation.
This way of dealing with the disabled is however no longer acceptable, or indeed possible. Firstly new ways of thinking and increased awareness of human rights meant that it was not acceptable to isolate people from the rest of the world simply because they were different. Secondly demographic shifts which had accompanied industrial development, meant that people were living much longer so the number of people who needed quite high level of support increased significantly. Medical advances meant people whose disabilities would have caused them to die at birth were living, and life expectancy in general had increased. Mass ins …