What is ‘community’? (2023)

What is ‘community’? (1)

The following thoughts are a brief summary of my PhD. The PhD was written in the 1990s but its central theme — the use and misuse of the term “community” in politics — seems not to have gone away. So, for what it’s worth, here are my thoughts on what “community” means and why it’s an important concept for people interested in social change…

The word “community” has a strange power to it. It conveys a sense of togetherness and positivity. It speaks both of solidarity and homeliness. For example, attach the word “community” to “policing” and it turns the legitimate monopoly power of the state over the use of force into something warm and cuddly.

You will hear “community” from the mouths of politicians, officials and other people with microphones in their hands. They speak of “the community” and how important it is to listen to, consult with or hear the voice of this strange collective thing. You will never hear someone in this context say that “community” is a thing that can be ignored or should be feared. And you will, almost never, hear people say what they mean by “community”.

(Video) What Is Community

The word “community” has a strange power to it. It conveys a sense of togetherness and positivity. It speaks both of solidarity and homeliness.

Here are the things that I think a definition of community must be able to explain in order to reflect the various communities in the world, and to be useful as a tool for social analysis.

  • A definition of community must be able to account for the different types of communities that exist in the world. For example, it must be able to account for both a community of place, and something more dispersed, like “the academic community” or “the Islamic community”.
  • It must be able to account for the positive feelings that people have about “community” (e.g. the sense of togetherness) but without saying that “community” is necessarily good (after all, one of the best examples of a community is the Mafia, and even with the kindest reading of their activities, you’d struggle to argue that, on balance, they are a force for good in the world).
  • It must be able to explain the sense of identity and belonging associated with “community”. It must explain the feeling of pride or hurt we feel when a community of which we are part is praised or attacked. And it must explain the in group/out group nature of this identity — why some people are part of a particular community, and others are not.
  • It must be able to explain why “community” has the normative (moral) power that it does –how communities shape our sense of what ‘good’ and ‘bad’ means. For example, our community shapes our understanding of what being a good neighbour, means — the shared understanding of how we should treat people around here.
  • It must be able to explain why “community” is different from other social groups — such as “society”, “family” or just a group of people.
  • It must be able to account for the fact that people can be part of different communities simultaneously.

Given that framing, I offer this as my definition of “community”:

This means, a group of people who share a story that is so important to them that it defines an aspect of who they are. Those people build the shared story archetypes (characters) of that community into their sense of themselves; they build the history of those communities into their own personal history; and they see the world through the lens of those shared stories.

So, one of the communities that I consider myself to be part of is the community based around the city of Newcastle. The manifestations of this are that I take pride in showing people around the city. I feel slighted when people say horrible things about it. I feel at home whenever I hear a Geordie (Newcastle) accent (despite not having one myself). And so on.

But what makes me part of this community is my choice to write Newcastle’s stories into my own story: the character traits for how Geordies are supposed to behave (be friendly, talk to strangers at bus stops, support Newcastle United etc etc) are character traits that I have adopted. I take part in shared events where this story is played out — such as attending football matches at St James Park and other cultural events in the city. I feel that arguments about the future of the city (should this building be built here? What green spaces does the city need? etc etc) are arguments about my own future. I see arguments about the UK’s future through the lens of the future of Newcastle.

(Video) What is Community?

It is this choice to participate in the making and remaking of these stories about the city that makes me part of the community of Newcastle. It’s not just about where you live, or where you work: it is possible to live and work in Newcastle without doing these things, without becoming part of this community. And there are many people who are from Newcastle originally, but who now live elsewhere, who would still consider themselves part of the Newcastle community because they still take an active part in conversations about what it means to be a part of this community.

What is ‘community’? (2)

Let’s see how this definition works against the six key criteria for being an accurate and useful definition of “community”:

  • It can account for all the different kinds of community — what people call “communities of interest” and “communities of place”. The essence of community is a shared story — that story can be about a place, or it can be about a religion, or any other social practice. It challenges the notion of “communities of identity” by saying that all communities are communities of identity, so “community of identity” isn’t a helpful concept (it’s tautological).
  • It can account for the positive feelings people have about being part of a community. The sense of a shared identity, of being part of something larger than we are, is well known as a source of good feeling. But it is also morally-neutral. Being part of a community is just part of how we live our lives. Communities can be positive social forces, doing good in the world, and they can be negative, doing harm (and they can be both of those things at once). Community is not, in and of itself, morally praiseworthy. It just is.
  • This definition of community explains the nature of shared identity in communities, and highlights the specific mechanism by which this occurs. It is the process of telling a story about yourself that draws on the shared cultural story archetypes which creates and maintains a shared identity. It is the process of a set of people sharing (and arguing) about a particular set of stories — their meaning, interpretation and value — that reinforces those social bonds and creates the shared cultural resources.
  • It explains why community has the normative (moral) force that it does, because it is our narratives that provide us with our explanations for what good/bad look like. A good neighbour is someone who fits the story we tell ourselves about how a good neighbour behaves, a good colleague is someone who fits with the archetype of how that character behaves etc. Our narratives provide our moral framing.
  • It explains why “community” is different from other types of social groups. A community is a group with a shared identity-forming narrative. This is different from the set of people who live in a place, or have a shared interest. A group of people waiting at a bus stop have a shared interest, but they are not a community. (Unless they’ve been waiting for a really long time…)
  • The definition understands that people can be part of many communities simultaneously, and also how they can become part of (and drift away from) particular communities. It also is able to account for the tension that people can feel when they are part of multiple communities — when different aspects of their identity-defining stories clash, for example.

A group of people who share a story that is so important to them that it defines an aspect of who they are. Those people build the shared story archetypes (characters) of that community into their sense of themselves; they build the history of those communities into their own personal history; and they see the world through the lens of those shared stories.

On one level, this is simply a plea for a more precise use of language. I am not saying that “community” is the only (or even most important) social grouping, but it is a particular type of social grouping that explains the strong sense of shared identity that people feel, and membership of particular groups give us a lens through which we see the world.

(Video) What is a Community?

Sometimes, this will make “community” important to our political (policy/management) conversations. Many times community will not be relevant. In those cases people should stop using the word “community” just to generate a warm fuzzy feeling, or as a euphemism for talking about poor people. If you mean “people”, say “people”. If you mean “community”, say which community you mean, and say why those identity-forming narratives are important to what you’re trying to do.

I think my key message is that community is an important concept for social change because it helps us to see that social change requires a change in some of the most important stories we tell ourselves. Social change requires that we rewrite our communal narratives. Social change is change in community.


Our communities shape our understanding of the world. If you’re looking to create change in the world, it is these meanings and understandings which have to change. This applies whether the change you seek is macro scale (like gender equality) or micro scale (like making this street a better place to live).

It is easy to understand why changing people’s sense of community is important on the micro scale (if you want to change how it is to live on this street, you need people’s sense of what it means to live on this street, and what is possible for the people who live here — like this story of change in Granby).

It is less immediately obvious why ‘community’ is important for macro change like gender equality. I think it is important because what gender equality looks like will be different for each community. Translating gender equality from the abstract language of human rights into the concrete practices of people requires each set of stories that define men and women’s roles in each community to change (and also the stories that construct our sense of what men and women are). It is change in these stories that makes macro change real.


This understanding helps us to understand that a key part of social change is narrative change. It helps us to ask the following types of question: what are the stories that define our understanding of how life should be lived in this context? Who and what shapes those stories? Where are they told, and who tells them? In technical language, social change must include the politics of narrative construction.

(Video) Communities for Kids - Types of Communities | Social Studies for Kids | Kids Academy

Obviously, these aren’t the only important questions. But if they’re not addressed, social change becomes significantly harder.


If social change involves narrative change for each community, then it is up to members of those communities to challenge and refresh their own narrative construction processes. We know that imposing change on the stories of others is perilous (and usually counter-productive). That gives each community a responsibility to (critically) reflect on their own stories, and on the story-making process. What do our stories have to say about justice/care/kindness (whatever value is the subject of reflection)? Who is involved in this process? Who gets to explore and tell their stories? Whose voice counts?

Community is an important concept for social change because it helps us to see that social change requires a change in some of the most important stories we tell ourselves. Social change requires that we rewrite our communal narratives. Social change is change in community.


We can also view other questions through the lens of community. What’s our attitude to those who don’t share our stories? What can we learn from the narratives of others? What is required for people to have a voice in our shared story-making?

And finally, community helps us to understand what freedom means. It means being free to write your own story — and that is both an individual and collective process. It means being free to find the community that best suits you, and it means participating in the creation of narratives that enable others to be free.

I hope that’s been useful. Inevitably, some of the shortcuts I’ve taken in order to fit this into any kind of readable length mean I’ve also skipped over a range of important ideas and questions too quickly. But I hope some of the key ideas are expressed with enough clarity to be useful.

(Video) Creating A Community And Finding Purpose | Stephen Jon Thompson | TEDxCarsonCity

My grateful thanks to Pritpal Tamber for giving helpful feedback on drafts of this. Go check out his excellent work, particularly on Health and Community.

This piece is also published in the Centre for Public Impact website here.


How do you define a community? ›

A community is a group of people who share something in common. You can define a community by the shared attributes of the people in it and/or by the strength of the connections among them. You need a bunch of people who are alike in some way, who feel some sense of belonging or interpersonal connection.

What is community simple answer? ›

A community is a social group whose members have something in common, such as a shared government, geographic location, culture, or heritage. Community can also refer to the physical location where such a group lives.

What are the 4 types of community? ›

Different Types Of Communities
  • Interest. Communities of people who share the same interest or passion.
  • Action. Communities of people trying to bring about change.
  • Place. Communities of people brought together by geographic boundaries.
  • Practice. ...
  • Circumstance.
Nov 23, 2010

What are the 3 types of community? ›

Community types: urban, rural and suburban.

What does community mean in life? ›

One definition of community is simply a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common. This is what we most commonly think of as a community -- people who live together in a neighborhood, work together at the same company, or go to school together.

What words describe community? ›

synonyms for community
  • association.
  • center.
  • company.
  • district.
  • nation.
  • neighborhood.
  • people.
  • public.

What makes a good community? ›

A good community is a cohesive, safe, confident, prosperous and happy place. It is free of poverty and crime, providing a high quality of life for everyone that lives there. It values and promotes open, participative development processes underpinned by a continuous culture of trans-generational learning.

Why is community important in life? ›

Why are communities so important? Strong communities are critical because they're often an important source of social connection and a sense of belonging. Participating in a community bonded by attitudes, values, and goals is an essential ingredient to enjoying a fulfilling life.

What is a community and why is it important? ›

A community is a familiar thread used to bring people together to advocate and support each other in the fight to overcome those threats. As human beings, we need a sense of belonging, and that sense of belonging is what connects us to the many relationships we develop.

What are the 5 core elements of a community? ›

al., (2001), described five core elements of community: locus (or sense of place), sharing, joint action, social ties, and diversity.

What are the five 5 elements of a community *? ›

It has been proved that the five key elements of a community are population, area, interaction, identification and facility. When it comes to the key factors that distinguish a speech community, will all those five factors find their roles?

What are the 7 elements of community? ›

  • 1 7 Key Components Of Communities. 1.1 Passion. 1.2 Vision. 1.3 Leader. 1.4 Tribesmen. 1.5 Content. 1.6 Platform/Gathering Place. 1.7 Trust.
  • 2 Conclusion.
Jul 13, 2017

What are the five examples of community? ›

Examples include business, hobby, ethnic, religious, and sporting communities.

What are the 3 C's of community? ›

By referring to three themes of collaboration, consultation and communication, we use insights from workshop discussions to describe how community engagement can move up the ladder of participation with different community groups (See Figure 1). Figure 1. The 3 C's model of participatory community engagement.

How does community shape your life? ›

Communities with shared interests, values, thoughts and attitudes encourage us to live better, strive for more and focus on the results we're looking for, creating a sense of belonging, acceptance, understanding and inspiration.

What is community in one word why? ›

A community is a social unit (a group of living things) with commonality such as place, norms, religion, values, customs, or identity. Communities may share a sense of place situated in a given geographical area (e.g. a country, village, town, or neighbourhood) or in virtual space through communication platforms.

What is the root meaning of community? ›

According to the New World Encyclopedia, the word community “is derived from the Latin communitas(meaning the same), which is in turn derived from communis, which means "common, public, shared by all or many." Communis comes from a combination of the Latin prefix con- (which means "together") and the word munis (which ...

What is the six 6 characteristics of a community? ›

He outlined six characteristics of discourse communities: 1) common public goals; 2) methods of communicating among members; 3) participatory communication methods; 4) genres that define the group; 5) a lexis; and 6) a standard of knowledge needed for membership (Swales, 471-473).

What true community means? ›

A true community does not treat you differently because of your gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or background. A community is a group of people that care about each other and feel they belong, have a sense of belonging, often due to their shared values and goals.

What makes a community happy? ›

There are two biggies. Belonging and acceptance where there are strong social connections throughout the community. A culture of taking care of each other while accepting people's differences.

How do you build community? ›

How to Build a Meaningful (and Massive) Community, From Someone Who's Done it Twice
  1. Find Ways to Support & Celebrate Your Organic Ambassadors. ...
  2. Bring Your Followers Into the Business-Building Process. ...
  3. Encourage Connections Within Your Community. ...
  4. Stay Guided by Your Why.
Jan 5, 2022

What is community values? ›

Community values are the non-negotiable core principles or standards that the community's residents wish to maintain. They must be acknowledged, honored and constantly defended to ensure that change and development occur in accordance with these.

What is the most important need of a community? ›

Community Needs
  1. Safety. Nearly all residents list safety as an essential feature of a good community. ...
  2. Economic Health. ...
  3. Education/Enrichment. ...
  4. Natural Environment. ...
  5. Image/Reputation. ...
  6. Overall Appearance. ...
  7. Sense of Community. ...
  8. Health and Wellness Opportunities.
Mar 8, 2022

What are the four community values? ›

Community Values Statement
  • Conscientious pursuit of excellence in one's work.
  • Respect for the rights, differences, and dignity of others.
  • Honesty and integrity in dealing with all members of the community.
  • Accountability for personal behavior.

What are the four pillars of a community? ›

Four Pillars of Successful Communities of Practice
  • A shared concern or passion. ...
  • A shared practice. ...
  • A commitment to learning. ...
  • A commitment to interact regularly.
Mar 25, 2013

What are the 4 core values of community? ›

Core values for Community Engagement
  • Integrity of every action. Engagement with the community requires that not only the process, but also every action involved, be done with integrity. ...
  • Involvement of the community in the process. ...
  • Long-term relationships. ...
  • Health of the community. ...
  • Health of the corporate body.

What is community according to the Bible? ›

Bonus reason: Community is life-giving—and essential to following Christ. Scripture says that's because we're better together than we are alone (Romans 12:4–5). It can be hard for some of us to commit to community, especially if we're guarded or prefer solitude.

What are the 6 common types of communities? ›

  • Knowledge and learning communities. ...
  • Expert networks and advisory communities. ...
  • Event communities. ...
  • Membership communities. ...
  • Brand communities. ...
  • Communities of action. ...
  • Bringing people together.
Jun 29, 2021

What are the 10 elements of community? ›

Following are the ten most common elements and what they cover.
  • Housing. The housing element sets standards for new and existing homes in the community, covering everything from size to style to color.
  • Design. ...
  • Transportation and transit. ...
  • Circulation. ...
  • Public buildings. ...
  • Public services. ...
  • Recreation. ...
  • Historical.

What is a good example of community? ›

A community is a place where you might run into people you know or meet new people. For example, a neighborhood with a play street that encourages neighbors to meet and enjoy recreation.

What is the most problem in community? ›

The top problems in the country based on PUBLiCUS Asia Inc. second quarter poll for 2021 include: economy at 60%, COVID-19 vaccine at 51% and jobs at 42%. These pressing matters are then followed by education, corruption, poverty, and crime with around 24% to 13%.

What is the key to success of a community? ›

Communities only work when they are built upon mutual trust and respect. If you don't trust your customers and your customers don't trust you, don't launch a community. Build that trust by building relationships first. As with anything, timing is an important factor in the launches of successful communities.

What does a community need to be strong? ›

Strong relationships exist between people in the community. People come together to work toward shared causes. People trust one another. People trust in and feel represented by institutions.

What are the 9 areas of community engagement? ›

Core Principles of Community Engagement
  • Careful planning and Preparation. ...
  • Inclusion and Demographic Diversity. ...
  • Collaboration and Shared Purpose. ...
  • Openness and Learning. ...
  • Transparency and Trust. ...
  • Impact and Action. ...
  • Sustained Engagement and Participatory Culture.

What is good community engagement? ›

Community engagement requires intentional interactions between communities and public decision makers. Emphasis on the lived experience of community members taking a front seat and local knowledges inflecting decision-making processes, challenges a top-down approach to public decision making.

How do you build community engagement? ›

  1. 12 tips that will increase your community engagement. Going from lurking to participating is a big step for a lot of people. ...
  2. Build authentic connections. ...
  3. Give your community a place just for them. ...
  4. Be responsive. ...
  5. Encourage user-generated content. ...
  6. Create engaging content. ...
  7. Build trust. ...
  8. Welcome new members to your community.

What makes a community a true community? ›

To be part of a real community, you need to care about what it is you have in common. To be in a real community, not only do you need to care about the community, but you also need to care about and respect each other. You need to be loyal to one another and build healthy relationships.

What are the main characteristics of a community? ›

5 Drivers of Helpful Community Formation
  • Shared identity. It is common for communities to form among those who share a common sense of identity. ...
  • Shared purpose. Those who feel passionately about social causes will often band together as a community. ...
  • Common objectives. ...
  • Shared interests or passions. ...
  • Common Behavior.
Nov 25, 2016

What makes a strong community? ›

A healthy local community is one where residents hold genuine, mutual respect for one another and have a strong commitment to where they live. It is based on the foundation of a willingness to help and support one another and a mutual interest in the local area, from bin collections to schools and transport.

What are the 5 pillars of a community? ›

The Five Pillars of Community are important steps for success: Direction and Desired Outcome, Shared Responsibility, Personal Value, Progress Awareness and Ongoing Ecosystem.

What are the 5 principles of community? ›

Community development is a holistic approach grounded in principles of empowerment, human rights, inclusion, social justice, self-determination and collective action (Kenny, 2007).

What 3 values are at the core of community? ›

Community Values

Why community is the most important? ›

Why are communities so important? Strong communities are critical because they're often an important source of social connection and a sense of belonging. Participating in a community bonded by attitudes, values, and goals is an essential ingredient to enjoying a fulfilling life.

What are the most important elements of a community? ›

Sense of Community

It encompasses elements such as image, spirit, character and pride, along with processes such as communication, inter-group relations, and networking. A community is made up of different people with different interests, experiences and backgrounds.


1. What is a Community? - Community for Kindergarten | Social Studies for Kindergarten | Kids Academy
(Kids Academy)
2. What is Community?
3. A WORSHIPPING Community // Focus 2023 (2nd Service) - Rev. George Shiramba
(Karura Community Chapel)
4. Types of Communities | Learn about communities for kids and help them learn how to identify them
(Learn Bright)
5. What is Community Composting?
(Institute for Local Self-Reliance)
6. What Makes A Community? - Roger Kitchen at TEDxMiltonKeynes
(TEDx Talks)
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