Explained: What is a Community in Sociology

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Community is a vague term often used in sociology, social sciences in general and even natural and physical sciences. While there is no commonly agreed definition of community, various sociologist have tried to define it in the following way based on certain common features-

Talcott Parsons stated that community can be defined as a “collectivity, the members of which share a common territorial area as their base of operation”.

Ferdinand Tonnies defined community as “an organic, natural kind of social group whose members are bound together by a sense of belonging created out of everyday contacts covering the whole range of human activities”.

For Karl Mannheim, the German sociologist considered the founding father of classical sociology, “community is any circle of people who live together and belong together in a way that they do not share this or that particular interest but a whole set of interests”.

Common Features

However, there is a common group of features which sociologist recognise should be present for a group of people to be called a community. These common features are-

  • It is a group of people who interact with each other.
  • The interaction is happening within a bounded geographical territory. All daily activities (work and non-work) occur within a geographical area which is self-contained.
  • The community’s members share common values, beliefs and behaviours.
  • The community has a particular social structure. There are also collections of people who might not be termed communities because of a lack of social structure.
  • The members have a sense of belonging.

The Community as a Locality

The community is a territorial group which shares a common soil and common way of life. People living within a certain area tend to cluster together and share a sense of belongingness. Thus different areas develop different ways of life, different cultures and from different communities. During urban planning, planners demarcate cities into different sectors and localities creating different communities. However, during the redevelopment of a city, it gets difficult to reorganize it into different divisions which are not similar to the earlier divisions because of this sense of territorial belongingness.

Community as a Sentiment

The community is not just about living together but developing the ‘we feeling’. Living together creates common memories, cultures and traditions. The individual starts identifying his interest with a larger social group. Every individual has a certain social standing and the expectation of his contribution towards the community is based on this social standing and status. However, the community sentiment keeps changing. Communities do not have fixed boundaries to demarcate who belongs to which community. So instead of belonging to one all-encompassing community, all of us belong to multiple varying communities which might sometimes overlap. However modern transportation and the internet have made the world a very connected place and lessened the coherence and intensity of community sentiment.

Types of Communities

Communities can be divided on various grounds. On the basis of area of residence, community can be divided into urban, semi-urban and rural.

UrbanUrban areas are the hub of tertiary activities. Usually closely spaced, densely populated areas, they have a very busy lifestyle and do not have a strong sense of community coherence.

Suburban– Sub Urban areas are usually at the outskirts of urban areas, characterized by the industrial and manufacturing sector. They are semi-urban, semi-rural.

Rural–  Rural areas are a closely-knit community with a strong sense of cultural cohesiveness and community identity which provide the base/raw material for Urban and Suburban economies.

Communities can also be classified based on the purpose that brings them together. These can be

  1. Interest– communities of people who share a common passion.
  2. Action– communities of people trying to bring some kind of change.
  3. Place– communities of people brought together by the mere coincidence of common geographical habitation.
  4. Practice– communities of people who have the same profession or undertake the same activities.
  5. Circumstance– communities of people brought together by external event/situation.

Theories of Development of Community

N S B Gras, an economic historian, propounded the theory which tries to explain how towns developed from nomadic communities, which is seen to be the most primitive form of community. Villages converted into towns as traders permanently settled at places to carry out trade. With the rise of nation-states and empires, towns developed into metropolises due to the patronisation of wealthy monarchs. Gras states that the following conditions must be fulfilled for a metropolis to arise- natural resources, good transportation, land for construction of highways, good navigation by water, a considerable distance from other cities and temperate climate.

Charles Cooley, however, put forth a different theory for the development of large cities. He believes that large cities develop whenever there is a break in the transportation of goods. There can be two kinds of breaks- physical and commercial. The former occurs when there is a physical change or transfer in the method of transportation or storage of goods. The second break occurs due to a change in ownership. Such transfer brings various kinds of people together- labourers, masons (warehouses needed for storage and houses for settlement) Financial Institutions, etc. So houses are built, hotels and shops established and institutions and organisations come together to fulfil all kinds of needs of the people.

Society and Community

Society and community are two important concepts in sociology. However, they are often used interchangeably in everyday life. Thus it becomes important to differentiate the two from a sociological perspective.

  1. Society refers to a system or network of relationships. However, community refers to a group of individuals with a certain sense of belongingness.
  2. A community is defined by a geographical boundary. However, society is universal as it has no definite locality or boundary.
  3. A sense of belongingness is central to the community. However, a society refers to the network of human relationships and does not require people to feel like they belong to the society. Society exists irrespective of personal royalties.
  4. Community is concrete i.e. it exists in physical reality and is defined by a territorial boundary. Society, however, is abstract and does not exist in physical space.
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