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Limitations of Community

In testing times like these, it is a liberating necessity to undo the constraints of tired terms such as ‘community’. Perhaps by forgetting or reshaping the idea of a community, we can start revealing many more modern-day realities and the scope of an individual’s identity, connection, and cohesion with others and ‘place’.

Imagine that there is no such thing as a community. Rather than community there is a ‘network of publics’ instead? What would that mean, and what would the impact of that be for those supporting people conveniently classed within local, vulnerable, post-conflict, indigenous or elite communities.

A network of public would represent groups of people who assemble around a shared ‘matter of concern’, in collectives that may be more fleeting, composed of differences rather than being based on sameness, and organized in scattered networks rather than in ‘natural’ social bonds of locality, class, ethnicity, cultural identity etc.

For many, the term community means a group of people with a common identity based on factors such as geography, culture, kinship, political affiliation, business, professional and/or personal interests. In the past perhaps this term was valid and helpful to distinguish a group of people, somewhere and at some time. However, today the term feels stacked with lazy assumptions and nuanced meanings applied by those with one foot in nostalgia and the other in the routines of common practice.

The idea of community appears to foster a parochialism sense of togetherness. It assumes typical principles of collectives, neighbourhoods, localness, small–scale, similarity, and simplicity different from the greater and more generalised collective.

What if a community, need not be the sole or even necessary precondition to act on collective issues? Community is too suggestive of small–scale and regional ways of life and business instead of contemporary interconnected living.

The advent of digital media technologies means that people engage neither in a local bottom-up nor an institutionalized top-down fashion, but in networked peer–to–peer ways.

Complex social issues of conflict, health and place often transcend purely localised interests.

Social issues within a built environment involve the complex array of participants that transcend the confines of what constitutes a community. They are composed of the local individual or a group of linked individuals, but also participating in social affairs are invested organizations, politicians, corporations, social organizations and knowledge institutes, as well as local and global businesses. Each participant jointly contributes to the whole on a different but equal bases.

Today’s public seems eager to reject a so-called small-town parochialism and the constraints of what community has grown to mean.

Modern technology has meant that people identify themselves differently, they reach out, connect, and communicate unhampered by geography, social boundaries, class or religion and therefore they are affected by social issues in a far broader and complex way than the term community might suggest.

A shift in appreciating context is useful before developing valid approaches to support and address social issues in post-conflict ‘networks of public’…

“Networked publics are publics that are restructured by networked technologies. As such, they are simultaneously (1) the space constructed through networked technologies and (2) the imagined community that emerges as a result of the intersection of people, technology, and practice”….

“Networked Publics examines the ways that the social and cultural shifts created by these technologies have transformed our relationships to (and definitions of) place, culture, politics, and infrastructure….” Varnelis

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