Who Works with a Community ?
“It used to be that people were born as part of a community and had to find their place as individuals. Now people are born as individuals and have to find their community.” Bishop 2017
Time and time again we are confronted by a growing set of default terminology that works against those working on humanitarian relief work connected to conflict, disaster risk mitigation, climate change adaptation and aid work more generally.
The terms ‘community’, has become a catch-all phrase, to the point where it has become the go to terminology when referring to local level, post conflict peoples, grassroots-level participation, bottom up processes, or simply ‘working with the people’ (Titz et al 2018). In fact, ‘community’ is one of the most extensively used concepts appearing in a vast range of manifestations by scholars, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), government officials, politicians, developers, aid donors and international organizations (perhaps all stakeholders). It is used “in a bewildering variety of ways” (Barrett, 2015, p. 182), very often without carefully considering its meaning, impact or even a definition.
Does referring to ‘vulnerable’ or post conflict communities displays a rather one-dimensional and static understanding of community? Apparently so, much work within ‘communities’ are apparently ignoring social dynamics and the multiple, sometimes conflicting, layers of meaning that are embedded in the term and within the actual social dynamics of the people we help and collectively referred to as vulnerable or post conflict etc.
For this reason, questions must be raised about the extent to which the predominant idea of ‘community’ is still viable or adequate as a way of reference whilst engaging in post conflict reconciliation, peace-building, disaster risk intervention or climate change adaptation activities etc.
Q: How is the term ‘community’ framed by stakeholders working within post conflict, climate change, disaster, risk and adaptation?
Q: Is the predominant idea of ‘community’ still viable or adequate as a way of engaging groups of people in areas of disaster risk mitigation and climate change adaptation practice and research?
Q: What are the pitfalls and potentials in the current framing of ‘community’ in the context of disaster risk reduction, climate change adaptation and co-creative responses to flooding?
“‘Community’ can be described as a group of people that recognizes itself or is recognized by outsiders as sharing common cultural, religious or other social features, backgrounds and interests, and that forms a collective identity with shared goals. However, what is externally perceived as a community might in fact be an entity with many sub-groups or communities. It might be divided into clans or castes or by social class, language or religion.A community might be inclusive and protective of its members; but it might also be socially controlling, making it difficult for sub-groups, particularly minorities and marginalized
groups, to express their opinions and claim their rights”. UNHCR. A Community-Based Approach in UNHCR Operations; UNHCR: Geneva, Switzerland, 2008. (p. 14)