Are recent changes in community life a threat to community cohesion?


Definition and Concept of Community

For decades, the utilization of the term “community” has being one that has always been linked to the optimism and desire of rekindling the more cohesive and peaceful types of relations that existed between individuals of ancient times (Elias, 1974). Prior to the advent of the 20th century, there was little, if any, literature written with regard to ‘community.’ However, in 1915, the first truly coherent description of ‘community’ surfaced. This particular definition, which was formulated by C. J. Galpin, revolved primarily around a central rural population’s relation to the trade and service zones that surrounded it (Harper & Dunham, 1959). This description set the stage for other definitions of community from some preceding and equally capable scholars.

In her book, Carol Upadhya defines community as a “natural grouping based on ties of shared blood, language, history, territory and culture.”(Upadhya & Vasavi, 2006) The concept has also been approached with the view that it entails collections of individual lives where comprehending the Nitti Gritty details of the difficulties and impediments within the life of one individual would give one an understanding of the entire social organization (Coles & Knowles, 2001). The Greek philosophers of old viewed community as a fellowship or a gathering of individuals who would congregate for communal sustenance and to satisfy their rudimentary essentials. Others were of the opinion that community was a system composed of more than a couple of individuals whereby the various members would engage with each other occasionally. In this setting, one’s conduct and actions are governed by gradually-developed traditions. Furthermore, one was at liberty to detach oneself from this system (Eberle, 1990).
The theory of community also attempts to expound on this concept by placing emphasis on the fact that “community” can, at times, pass off as a value (Frazer, 2000). Therefore, it can be said to entail several key components which include cohesion, obligation, support, and reliance. Furthermore, it has been believed for a long time that “community” was one of the three values that formed the agenda advanced by the agents of the French Revolution. The other two components were freedom and parity.

Sociologists have also contemplated viewing community as an evocative classification or group of variables (Frazer, 2000). This shall be further explored while taking heed to three primary aspects. They include: Interest, Place and Communion. In terms of place, a community is observed to be a territorial area whose inhabitants possess shared a common feature, and this mutual component is recognized geographically. In the consideration of interest, the individuals have a shared characteristic aside from a territorial area. These characteristics include: religion, ethnicity, profession, as well as orientation in terms of sexual preferences. For instance, we have the Christian community in religious belief, the gay community in sexual orientation, and the Latin community in ethnicity.

The emergence of some of this intentional variety of ‘communities’ is the direct result of the gradual evolution in the “sociology of identity and selfhood.” (Hoggett, 1997) When exploring the aspect of communion, it is of crucial importance that one views this concept as an intense interaction, not only with other individuals, but also with the divine, i.e. God and nature (Cohen, 1985). A fine example is the “communion of saints.”

Changes in Communities in the United Kingdom

Recent research has identified three primary processes that have characterized the changes in the communities of the United Kingdom. They have been discussed under the following topics:

Increased local and social entrepreneurship

Majority of individuals have taken it upon themselves to make alterations for the future. This, they have done, by resigning from mainstream occupations in order to launch social enterprises, which have been quite beneficial to communities. Statistics show that more than fifty percent of social initiatives offer employment for those who have found it difficult to secure conventional work. Of these, about 38% are located in the country’s most economically handicapped settlements, thus helping to raise the quality of life. Technology has played a huge part in the financing of these ventures through innovative platforms such as “Changify” and “Yimby.” (Schwienbacher & Larralde, 2010).

Making the most of existing structures

Studies have revealed that an estimated 19.8 million individuals engage in formal volunteer projects once per annum (Baillie & Laurie, 2011). Furthermore, there are around 234 Community Volunteer Service Organizations with a presence on online (social media) platforms such as Twitter. From these figures once can easily conclude that the United Kingdom is not short of the spirit of goodwill and volunteering. This quality has also been observed in the library sector. Research shows that between 2010 and 2011, more than 21,000 people volunteered in the UK’s 3,300 facilities (Baillie & Laurie, 2011). The transition of the ownership of libraries has seen to it that more and more libraries are sponsored by the community. The overall outcome of this endeavors has been the closure of the digital gap, as well as increased public inspiration and exposure to numerous possibilities.

Increased Connection

The creation of healthier communities in the UK is the result of the increase in people’s capacity to form bridging ties between groups as well as strong bonds within the same groups. These bridging connections have culminated in enhanced development of communities, a heightened interest in civic matters, and group efficiency. Technology, once again, comes into play in this scenario as it has the ability to facilitate the creation of large scale social ties (Wellman, 1999).

Community Changes and their Impact on Social Inclusion and Cohesion

Changes and developments in the community have been found to have far reaching effects on state of social inclusion and cohesion. This is expounded upon as follows:

Increased Diversity

The issue of increased (ethnic) diversity and how it relates to cohesion has, for a long time, revolved around the concept of trust (Gerritsen & Lubbens, 2010). Most of the studies carried out on this subject have revealed that the association between “diversity” and “trust” has mostly been that of the negative variety. The level of diversity within a community of mixed races has been found to be inversely proportional to the amount of trust (Costa & Khan, 2003). Diversity often culminates in increased alienation, discrimination and solitude (Putnam, 2007).

Escalation of Income Inequality

Studies carried out by British researchers have revealed that economic disparities within a society, coupled with high levels of poverty and financial deficiency, contribute greatly to the estrangement of the affected members (Sturgis et al., 2010). The London Riots are a fine example of how economic inequality can culminate in social tension and consequently, the disintegration of the existing social structures

Technological Changes

The advent of innovative technology, which includes social media platforms, has been found to induce the formation of new modern communities as well as drastic alterations in the already existing communities. Investigations undertaken with regard to this subject indicate that those with the resources to access this social tools have the upper hand, unlike those who lack the resources, who as a result, are subjected to social exclusion (Liff & Steward, 2001).

Role of Social Capital in developing Community Wellbeing

Great scholars such as Pierre Bourdieu have constantly emphasized on the fact that capital exists in three primary forms: Symbolic, Cultural, Economic and Social Capital, which he describes as the combination of resources, tangible and essential, that are accumulated by a person or collective as a result of being in the possession a long-lasting network of associations of shared friendship and understanding (Bourdieu, 1983).

James Coleman, on the other hand, stated that social capital’s primary feature was its role. As a result, it cannot be viewed as just a sole unit, but as a vast array of various units which share the following features: a social structure, and the enablement of particular activities of people existing within this social system (Coleman, 1994). In accordance with Robert Putnam’s views, social capital is defined as the bond that exists between individuals, as well as the social setups and values of mutual benefit and well-founded trust that are the result of this bond (Putnam, 2000). The role of social capital in community well-being is outlined below:

Social capital has become one of the principal contributory factors in the modelling of child growth. The presence of trust, strong social setups, and values of mutuality within a family, learning institution, group of friends, and the wider community tends to have an immense impact on the child’s chances, options, and academic accomplishments. This will, in the long run, greatly affect their conduct and progression (Putnam, 2000).

In regions that possess a relatively high social capital, public areas tend to be more hygienic, individuals are more hospitable by nature, and the community as a whole is or feels safer to reside in (Putnam, 2000). The typical neighborhood hazards such as low economic status, and excessive suburban migration are not as prevalent in these kinds of areas as opposed to others with a lower social capital. The higher quality of life in these areas is the immediate outcome of people’s involvement in community groups, heightened vigilance in the supervision of the younger population, and stronger bonds of friendship.

A high social capital also plays a huge part in the facilitation of economic prosperity amongst individuals, companies, communities, and even entire countries. This is majorly due to its capacity to minimize and prevent the negative impact of socioeconomic handicaps through increased interventions by charity organizations (Sampson et al., 2001). The existence of efficient connections in the “underground economy of the urban poor” has also been a major factor in the mitigation of socioeconomic mishaps (Venkatesh, 2006).

The ownership of better social capital translates into better health of the mental, physical and psychological variety. Engaging in activities such as unpaid community work, pleasure-seeking, attending church, and obtaining club memberships adds to one’s level of happiness in life. In short, durable civic connections are the key to the happiness and contentment of an individual and community (Pickett & Wilkinson, 2009).

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