Community: the divisible

The following post is one of three that will focus on alternative perspectives on community. They are not new, but, as far as I know, they are little discussed. I present them with the intention to begin a dialogue among Regina Urban Ecology blog followers. If these post rub you the wrong way, or you have thoughts to add please let me hear it. It’s my hope that these posts will be the beginning of a more substantial article. For now though, I am curious to hear what people think.

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Jean-Luc Nancy (1991) says, “as an individual, I am closed off from all community.” This statement got me thinking. Foremost, it complicates the foundation of community development. Typically, community builders think the key to creating strong healthy communities is to awaken a sense of community within the individual. This “if only we could get back to the way things used to be” sentiment permeates thinking regarding community development. In this vein, community is a project that has been lost.

But here’s the problem, and one that Nancy discusses at length. To be an individual is to be indivisible, self-contained, and unto one’s self. And to be indivisible is to be unable to break parts of yourself off and share your being with others – the crux of healthy, well-functioning communities, sharing yourself with your other, or so we’ve been told. Community, in this sense, relies on divisibility.

So when Nancy says that individuals are closed off from community, he leaves us with a predicament – do we attempt to rethink the individual to fit with community or do we adapt our conception of the community to fit with the individual? As individuals, I don’t think the way that we perceive ourselves is changing. Therefore, the community must flex. Rather than awaken a sense of community within the individual, we may have to, perhaps, ignite a sense of the individual within community.

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Community: the divisible

6 thoughts on “Community: the divisible

    1. jscottd says:

      That’s just it isn’t – what’s my (note: not the definition/opinion of Regina Urban Ecology) definition of community? This is what I am ultimately trying to understand myself. I was asked the same question during my thesis defense. I choked on a reply that was, judging by the glazed-over look on my examiners’ faces, less than satisfactory. That said, I tend to think of community as an experience between two or more individuals that is exploited, in one form or another, for mutual gain (i.e., people come together for support, for fun, for money, for sex, for water, for exercise, for firewood, for company, for safety etc.). How I feel about community changes on, what seems to be, a daily basis and this is just the flavour of the day – so don’t hold me to it. Very non-committal, I know.

      The interesting thing that I encountered during my research on bingo is that the community of bingo players doesn’t “look” like a typical community – the players employ tactics to minimize their interactions with others. Players have a “don’t bug me while I’m daubing” attitude. Yet everyone that I interviewed spoke of the immense meaning they derived from their social interactions within the bingo hall and the social networks they developed. I talk about this at length in my research, but I shy away from tackling the idea of community head on. I imagine it could have been real messy come defense time.

      I’ve been thinking about it tons though, about why so many communities, that fit the traditional community mold, fail and how a community (bingo players) that doesn’t fit the traditional mold has persisted (in Canada) for close to 100 years.

      What’s your definition of community?

  1. wourliem says:

    I’m not sure Regina Urban Ecology has a definition of any concepts as broad as community.

    I don’t know anything of Nancy, so I can only go by what’s written above. I think the individual is somewhat devisable. From some class or other in university I gathered the idea of people playing roles in their everyday life. I like this role idea; which says, for example, a person can be a church member on Sundays and a literary critic everyday, putting you in two different communities. I think people are social creatures that must have some functioning social roles which give them a context to interact with other people. I’ve often gone to meetings or gatherings that are open to everyone and if people ask you anything its usually what’s brought you to the meeting. People want to have some context of why your there, where you fit in. Why people attend some events might be more self evident, like bingo or a concert so there may not be the curiosity.

    I agree with jscottd’s basic definition of more than one person, coming together for mutual gain.

    I am interested in the geography of community and identity. I tend to think people have some connection to where they’re from and that people who are around each other have connections as well. This is less certain to me now, however, with the internet, online gaming-dating-commerce, and media. People can play World Of Warcraft with their ‘friends’ all day and having never spoken to any of their physical neighbours.

    I’ve been reading the Anne books lately and community is simple, Anne lives in Avonley and everyone there are neighbours so they all know each other. The community has individual farms a church, a meeting hall and a school.

    Anne’s time was about 100 years ago and since then its communication and transportation that have changed who are members of our community. If you look at homes in Regina from Anne’s time most have front porches and eyes on the street with backyards for storage or maybe originally animals. People watched each other, communicated primarily buy visiting and speaking in person. Most homes and neighbourhoods built after the war are less dense, with big front (set back for cars/drive ways) and back yards without porches in front.

    In general, I wonder what community there is in Regina. If I am from Regina does that provide someone with clues about who I am? Is there a common thread that runs from living in this city compared to others? Or, if I come from a certain neighbourhood or area (North vs South) does that explain me in some way at all? Did it once? I am not sure I’ll ever answer any of these questions with certainty.

    1. Jeff D. says:

      I appreciate your comments, especially about the built environment of Anne’s community. You’re likely aware of this, but in Regina, about 15 or 20 years ago, there was an attempt to recreate the front porch/rear garage urban design. I know very few details of the build. What I do know of the area stems from my involvement with CPTED (crime prevention through environmental design) some years back. The area, which is just off of McIntosh St. N. just south off of Rochdale Blvd was described as being built using the basic principles found in Ocscar Newman’s (1972) Defensible Space. An updated version of Newman’s work can be found here

      If you haven’t seen the area, I’ve linked to a few Google images to give you an idea. I apoligize if these links don’t work. I am still getting the hang of this whole blog thing.

      1. wourliem says:

        Thanks for the info. Defensible Space sounds like a good read, I’ll keep my eye out for it.

        I wasn’t aware of the Rochdale area you’ve mentioned. I quite like it, though, all attempts at ‘lifestyle design’ or whatever term builders use for neo-traditional housing will fail unless there are amenities close by. In Regina in the 1910s would have been a walking city. Making homes like those in the 1910s without having the lifestyle will effect how active the streets will be.

        Rochdale has stores within walking distance, so that’s a big plus. Other new development that are being built right now with a similar design as your example Kennsington Greens(http://www.kensingtongreens.ca/) and Greens on Gardiner (http://www.greensongardiner.com/) . These developments are similar and may enhance face to face contact in their streets. But besides parks and eventually schools there are no third places (cafes, community centres, yoga classes) included in the design. This suggests to me people will be driving from these developments to places where they live their lives; shopping, activities, work and events.

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