What is Community?

Submitted by Paul Born on February 12, 2013 - 2:58pm
Towards a definition

     I am at times surprised by the definitions people have of community. In the community development world people will often say, "are you defining community as a place or by association, such as the disability community or a learning community?" This leads me to believe that there are only two kinds of community. At other times, when visiting with people, they will use the term, “ my community,"  and I am equally as surprised because it leads me to believe that they only have one community.

     I want to describe community and the use of community in different contexts to show that community can mean many things to a person at different times and stages of their life. It is my belief that we all have multiple communities in our lives and an important part of recognizing this is to give a language to describe them. I have spent most of life reading about community and when I find a definition that I just love, it is not long before I find another one and again it provides me with insights on my journey. Community for me is situational and changes at different stages of my life.


     To research the term community can feel overwhelming at times, as there as so many different writers and definitions to choose from. I have found five broad categories that capture for me different understandings of community. The five are:

1. community as place

2. spiritual community

3. intentional community

4.the science of community

5. community as identity

     But, how about you. What is your definition of community?

Problem of definition

One of the most difficult parts of dealing with community is defining it. If we can define it, then we are well on our way to understanding how to strengthen or change it. But the definitions are wildly divergent. I suspect that we are going to need to simply establish a definition, ideally one that gets to the root of the divegence--assuming there is a root there. If we can do that then I think we will talk about dimensions and degree of community, rather than the presence or absence of community. 

An additional difficulty is that we experience community as individuals, always checking our current experience against memory and expectation. Two people can have the same experience and one says "What a great community!" while the other says, "There's no community."

In my own research I found an additional problem which is that within a visible community there can be a hidden community, one that carries values and behaviours quite opposed to those of the formal community. It can be a counter-culture, the behaviour of leaders in relation to the group, or a coincidental contradiction of interests due to overlapping group boundaries. 



Community is a sense of belonging to me...some of it comes from our roots/our comfort. In exploring the concept of community with families I find that those isolated in our community, lack that ability to connect. When I moved to Toronto, I looked for a spirtual community and I couldn't find it...I travelled from Toronto back to Burlington for church, for connection to those who knew me by name, asked about my children and gave me a hug. It is connectedness....welcome...belief and support in me, as a person, respect given and accepted.

I have come to believe that the isolated, lone mothers in the community need sometimes to have someone to take them by the hand and touch, feeling someone's caring and then the ability to feel and join community can take shape and be those things that others have described but it takes building caring, trusting, long term relationships.




My definition of community would be

  1. Place - where you are from
  2. Interest - who you belong to (groups, associations, Faith)
  3. Connectedness - the ties that bind us together, the feeling of being a part of something larger.

Very interesting

thanks for the grounding this snowy day


From the campaign

As part of seeking communities A Thousand Conversations to Shape Our Future campaign I have been fortunate to date to have asked over 200 people the question:

What does community mean to you?

I have written the following post on some of the key theme's that came out of these conversations:


There were:

Space – either virtual or physical, this is a place where people can come together

Connection – the feeling of being connected to people, nature or a physical space

Theme – a common topic, interest or experience

Feeling – a feeling of belonging or home

For me community is where these four elements come together in some degree.

Complex Definition

I find this an interesting concept. Upon first thought, I think of community as the space around your house; your neighbourhood and the people you (may) interact with daily. From here, I realize that I consider myself a part of many more communites. They may be specific, like the baseball community in my hometown. It's interesting to consider that everyone is part of some community when you consider the different definitions.

One of my fourth year university classes is on Local Environmental Management, and we had a discussion on community. I believe it was described as a group of people that come together through commonalities. That's a rather broad definition that can be applied to any of the five you listed. I'm really starting to see the complexity associated with what seems an easy question, "what is community".

I agree!

Hi Paul,

I like these five categories of community. I feel these would all exist with various depths, depending on the person. They also exist at different strengths at various points in one's life.

When living at Conrad Grebel- my sense of community as place was so deep and tangible. Now that my huband and I have moved to a new neighborhood and find it challenging to engage with our neighbors- we still sense community in our place of residence, though in a shallow and not a deep sense.

When I say "my community" I often refer to my faith community, work place or close friends. There seems to be ownership or belonging to attach "my" to community.

Does anyone else have any thoughts?