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Narrow definition in a P2P Context

The Indianopedia defines "community" as:

any social cluster or network that is perfectly distributed, that is, where all members are related to all other members, in a nonhierarchical domain which shares a interaction sustained over time, and on the basis of which an identity develops."


Broader Definition

0. Wendell Berry

..."defines community as, "the mental and spiritual condition of knowing that the place is shared, and that the people who share the place define and limit the possibilities of each other's lives. It is the knowledge that people have of each other, their concern for each other, their trust in each other, the freedom with which they come and go among themselves. In this sense, belonging is largely about familiarity between ourselves and our environments."



"Community is defined here as an interdependent social network of people with shared interests and goals for the community. Such a community can exist in a specific geographic location where community members live contiguously a community of place (Pigg and Crank, 2004); or it might be located in a wider geographic space such as a metropolitan area where there is some physical distance between members in their day-to-day lives; or come in occasional events or meetings a community of interest (Newman, 1981); or lastly, occur as a social network developed in the on-line “virtual” space of the Internet a virtual community."


2. From the Wikipedia:

"A community is a social unit (a group of living things) with commonality such as place, norms, religion, values, customs, or identity. Communities may share a sense of place situated in a given geographical area (e.g. a country, village, town, or neighbourhood) or in virtual space through communication platforms. Durable relations that extend beyond immediate genealogical ties also define a sense of community, important to their identity, practice, and roles in social institutions such as family, home, work, government, society, or humanity at large. Although communities are usually small relative to personal social ties, "community" may also refer to large group affiliations such as national communities, international communities, and virtual communities. The English-language word "community" derives from the Old French comuneté (currently "Communauté"), which comes from the Latin communitas "community", "public spirit" (from Latin communis, "common"). Human communities may have intent, belief, resources, preferences, needs, and risks in common, affecting the identity of the participants and their degree of cohesiveness."


Etymology of Community

Bernard Lietaer [1] suggested:

The origin of the word "community" comes from the Latin munus, which means the gift, and cum, which means together, among each other. So community literally means to give among each other. Therefore I define my community as a group of people who welcome and honor my gifts, and from whom I can reasonably expect to receive gifts in return.

Kris Roose looked to his schooltime Latin dictionaries, and discovered:

The origin of words as common, community, communication, munition, municipality is munis, a (defence) wall. The verb munire (still used in French) means "to provide the building blocks of that wall". Munition originally meant the weapons used on that wall. A com-munity is the group behind the same munis, and a municipality is the organization or government of that community. Munia are the public duties and office on those defence buildings. Communication is the interaction between the people behind the defence wall. Communist is a member of a commune, a French social and political community. During the French Revolution it was the name of the government of Paris from 1789 until 1795.

The etymology is very suggestive: a community shares a higher level of intimacy and vulnerability, protected by a wall against more primitive (aggressive, military) interactions.

Munus, meaning gift, can't be the etymological origin of community, because the root of munus is muner- (plural munera, hence re-muner-ation), and these letters usually don't disappear in natural etymology.


"The anthropologist Vered Amit (2002) has reviewed ‘the trouble with community’ as a theoretical concept. Amit argues that the term’s strong emotional resonance makes it an ideal choice in public rhetoric, even though its empirical referent is seldom specified, or indeed specifiable. Amit cautions that expressions of community always ‘require sceptical investigation rather than providing a ready-made social unit upon which to hang analysis’ (2002: 14). Relying on emotionally charged, bounded notions such as community (or diaspora, nation, ethnic group, etc) is unwise, she adds, for there are numerous sets of social relations that cannot be brought under these banners. Such sets include neighbours, co-workers and leisure partners – people who many nevertheless share ‘a sense of contextual fellowship’ that can be ‘partial, ephemeral, specific to and dependent on particular contexts and activities’ (Rapport and Amit 2002: 5). Countering the often heard idea that community remains a valid term because it is a notion dear to millions of people around the world, Amit urges us not to conflate cultural categories with actual social groups." (


Foundations that define a community, proposed by David de Ugarte:

The set of users of a service does not constitute a community.

"For a group of people to form a community, there must be a common identity, a clear definition of who is part of the demos and a mutual knowledge among them (they must form a distributed network). The community may grow afterwards, but what is clear is that human communities are not formed around services, and even less, around webs.

Communities use services, but are not defined by them.

In the same way as there is no community of National Health Service or public transport users, there is no community of feevy, flick, or bloggers users, or of users of any service we can create, even bearing a very specific profile in mind."

Participation is not the same thing as interaction.

"Interactivity among its members can be a measurement of the power of a community, or the adequacy of a service for given network, but it has nothing to do with participation. One interacts with others, but participates in the host's offers. Interaction has a distributed logic, participation has a centralised logic. When interacting we are owners, but when participating we are followers. The culture of participation has nothing to do with the interaction way of life. The obsession with polls not only can involve not the artificial generation of scarcity, but can easily generate a perverse logic in which one-off expression replaces deliberation and exchange, which is very far from community logic."

Voting is for solving conflicts and nothing else.

"Voting mechanisms are the essence of participation: you participate in what belongs to others, but do not make it your own, you do not interact with others, no common life experience which strengthens your ties to others is generated. If voting is our way of relating to others, those others will never have a face and name of their own for us. Voting alienates from the interpersonal human relationship: it neither generates nor strengthens the community; on the contrary, voting represents the community as something abstract and alien to people. Let us not forget that, in a community, what is essential is not the mechanism for solving conflicts (occasional polls), but the definition of the demos. We are not equal because we take part in the same assembly – rather, we take part in the same assembly because we previously acknowledge each other as equals."

Platforms are a success or a failure in relation to a community, not in the abstract.

"If I have a community, a small network of equals who know each other and interact every day, arguing, exchanging messages and links, and I start a service to make what they already do easier for them, it will most likely be a success. But what does success mean in this context? Just that it will be useful for them when it comes to interacting with each other. What is expected is not to have many users, bringing many people into the same framework, creating cattlelike fences: rather, the aim is to aid in the development of a previously existing interaction. If our link website suddenly attracts many new users, people who try it or use it for themselves or to share with their own networks, but it does not work properly or is not used by the members of the original community, the service will fail."

People do not constitute community

- "People don't exist. Things are not done for people, there is no such demos as "people". If we open up a space for people or invite people to vote or decide on a given topic, we will really be inviting any previously organised group or network to present their own interests or viewpoints as those of the whole of society, if not to break the limits of a community which really exists. This is the usual trap of scarcity generation. Not defining the demos is the most typical way of passing as communitarian and democratic what in reality is their complete opposite. For example: making polls on the future Monopoly game or the Eurovision representative open to people yields paradoxical results because what we are doing is precisely breaking the limits of the demos of Monopoly players or Eurovision fans."

A community is not an interest.

Offering services or contents for a specific interest profile does not generate a community. At the very most, it will attract one, or, with luck, several already existing communities, although it probably won't integrate them.

Communities do not spring artificially just because we had the idea of providing a platform for them.

If we want to create a community, it is useless to start creating services, because it won't work. Services serve a community, they don't generate it. To create a community is to create an identity. It has to do with shared values and experiences, something which develops and grows through interaction. Only then are services useful, not before. Want to create a community? Then go offline again and find a specific cause so powerful that after a virtual campaign those taking part in it feel so emotionally and intellectually linked to each other as to want to keep on doing things together every day." (

Source: Phyles: Economic Democracy in the Network Century. by David de Ugarte

Characteristics of True Community

Scott Peck describes what he considers to be the most salient characteristics of a true community:

  • Inclusivity, commitment and consensus: Members accept and embrace each other, celebrating their individuality and transcending their differences. They commit themselves to the effort and the people involved. They make decisions and reconcile their differences through consensus.
  • Realism: Members bring together multiple perspectives to better understand the whole context of the situation. Decisions are more well-rounded and humble, rather than one-sided and arrogant.
  • Contemplation: Members examine themselves. They are individually and collectively self-aware of the world outside themselves, the world inside themselves, and the relationship between the two.
  • A safe place: Members allow others to share their vulnerability, heal themselves, and express who they truly are.
  • A laboratory for personal disarmament: Members experientially discover the rules for peacemaking and embrace its virtues. They feel and express compassion and respect for each other as fellow human beings.
  • A group that can fight gracefully: Members resolve conflicts with wisdom and grace. They listen and understand, respect each others' gifts, accept each others' limitations, celebrate their differences, bind each others’ wounds, and commit to a struggle together rather than against each other.
  • A group of all leaders: Members harness the “flow of leadership” to make decisions and set a course of action. It is the spirit of community itself that leads and not any single individual.
  • A spirit: The true spirit of community is the spirit of peace, love, wisdom and power. Members may view the source of this spirit as an outgrowth of the collective self or as the manifestation of a Higher Will."


See also: Community_Building


From the book, Digital Habitats:

"In our research of CoPs we noticed 9 general patterns of activities that characterized a community’s orientation. Most had a mix, but some were more prominent in every case. By looking at orientations, we posit, you are in a better position to understand how to support them with tools and processes. They give you a lens to reflect on how your community is doing and where you might want it to be headed.

Here is a brief glimpse of the orientations:

  • Meetings – in person or online gatherings with an agenda (i.e. monthly topic calls)
  • Projects – interrelated tasks with specific outcomes or products (i.e. Identifying a new practice and refining it.)
  • Access to expertise – learning from experienced practitioners (i.e. access to subject matter experts)
  • Relationship – getting to know each other (i.e. the annual potluck dinner!)
  • Context – private, internally-focused or serving an organization, or the wider world (i.e. what is kept within the community, what is shared with the wider world)
  • Community cultivation – Recruiting, orienting and supporting members, growing the community (i.e. who made sure you’re the new person was invited in and met others?)
  • Individual participation – enabling members to craft their own experience of the community (i.e. access material when and how you want it.)
  • Content – a focus on capturing and publishing what the community learns and knows (i.e. a newsletter, publishing an article, etc.)
  • Open ended conversation – conversations that continue to rise and fall over time without a specific goal (i.e. listserv or web forum, Twitter, etc.)"


Types of Community

Aaron Williamson/ Dave Pollard:

" where there are strong ‘overlaps’ between these aspects of self among members of a group, that group will emerge to be a community (note the names applied to these four types of community below are mine, not Aaron’s):

  • If the overlap is mainly common interests, it will emerge as a Community of Interest. Learning and recreational communities are often of this type.
  • If the overlap is mainly common capacities, it will emerge as a Community of Practice. Co-workers, collaborators and alumni are often of this type.
  • If the overlap is mainly common intent, it will emerge as a Movement. Project teams, ecovillages and activist groups are often of this type.
  • If the overlap is mainly common identity, it will emerge as a Tribe. Partnerships, love/family relationships, gangs and cohabitants are often of this type."


Typology of Collaborative Community within the firm

Essay: Paul S. Adler and Charles Heckscher. Towards Collaborative Community / (Book: The Corporation as a Collaborative Community)


Paul S. Adler and Charles Heckscher:

Three organizing principles and three forms of community:

"Abstractly speaking, we can identify three primary principles of social organization. Hierarchy uses authority to create and coordinate a horizontal and vertical division of labor—a bureaucracy in Weber’s ideal-type form. Market relies on the price mechanism to coordinate competing and anonymous suppliers and buyers. Community relies on shared values and norms.

Real collectivities embody variable mixes of these principles.

Moreover, real collectivities may best be mapped using the principles as three orthogonal dimensions rather than as three apexes of a two-dimensional triangle:

the fact that oneprinciple is a powerful factor shaping a particular collectivity does not preclude one or both of the other principles fromalso being powerful factors. However neither hierarchy nor market can actually function without at least some underpinning of community. Neither can function without a stable set of expectations shared by its members—that, for example, contracts will be honored and doing one’s duties will be rewarded. The form of community differs depending on its relation to the other two principles of social organization. When the dominant principle of social organization is hierarchy, community takes the form of Gemeinschaft. When the dominant principle shifts to market, community mutates from Gemeinschaft into Gesellschaft.We postulate that when community itself becomes the dominant organizing principle, it will take a form quite different from either Gemeinschaft or Gesellschaft. Aspects of this new form of community can be discerned in the organization of science and the professions. Today, we argue, this new form is also emerging in the heart of the corporate realm.

To summarize the argument below, we can contrast the new form of community with the two earlier ones on three fundamental dimensions:

1. Values: Community is first a set of value orientations shared (more or less) by all members of a group. Everyone can assume that the others will orient to those values and can therefore predict their actions and responses. This forms the basis for trust among individuals and order in social interaction. Collaborative community is distinctive in its reliance on value-rationality—participants coordinate their activity through their commitment to common, ultimate goals. Its highest value is interdependent contribution, as distinct from loyalty or individual integrity.

2. Organization: Community is also a social structure, specifying the boundaries of reference groups, the appropriate forms of authority, and the division of labor. Collaborative community is distinctive in social structures that support interdependent process management through formal and informal social structures.

3. Identify: Community cannot be effective as an organizing principle if it is merely an external constraint on people or a socially sanctioned set of values: it must become internalized in personalities and motivational systems. Collaborative community is distinctive especially in its reliance on interactive social character and interdependent selfconstruals: rather than orienting to a single source of morality and authority, the personality must reconcile multiple conflicting identities and construct a sense of wholeness from competing attachments and interactions."

Gemeinschaft: traditional community

"In its traditional (Gemeinschaft) form, community itself had a sacred quality. As To¨nnies (1887) argued, Gemeinschaft had a hierarchical structure, in which individuals and subunits are related in clear chains of subordination to the superordinate leader whose authority derives from tradition or charisma (per Weber). The core values are therefore those of loyalty and deference.

In such a social structure, horizontal relations, such as the relations of husband and wife, of doctor and patient, even of merchant and client, are defined indirectly, in terms of status obligations and their ‘fit’ within the larger system rather than through direct interaction or negotiation. In effect, the proper relationship between two parties can be read directly from their respective social roles. Challenges to status or violations of obligations of deference are a deeply feared threat to order. Those who are honorable, in other words, are trustworthy. A large system of sanctions, especially the force of reputation in the community, centers on the performance of these obligations.

This form of community is necessarily closed and particularistic, and this closure is reflected in the nature of social identities. Identities under Gemeinschaft typically trace a sharp differentiation between insiders and outsiders. They are conformist, because conformity defines insider status. They have hierarchy built in. Friendships and romantic relationships do exist in traditional societies, but if they cross the boundaries of the status system they are seen as grave threats to order.

Clearly such a form of community leaves little room for modern markets, let alone systematic innovation. Under Gemeinschaft conditions, these processes must be organized informally and in the interstices of the system."


"The development of individualism was an upheaval that shook apart the traditional order. It ‘took degree away,’ freeing people from the strictures of status and therefore destroying the basis of trust in the status order. In its place it put as the basis of trust the integrity of the individual; trust became based on the consistency—generally the rational consistency—of action. It led to the necessity of forming an independently coherent sense of the self, distinct from social roles and institutions.

One core insight in both Weber and Durkheim is that the move to individualism did not mean the elimination of the shared moral beliefs, or even a relaxation of them. It involved rather the development of a new content to the moral order. Both associated this change with Protestantism, which created a moral imperative for individualism. Both stressed that individualism in this sense was not a matter of the expression of an essential ‘human nature,’ but quite the contrary, a socially determined obligation which created heavy burdens on personality: an obligation to be rational, self-interested, and consistent. It is in this sense that Gesellschaft is not the negation of community but a form of it. The individualism in Protestantism produced enormous pressures for the rationalization of motivation and the acceptance of individual responsibility, and (as Durkheim noted) the overload could easily lead to pathologies such as suicide. On the one hand, this value system—of which Protestantism is only one manifestation—supported and framed a market economy by freeing action from the constraints of status and by requiring a consistent moral person who can be responsible for promises and contracts.14 On the other hand, the second insight we take from Durkheim and Weber, as well as from Marx and other critics of modernity, is that this modern value is inherently incomplete and contradictory because it disconnects values from relationships. It breaks the communal ties of traditional society by separating people from each other. It does not provide a framework for lateral relationships of colleagueship and collaboration; indeed, it radically separates individuals from each other and connects them (in the Protestant version) directly to God or (in secular versions) to their own private grounding of values. Values aside from individualism itself thus become personal and private rather than ways of connecting to others. Gesellschaft is thus inevitably associated with subjective alienation. The communal dimension cannot be removed from human relationships without a loss of sense of self and of meaning. It is not surprising, then, that traditional community has continued to flourish in the interstices of the larger, cooler set of Gesellschaft associations, nor surprising that the two remain in tension. National and local communities draw people together, but they also limit the scope of markets and are essentially contradictory to the ethic of individualism.

The main solution in modern times has been to wall off community, especially the family, in a ‘private’ sphere, where it can provide comfort and solidarity without threatening the larger system.15 But this way of dealing with social interaction—through the separation of public from private and the reliance on informal links for community—is adequate only when the density of interaction is low enough that people can distinguish a large realm in which their actions do not affect others, and when there is no need for intensive collaboration. As these conditions change—as the intensity of interdependence and the needs for collaborative effort increase—the separation breaks down. Then there is a need for a socially ordered form of lateral, cooperative relationships. That change has been visible both at the societal level and within the economic sphere."

Collaborative Community

"Neither the traditional nor modern forms of community are adequate for groups that seek high levels of adaptiveness and complex interdependence. In such situations trust is particularly important, because people depend a great deal on others whose skills and expertise they cannot check; autonomy and ‘rugged individualism’ give way to an increasingly dense web of interdependence, and there is a growing need for stable cooperative relations among highly differentiated actors. But in such situations trust is also particularly difficult to achieve, because it can no longer be based on tradition or on personal acquaintance and experience. 16 We believe that close scrutiny of contemporary firms reveals the emergence of a new type of community that can square this circle. Collaborative community forms when people work together to create shared value. This increasingly characterizes societies in which the generation of knowledge, often involving many specialists, has become central to economic production. In this it is fundamentally unlike the two forms we have described above: the traditional, where values are assumed to be eternally embodied in the existing community, without the need for shared ‘work’ to achieve them; and the modern, where values are removed from the public realm and left to individuals, with community being merely a place where individuals can pursue their own ends by participating in a shared game. In a collaborative community, values are not individual beliefs, but the object of shared activity; they have to be discussed and understood in similar ways by everyone. The basis of trust is the degree to which members of the community believe that others have contributions to make towards this shared creation.17 Adler’s chapter invokes this idea under the label ‘object’: a collaborative community emerges when a collectivity engages cooperative, interdependent activity towards a common object.

The institutions of celaborative community are centered on defining the core purposes and regulating interactions so that the right people can contribute at the right time to advance the process of value-creation. In a dynamic environment purpose must be distinguished from eternal ‘values,’ which are timeless statements of what the group is. Purpose is a relatively pragmatic view of what the group is trying to achieve, given the environmental challenges, in the foreseeable future. Agreement on purpose or strategy is crucial: members of the community need to both understand it in depth and be committed to its achievement. This means that rather than being left to a small cadre of leaders, the purpose must become a matter for widespread discussion. One can see this result clearly in corporations: in the last few decades strategy has often moved from a confidential preserve of top management to a key desideratum for all employees.

When value and purpose are discussed, they may also be contested. This is possibly the most difficult aspect of the difficult move to collaboration: finding ways to debate core orientations while still working together. Whereas in the Gesellschaft community working together is a more or less accidental by-product of an interplay of individual interests— coordination achieved by an invisible hand of the market or by a nexus of employment contracts—in the collaborative community it involves a deliberate and deliberated commitment to shared ends. But deliberation at this level is hard to manage. Even in voluntary organizations, it can easily slide into polarization or factionalism which shuts off discussion.

Moreover, in the capitalist firm, there are deep structural challenges to collaborative community. First, the power asymmetry between managers and employees generates anxiety, deference, and resentment. Second, the external goals of the firm are deeply contradictory—to produce useful products and services (‘use-value’ in the parlance of classical political economy) and to create monetary profit (‘exchange-value’). In capitalist firms, collective purpose is therefore contradictory in its very nature. Nevertheless, there has been a slow elaboration of mechanisms for

deliberation—forums in which employees are invited to ‘push back’ against their superiors, and where the contradictory nature of the firms’ goals is acknowledged and confronted."

The Three Constitutive Communities of the Self

Dave Pollard:

"Who we are, our self-ishness, is, I've concluded, merely the composite expression of our communities, the three communities that are telling us, all the time, what to do and who to be:

  1. Our Visceral Community: the organs inside our bodies, that trust our instincts and senses, and tell us to fall in love, to make love, to fight or flee when we're threatened or overcrowded or struggling with unnatural scarcity.
  2. Our Social Community: the people and other creatures we love and/or trust, that tell us to communicate, to express ourselves, to band together, to compete and to collaborate.
  3. Our Natural Community: the collective organism of all-life-on-Earth, that tells us to adapt, to welcome, to commune, to live in grace, to make the place where we live sustainable and joyful for all.

Each of these Communities (from the Latin meaning sharing) is also an Organism (from the Latin meaning instrument). So each of these Communities both (a) uses the process of sharing to express us (from the Latin meaning to present or show outside of itself), and (b) is an instrument or tool of that expression. Our Communities make us what we are. Our sense of ourselves as individuals, as something 'apart' is a fiction, what Cohen and Stewart in their book of the same name call figments of reality. We seem to be individuals, apart, but that is because the movie, the story that is 'our' life is so cleverly constructed, and re-presented in what appears to us to be linear time, that it looks coherent." (


Community aspects in the era of Virtual Community

Daniel Schackman:

"The early twentieth century work of Dewey presents some perspective on the concept of community. Dewey (1927/1998) linked the concepts of community and democracy. Dewey asserted that democracy “is the idea of community life itself” (Dewey, 1927/1998, p. 295). His concept of community described a group of individuals actively working together toward a common good, and all benefiting from the results of those efforts, which catalyzes the community to continue to maintain it. These active forms of association are differentiated from what Dewey described as natural bonds of interconnection, such as between parent and child. When there is an aspiration on the part of individuals to share the labors and fruits of common activity, and when the aspirations are communicated with a common set of language and symbols, there is community.

It is interesting to note that here Dewey was not focused on geographic concepts of community with physical proximity, described later by Pigg and Crank (2004) as “communities of place” (p. 59). His concept of community concentrated on the harnessing of interconnections among people without specifying physical location. Because of this, his concept has some salience for virtual communities as well as real world communities. Of key interest is the notion of shared goals. It is interesting to note that Dewey’s theorizing was in the context of developing a model for communities to coalesce into a “Great Society” of democracy and shared goals (1927/1998), a concept that links to the public policy and social changes in the U.S. in the 1960s as the Internet founders came of age.

In real world communities, social and physical barriers (such as those in gated communities) can be set up to discourage the infiltration of individuals who do not share the goals of the group, or share in the labor. Some on-line communities replicate this with registration procedures, including an agreement to be checked off by the subscriber to adhere to community standards that are defined. Abusers of those standards can be exiled from those communities. However, in open virtual communities such as craigslist, there are no such requirements to register. Additionally, there are no requirements for a minimum level of contribution, i.e. the shared labor that Dewey discussed. craigslist users can simply “lurk” on message boards without ever posting anything. This behavior is a bit more difficult to get away with in some virtual communities such as chat rooms in which there is an on-screen list of who is in a particular room, since others in that virtual space may cajole a “lurker” to contribute to the conversation or leave the room.

Dewey’s discussion of communication in communities also presents a challenge for virtual communities. In real world communities, it is very difficult to participate in a group if one doesn’t speak the language, understand the unspoken forms of communication, and comprehend the customs and values that guide interpersonal exchanges in day-to-day life. On the Internet, the non-verbal communication issue has been addressed to some extent through the use of emoticons, icons representing facial expressions. However, as emoticons are not generally accepted in business communication, there is the potential for misunderstanding and a potential for failure to convey underlying meanings. The language issue also has an effect; though programming languages themselves have become standardized for global software developers and web producers, and there remains the potential for the technology to catch up and to facilitate communication among users across linguistic divides through “universal translator” software, as inspired by Star Trek. At this stage of development, English still dominates on the Web (“Internet World Users By Language”, 2009) and in world commerce and communication (Mydans, 2007, October 9), and that linguistic bias can be a barrier to the concept of the Internet as a democratic environment. On craigslist, all of the local sites are in English, requiring some familiarity if not fluency, as well as access to a keyboard with Latin alphabet capabilities in order to post messages. For example, messages on the local Craigslist sites for Tokyo, Moscow, and Egypt viewed in September, 2010, were almost exclusively in English and the Roman alphabet. This may result in the users on craigslist being limited to an elite educated class in the non-English speaking cultures in which the portal is a presence with local sites, or by attracting a core enclave of English speaking expatriates living in these international cities.

Dewey also described that standards and values of communities must be transmitted to new members effectively. For on-line communities, it can be a challenge when people forget the details of the standards they agreed to adhere to when first signing up, or even forget that they are signed up as members even though the community may send a reminder, for instance, once each month. Open web communities such as craigslist risk that their participants may never read the standards at all, as there is no requirement to read them other than when registering for an account, though they may or may not really read before agreeing to the Terms of Use and insteadand simply use the community to further their own individual interests or agenda; there is thus ample opportunity for the portal to be used by people who do not know or do not care to know its vision, mission, and community standards.

Also of note is the seminal work of Park in the early decades of the last century. Park (1929/1952) specifically defined community as one with a geographical location. In his thesis on human ecology (1936/1952), he proposed that the interconnectedness of human society has many similarities to that of other species in nature. Park differed somewhat from Dewey’s concept of interconnectedness by employing Darwin’s principle of “competitive co-operation” (Park, 1936/1952, p. 146). In this concept, cooperative activity for the common good is complemented by the limiting of population numbers to a manageable size, and the maintenance of balance among competing forces (Park, 1936/1952). In real world communities, this can be achieved through immigration quotas, strong civic institutions and regulations as counterweights to commercial interests.

In virtual communities, limits can also be set on numbers for community memberships, though that is rarely enforced; or there can be a general limitation on numbers of postings each member can make. The latter is rarely defined; however, when an on-line community member is judged by a moderator to have reached his or her limit, the member can be encouraged, or given an ultimatum, to limit their activity in the community. If these efforts are not successful in encouraging the member to limit their postings, further messages can be blocked. On Craigslist, there is no evidence of any limits on the number of registered members, though the management reserves the right to close accounts of offenders against the Terms of Use. Moreover, membership is not required to post or respond to an ad, though it is suggested for people posting a number of messages (“Craigslist: About: Help: User Accounts”, 2010).

Balancing of competing forces can be more difficult to achieve and maintain in virtual communities. Park asserted, building on his 1929 work considering real world communities, that it is the competition for land for commercial, residential, and transportation use; the distribution of that land’ and the locations of these developments, that help define a community (Park, 1936/1952). Competing forces shape the character and content of virtual communities as well. For example, postings on craigslist are, as a result of the openness of the posting system, prone to abuse by scammers and spammers that use the valuable “real estate” on the local sites thus making it more time-consuming to find legitimate postings. The housing section also may be the most vulnerable to abuse, as the basic idea of gaining or granting access to one’s residence in order to find a place to live or a roommate, without any vetting of seller or buyer, lessor or lessee, require a considerable degree of trust in other members of one’s community, and of community standards. There is continuing concern among fraud investigators about fake house and apartment rental postings on various Craiglist sites across the U.S., in which the alleged landlord requires easily cashed-in money orders or bank checks to secure a home rental (Keill, October 8, 2009). While this section certainly replicates a similar function of real estate classifieds in print newspapers, the functionality of the Web could conceivably allow for more basic protections (e.g., a clean criminal record, easily retrievable in a search of police databases, as a prerequisite for posting or being allowed to obtain housing via craigslist).

The portal does offer users the option of using an email encrypter that creates a temporary address for users for each posting that they make, for example: [email protected]. Users may also choose to provide their own email addresses without encryption, as well as other contact information such as telephone numbers. A less prominent link in the lower left corner of the craigslist home pages (201007), among other miscellaneous information links, describes how to “avoid scams & fraud.” The lack of prominent focus on the basic maintenance of the security of community members, though perhaps based in a belief that these are sophisticated, savvy web users, may give a slight edge to those whose nefarious endeavors detract from the well-being of the community. But perhaps the element of trust is more important to the development of community than the occasional infractions caused by such a lack of protection and thus these can be absorbed by the community without causing major damage.

More recently, Putnam & Feldstein (2003) have proposed a revitalization of communities through the development of social capital, in which interdependence among groups of people is developed for the greater good. Dewey’s approach to community has salience here as well, and is even extended to encompass the concept of broader societal benefits from these strong communities (Putnam and Feldstein, 2003). In earlier work, Putnam (2000) put the responsibility for the dissipation of community in American society primarily on television and suburbanization, and he has expressed some ambivalence about the role of the Internet in furthering this decline by facilitating individual users’ retreat into virtual environments and withdrawal from real world communities. He and Feldstein find some hope in web portals such as those of craigslist. Indeed, craigslist is an example of a virtual community that seems to be attempting both levels of social capital building, by including individual web sites for many communities of place around the world and thereby fostering local community building; and by opening discussion boards across all of the portal’s local sites so there is a broader non-place based Craigslist community. Moreover, the actual location of each of the discussion contributors does not appear on their posts. .

Craig Newmark says that developing a sense of community is a major goal of craigslist. “If you are a newcomer to a city, you can get basically all you need to create a new life, in one site” (“From tiny newsletter,” 2005). He laments the loss of interconnectedness in communities of place in American society, and hopes that the local craigslist sites will help to re-establish those social networks (“On the record: Craig Newmark,” 2004, p. J1). The potential was seen most poignantly in the many postings on craigslist related to Hurricane Katrina in September, 2005; by people looking for missing loved ones and friends and requesting assistance, and by people looking to offer their help. Craigslist spotlighted affected cities in the list of local sites that appears on each local home page, and continues to have a Katrina Relief page linked in from the portal’s home page.

However, as Castells (2001, p. 126) observed, “…people do not build their meaning in local societies, not because they do not have spatial roots, but because they select their relationships on the basis of their affinities.” The transience that craigslist both addresses and perhaps helps to facilitate creates a paradox; as people pick up and move to a new city, building their lives on craigslist, they may also understand that if this new place does not meet expectations they can repeat the process again, especially as their most important social relationships are no longer-place based. This understanding may actually cause them to have less commitment to plant roots and make strong efforts to develop broader social networks in a community of place. An aggregate of community members with this perspective might have a negative impact on a community of place, as, per Castells’ concept of “real virtuality” (1996), the “real” communities in which they spend their time are in a virtual environment." (

A critique of community discourse

Paolo Virno:

"The thought of “community” carries a basic defect: it neglects the principle of individualization, that is, the process of the formation of singularities from something all its elements share. The logic of multiplicity and singularity is not sufficient, and we need to clarify the premise, or the condition of possibility, of a multitude of singularities. Enouncing it as a provocation: we need to say something about the One that allows the existence of many unrepeatable individuals. The discourse about the “community” prudishly eludes the discourse about the One. Yet, the political existence of the “many” as “many” is rooted in a homogeneous and shared ambit; it is hacked out of an impersonal background.

It is with respect to the One that the opposition between the categories of “people” and “multitude” clearly emerges. Most importantly, there is a reversion in the order of things: while the people tend to the One, the multitude derives from the One. For the people, the One is a promise; for the “many,” it is a premise.

Furthermore, it also mutes the definition of what is common or shared. The One around which the people gravitate is the State, the sovereign, the volonté générale. Instead, the One carried on the backs of the multitude consists of the language, the intellect as a public or interpsychical resource, of the generic faculties of the species. If the multitude shuns the unity of the State, this is simply because the former is related to a completely different One, which is preliminary instead of being conclusive. We could say: the One of the multitude collimates in many ways with that transindividual reality that Marx called the “general intellect” or the “social brain.” The general intellect corresponds to the moment in which the banal human capacity of thinking with words becomes the main productive force of matured capitalism. However, it can also constitute the foundations of a republic that has lost the characteristics of Stately sovereignty.

In conclusion, the thought of the “community,” even if laudable in many respects, is an impolitic thought. It takes into account only some emotional and existential aspects of the multitude: in short, a lifestyle. It is obviously important, but what it is fundamental to understand is the work and the days of the multitude as the raw matter to define a well-rounded political model that moves away from that mediocre artefact of the modern State, which is at once rudimentary (regarding the social cooperation) and ferocious. What is fundamental is to conceive the relation between the One and the Many in a radically different way from that of Hobbes, Rousseau, Lenin or Carl Schmitt." (

On the link between community, monetization, and gifting

Excerpted from Charles Eisenstein:

“Com­mu­nity is nearly im­pos­si­ble in a highly mon­e­tized so­ci­ety like our own. That is be­cause com­mu­nity is woven from gifts, which is ul­ti­mately why poor peo­ple often have stronger com­mu­ni­ties than rich peo­ple. If you are fi­nan­cially in­de­pen­dent, then you re­ally don’t de­pend on your neigh­bors—or in­deed on any spe­cific per­son—for any­thing. You can just pay some­one to do it, or pay some­one else to do it.

In for­mer times, peo­ple de­pended for all of life’s ne­ces­si­ties and plea­sures on peo­ple they knew per­son­ally. If you alien­ated the local black­smith, brewer, or doc­tor, there was no re­place­ment. Your qual­ity of life would be much lower. If you alien­ated your neigh­bors then you might not have help if you sprained your ankle dur­ing har­vest sea­son, or if your barn burnt down. Com­mu­nity was not an add-on to life, it was a way of life. Today, with only slight ex­ag­ger­a­tion, we could say we don’t need any­one. I don’t need the farmer who grew my food—I can pay some­one else to do it. I don’t need the me­chanic who fixed my car. I don’t need the trucker who brought my shoes to the store. I don’t need any of the peo­ple who pro­duced any of the things I use. I need some­one to do their jobs, but not the unique in­di­vid­ual peo­ple. They are re­place­able and, by the same token, so am I.

That is one rea­son for the uni­ver­sally rec­og­nized su­per­fi­cial­ity of most so­cial gath­er­ings. How au­then­tic can it be, when the un­con­scious knowl­edge, “I don’t need you,” lurks under the sur­face? When we get to­gether to con­sume—food, drink, or en­ter­tain­ment—do we re­ally draw on the gifts of any­one pre­sent? Any­one can con­sume. In­ti­macy comes from co-cre­ation, not co-con­sump­tion, as any­one in a band can tell you, and it is dif­fer­ent from lik­ing or dis­lik­ing some­one. But in a mon­e­tized so­ci­ety, our cre­ativ­ity hap­pens in spe­cial­ized do­mains, for money.

To forge com­mu­nity then, we must do more than sim­ply get peo­ple to­gether. While that is a start, soon we get tired of just talk­ing, and we want to do some­thing, to cre­ate some­thing. It is a very tepid com­mu­nity in­deed, when the only need being met is the need to air opin­ions and feel that we are right, that we get it, and isn’t it too bad that other peo­ple don’t … hey, I know! Let’s col­lect each oth­ers’ email ad­dresses and start a list­serv!

Com­mu­nity is woven from gifts. Un­like today’s mar­ket sys­tem, whose built-in scarcity com­pels com­pe­ti­tion in which more for me is less for you, in a gift econ­omy the op­po­site holds. Be­cause peo­ple in gift cul­ture pass on their sur­plus rather than ac­cu­mu­lat­ing it, your good for­tune is my good for­tune: more for you is more for me. Wealth cir­cu­lates, grav­i­tat­ing to­ward the great­est need. In a gift com­mu­nity, peo­ple know that their gifts will even­tu­ally come back to them, al­beit often in a new form. Such a com­mu­nity might be called a “cir­cle of the gift.”

For­tu­nately, the mon­e­ti­za­tion of life has reached its peak in our time, and is be­gin­ning a long and per­ma­nent re­ced­ing (of which eco­nomic “re­ces­sion” is an as­pect). Both out of de­sire and ne­ces­sity, we are poised at a crit­i­cal mo­ment of op­por­tu­nity to re­claim gift cul­ture, and there­fore to build true com­mu­nity. The recla­ma­tion is part of a larger shift of human con­scious­ness, a larger re­union with na­ture, earth, each other, and lost parts of our­selves. Our alien­ation from gift cul­ture is an aber­ra­tion and our in­de­pen­dence an il­lu­sion. We are not ac­tu­ally in­de­pen­dent or “fi­nan­cially se­cure” – we are just as de­pen­dent as be­fore, only on strangers and im­per­sonal in­sti­tu­tions, and, as we are likely to soon dis­cover, these in­sti­tu­tions are quite frag­ile.” (

Dave Pollard on Facilitating the Self-Creation of Communities

Dave Pollard:

" You cannot create community, all you can do is try to create or influence conditions in such a way that the community self-creates (self-forms, self-organizes and self-manages) in a healthier, more self-sustainable and resilient way. Much of the work of the Transition Network, and the sister Resilience Circles network, is about doing just that.

Probably the greatest challenge to doing this is that you can’t, generally, compel anyone to be in a particular community, or exclude anyone who meets qualifying criteria from joining one. Executives can try to seed committees and groups with people they think are best suited to a particular task or role, but they can’t make them act as real communities unless the members themselves want to do so, and whether they will choose to do so depends largely on the uncontrollable overlaps and conflicts of all the factors in Aaron’s model. If the chemistry is bad, or their values irreconcilable, a group of people will act dysfunctionally no matter how theoretically well-suited they might appear to the person trying to get them into community together. If you really want to help a community succeed, you’re stuck with the people who self-select into it, including some you wish weren’t there and excluding others you’d really like to have join.

There’s a controversial principle in Open Space events that “Whoever shows up are the right people.” The best way to influence who shows up is to research who you’d like to include and then craft an invitation to the desired potential members of the community that is specifically written to make it impossible for them to resist. But even then, if they show up and get confronted by some badly-behaved person you hoped would not show up, your work could be for nothing and the community could quickly self-destruct.

Once the community has initially self-selected, the best way you can intervene to make it more effective and connected is through facilitation of their collective processes. That’s one of the reason’s I’m so proud of Group Works, the card deck of ‘patterns of excellent facilitation’ that I was involved (with many others) in creating, since it’s a tool that can help facilitators do this work more effectively. Facilitation includes helping communities reach consensus, resolve conflicts, identify shared visions and values, build affinity and capacity, create a shared, safe space for collaboration and decision-making, and achieve their intentions. So it has an impact on increasing overlaps and minimizing dissonance in all four of the aspects of self in Aaron’s model.

So, Invitation and Facilitation are critical means of helping communities to get established and to thrive once they do. A third means is Capacity Building. Not everyone has to learn all the essential capacities of a self-sufficient, empowered community. Instead, members need to identify and acknowledge their individual and collective capacities, and the collective gaps, and develop a means to trust and empower those with recognized capacities to do what they do best, and to develop new capacities that fill essential gaps in the community as a whole. Related to capacity building is helping to create and evolve Effective Processes that the community agrees to follow to perform essential collective functions.

There are five capacities that I believe everyone in a community should acquire: Self-Knowledge, Self-Awareness, Self-Caring, Attention and Appreciation. Yet these capacities are, in my experience, scarce, even in fairly mature and well-functioning communities, and their absence is one of the main reasons for conflicts in many communities, including conflicts that break up the community. We would all be better off, I think, if we spent less time trying to ‘self-improve’ and persuade, and more trying to ‘self-accept’, ‘self-understand’, ‘self-manage’, and really listen and understand others."


The loss of Community in the U.S.: A history

Zack Rausch:

"Building on the country’s long-standing associational spirit, which Alexis de Tocqueville had praised in the 1830s, the extensive civic cooperation and institutional trust developed in the Progressive Era, and solidarity spurred by the attack on Pearl Harbor and the four-year national struggle against Germany and Japan, Americans had extraordinarily high levels of social capital in the 1940s, 1950s, and early 1960s. Civic groups, voluntary associations, and interfamily networks thrived in this era, giving Americans a strong sense of belonging as well as an abundance of place-based community networks.

But by most measures, these local relationships began to decline starting in the mid-1960s, and accelerating afterwards. Putnam points to changes in generation as the largest cause of the decline: as the World War II cohort began to die off, the Baby Boom generation that replaced it had not shared their unifying experiences. Putnam suggests that the second largest cause of the decline was the change in communication technology that occurred in these decades as television rose to dominance and changed patterns of association on a vast scale. Jean Twenge argues that technological change is the largest single driver of generational differences, in her book, Generations: The Real Differences Between Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X, Boomers, and Silents―and What They Mean for America's Future. Putnam and Twenge both point to the “individualizing” or “atomizing” effect of new technologies of convenience, including everything from the car to the rise of malls to television. People stopped hanging out with their neighbors and were no longer available to watch kids on their streets. They stopped shopping locally, and had less and less time to give to local institutions and associations. Family life moved decisively indoors as the television became the new family hearth. (The arrival of home air conditioning also amplified that move indoors.) Of course, these new technologies brought many benefits to consumers, but their main effect on social capital appears to have been negative.

In 1995, in the initial academic essay that became the book, Putnam described the social-capital-destroying effects of the rise of television in terms that extend our story in The Anxious Generation back another generation:

Television has made our communities (or, rather, what we experience as our communities) wider and shallower. In the language of economics, electronic technology enables individual tastes to be satisfied more fully, but at the cost of the positive social externalities associated with more primitive forms of entertainment. The same logic applies to the replacement of vaudeville by the movies and now of movies by the VCR. The new "virtual reality" helmets that we will soon don to be entertained in total isolation are merely the latest extension of this trend. Is technology thus driving a wedge between our individual interests and our collective interests? It is a question that seems worth exploring more systematically.

In other words: Act I of the tragedy was the loss of local community (1960s to 1990s), driven in part by the atomizing and individualizing effects of a variety of technologies and other changes to society. That loss of local community and trust in act I is one of the major reasons why Americans began to lock up their kids in the 1990s, which is Act II. Since we now had less knowledge of or trust in the other adults in our neighborhoods, we became much less likely to let children out for unsupervised free play or just plain “hanging out” until a much later age. But just as we were doing this, in came personal computers (in the 1980s) and the wondrous internet (in the 1990s), which called out to children and teens as an attractive alternative to outdoor unsupervised physical play and exploration.

By 2010, with the arrival of smartphones, high-speed internet, and highly addictive social media, we were ready for Act III: The arrival of the phone-based childhood. It was during this era that Putnam’s prediction came true. We did indeed get virtual reality goggles (not “helmets”), but far more insidiously, smartphones, social media, and ever-better headphones and AirPods did indeed allow adolescents to be “entertained in total isolation.”


Key Book to Read

More Information

  1. Book: Amit, V. and N. Rapport (2002) The Trouble with Community. London: Pluto.
  2. On the relationship between Community and Phyles, according to the Indianopedia:
  3. Virtual Community
  4. A Theory of Community Formation,