«Title of Dissertation: Community journalism as ritual: A case study of community and weekly newspapers in Laurel, Maryland Lindsey Lee Wotanis, ...»
Many people also earn a living as ―community organizers.‖ In 2009, community organizing experienced a resurgence, no doubt as a result of the ―Obama effect‖ (Rimer, 2009). Barack Obama, elected United States president in 2008, began his career as a community organizer in Chicago. Typically, community organizers ―knock on doors, attend community meetings, visit churches and synagogues and mosques, and work with unions and civic groups and block associations to help ordinary people build power and counter the influence of self-interested insiders and highly paid lobbyists at all levels of government‖ (What is Organizing?). Community organizers bring into the discussion the voices that have previously been excluded by leaders or government officials (Kiefer, 2008). The need for community organizers—the need to bring more voices into discussions—highlights the work required for community to be realized. For community to form, all (or most) of its members need ―to be present,‖ as Selznick (1992) pointed out. When some members exclude others, and others fail to participate, community is stifled. In order to get community back on track, organizers work as mediators, trying to encourage more members to get involved as active participants in the community. But is a community a true community if it is forced or facilitated by an organizer?
Tönnies was writing on community at a time when there were far fewer complicating factors that interfered with the sustenance of organic communities.
Especially in developed countries, like the United States, culture has transformed in ways that make community more work than in the past. Private life is now more possible in ways that, two centuries ago, it was not; communication and transportation technologies helped to make it possible. Entertainment media keep people in their homes rather than forcing them to go outside of their homes to occupy their time. People, in general, have more ―stuff‖ to contend with, as ―citizenship now is a year-round and day-long activity, as it was only rarely in the past‖ (Schudson, 1998, p. 311). Carey (1997a) pointed out that political communities ―founded on civic ties rather than blood relations or bureaucratic rule are rare creatures in history‖ because they are difficult to sustain.
Yet, community remains fundamental to our private and public lives.
Today, many communities are not based in blood relations, but rather in places, interests, and inorganic relationships—relationships not based on accidental or chosen associations but rather on deliberate and purposeful connections built to achieve goals. All communities are fragile, and like republican forms of government, ―have a definite beginning, a point of origin in historical time, and therefore, they presumably have an end‖ (Carey, 1997a, p. 207). The struggle for community is difficult and important because communities serve important purposes that go well beyond heightening our sociability and making us feel warm and fuzzy. The work of community organizers and architectural planners is
rather helping along, or creating, the conditions under which community is more likely to develop. Fostering and supporting community is important because 1) in neighborhoods as well as nations, all lives are in some way interconnected and interdependent; 2) a prosperous democracy requires community; and 3) the twenty-first century presents global problems which, in many cases, require and depend upon local solutions, carried out by people working together in communities. The next sections examine these three reasons in more detail.
We’re all connected First, peoples‘ lives are interdependent, and communities can positively exploit that interdependence. The old cliché ―no man is an island‖ applies here.
Thinking that one can be truly self-sufficient is the ―single most pervasive image and myth of our time‖ (Carey, 1997b). According to Hopper (2003), society has encouraged greater individualism—a value on which the United States was founded—which threatens the survival of communities everywhere. Such a sense of individualism, at least in the United States, stems from the country‘s ―rights tradition‖ (Carey, 1997b). The individual‘s right to choose, to pursue happiness, to remain free from the constraints and rule of the state, and to climb the economic ladder all tend to stand in the face of community. These choices and pursuits pave solitary paths with little or no regard for others.
According to Walzer (1995), Americans ―live in a society where individuals are relatively disassociated and separated from one another, or better, where they are continually separating from one another, continually in motion,
mobilities that contribute to our detachment from meaningful communities— geographic, social, marital, and political. Geographically, Americans move— change residence—regularly, weakening our sense of place. Socially, Americans change social class as a result of income and education rather easily. Family life is disrupted by high rates of separation, divorce, and remarriage. And politically, Americans ―choose for themselves rather than voting as their parents did, and they choose freshly each time rather than repeating themselves‖ (p. 58-59). These four mobilities help advance individuals. People can afford to move to a better neighborhood. Their careers launch them from the lower to the middle class, or from the middle to the upper class. They develop intellectually, surpassing the intellect of their parents.
All of these changes create divisions and separations. When people change economic and social classes, they often have less in common with those whose class they formerly shared. When people move, they leave behind their former community of neighbors. Moving and changing threatens that which we have in common, creating tension within, or destruction of, community. The American way of life has had a tendency to push people apart from one another;
but communities can do the work of bringing people back together, interacting because we want to, not because we need to in order to get something out of that interaction.
An example of American individualism at work is seen in our economic model, in which we enter into contracts with others in order to get what we want;
(Carey, 1997b, p. 6). This model ―paints a picture of a society without community‖ (p. 6). Economics is the process of exchange or trade, which can be transacted from individual to individual. But economic institutions ―would prove impossible to efficiently operate‖ without ―elementary particles of trust and mutual understanding, loyalty, and mutual regard‖ (p. 6). In order for contracts to be binding, a common culture is required, one in which parties understand one another and believe each will uphold his end of the bargain. Otherwise, no one could ever be assured that, individually, he or she would come out of the deal unscathed. But an economic model functioning within a community—one in which social capital, trust, and reciprocity are at work—make contracts easier to form and likely, more binding. When entering into business with a neighbor, or the friend of a friend, there is something to lose if the deal goes bad. Friendship or trust can be lost as can the possibility of future contracts. Individual prosperity is reliant upon others‘ willingness to enter into contracts now and in the future.
Carey‘s notion of economics, which requires community, is in contrast to Tönnies concepts of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft. According to Tönnies, the realm of economics exists in Gesellschaft, or society. And, ―human Gesellschaft is conceived as mere coexistence of people independent of each other‖ (1963, p.
34). Gesellschaft, unlike Gemeinschaft, is ―a mechanical aggregate and artifact‖ (p. 35). People are generally hostile toward one another, and ―nobody wants to grant and produce anything for another individual, if it be not in exchange for a gift or labor equivalent that he considers at least equal to what he has given‖ (p.
implicitly includes a social will‖ (p. 66). Though he does not define what he means by ―social will,‖ he seems to be implying that there needs to be some levels of trust among the individuals engaged in the exchange in order for the transaction to succeed. Though interactions that are economically or contractually based may take place only once, often contractual interactions— with grocers and service people—are repetitive. People return to the same stores or do business with the same people repeatedly because they develop a level or trust—a relationship—with them.
An interesting example of such an economic relationship built around and upon community was found at the 2009 annual gay pride festival, known as PrideFest, in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Executive Director of the Rainbow Alliance and PrideFest organizer John Dawe said that several vendors returned to
the second annual festival, many coming from across the state to participate:
―This is just another festival, and it‘s bringing everyone with a common interest and culture together with vendors who want to do business with them‖ (Moody, 2009, emphasis added). Dawe‘s comments suggest that because of the nature of the festival, some vendors may have been (or perhaps were) unwilling to do business at the event because they did not agree with or accept the nature of the event: a celebration of gay and lesbian sexuality. However, other vendors who accept or support the gay community did travel, some more than 500 miles, to do business with the festival-goers. And, because it is an annual event, this is likely a business—and community—relationship that will continue so long as the
men show community solidarity in their spending decisions, choosing to support gay-friendly brands and boycott anti-gay brands.
The PrideFest example demonstrates that there is more to economic and business transactions than an exchange of goods; morals and values are involved, and at the core, community emerges among those who participated in the event and appears to last, as gay-friendly vendors travel to support their patrons, who do likewise. Relationships (even business ones), built on trust, acceptance, and common interests are essential components of community. And, elements of community are—and need to be—present in society. If there were not, we would not, as Carey argued, be able to operate an economy efficiently.
Beyond contracts, interdependence has a profound impact in the individuals we become. Gladwell (2008), in his book Outliers, argued that the reason some people succeed and others do not has much more to do with the people around them—their community—than with individual aptitude or ability.
People don‘t just rise from nothing. We do owe something to parentage and patronage. The people who stand before kings may look like they did it all by themselves. But in fact, they are invariably the beneficiaries of hidden advantages and extraordinary opportunities and cultural legacies that allow them to learn and work hard and make sense of the world in ways others cannot. It makes a difference where and when you grew up.
The culture we belong to and the legacies passed down by our forebears shape the patterns of our achievement in ways we cannot begin to
words. It is only by asking where they are from that we can unravel the logic behind who succeeds and who doesn‘t (p. 19, emphasis in original).
As Gladwell argued, people cannot fully understand the individual unless it is in the context of those around that individual. Community has a profound effect on us all—it determines the person someone becomes and, as Gladwell showed, it very well may determine individual success. As much as advocates of classical liberalism and libertarians would like to think that individuals can prosper without community—in some form—it is unlikely, if not impossible.
Democracy requires community Like economics, democracy requires community. Though founded on many ideals of classical liberalism, democracy—which requires open dialogue, collaboration, and an active citizenry—is carried out in communities by groups of people working collectively rather than individually. Michael J. Sandel (1996) showed in his book, Democracy‟s Discontent, that the erosion of community in America coincided with the ―crisis of self-government‖ in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (p. 205).
A national economy dominated by vast corporations diminished the autonomy of local communities, traditionally the site of self-government.
Meanwhile, the growth of large, impersonal cities, teeming with immigrants, poverty, and disorder, led many to fear that Americans lacked sufficient moral and civic cohesiveness to govern according to a shared
views of American government. Central to the liberal view, according to Sandel, is the individual‘s capacity to choose his or her ends. From this view stemmed the contemporary notion of individual rights. The republican view centers in shared self-governance, which requires ―a sense of belonging, a concern for the whole, a moral bond with the community whose fate is at stake‖ (p. 5). While both of these views have been formative in our understanding of American democracy, Sandel argued that of late, liberalism is more dominant. He said, ―In recent decades, the civic or formative aspect of our politics has largely given way to the liberalism that conceives personas as free and independent selves, unencumbered by moral or civic ties they have not chosen‖ (p.6).