Fast Facts: The Community


Featured Image: The French village of Sainte-Enimie. Credit: Tobi 87.

  • Instead of looking at individual personalities, or the dynamics between strangers, community psychology looks at people as situated in large groups of shared relationships. These researchers often work between psychology and political science, and look for community-based solutions to reduce poverty, substance abuse and delinquency, or increase diversity and empowerment.
Bhowna performers convey religious messages through entertainment. Image: Jugal Bharali.

Bhowna performers convey religious messages through entertainment. Image: Jugal Bharali.

  • Communities have served as traditional support networks since prehistory. Fellow villagers were primary providers of entertainment, babysitting, counseling and other services. Community psychologists aim to recreate many of these traditional benefits by altering social policies.
  • Organizers use community gardens to bring people together and foster the kinds of benefits mentioned above. Asking people to cooperate to accomplish a task is very effective for generating these relationships, even if it’s growing vegetables for a neighborhood to eat. (They’re are also great for health.)
  • Some anthropologists suggest humans can have up to 150 in-depth relationships, the size of prehistoric villages.
  • “Sense of community” refers to feelings of attachment and belonging to a group, frequently based on a physical place. People high on these feelings are often motivated to meet the expectations of others in the community and become interdependent with them.
  • A greater sense collective identity predicts the likelihood of volunteering and, in politicized contexts, protesting on behalf of a neighborhood.
Community garden in San Francisco. Image:  Kevin Krejci.

Community garden in San Francisco. Image: Kevin Krejci.

  • The natural power of community is one reason behind recent movements to treat juvenile offenders in their own neighborhoods, instead of detention centers. It’s thought that giving offenders a stake in their own community also lowers the likelihood of committing crimes there.
  • In, “Bowling Alone,” political scientist Robert Putnam noted the decline of communal relationships in the United States. Published in 2000, it suggests new technologies like the Internet, television and video games “individualized” leisure time, which was traditionally spent with other locals. But many of us still have some deep connection with friends, family or local organizations. And the arrival of the Internet has meant new, global communities that grow around a subject of interest. Some suggest 9/11 played a role in the increased civic-mindedness among millennials.
  • Early sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies described two types of human association: traditional feelings of togetherness common in families and neighborhoods (Gemeinschaft), and instrumental social ties bound in legal contracts, businesses, and the modern state (Gesellschaft). Both types can exist within the same society, to some degree.
  • Nobel-Prize-winning economist Elinor Ostrom showed how African and Nepalese communities overcame the tragedy of the commons. This classic tragedy refers to the tendency of strangers in a free market to deplete resources held in common, like the number of fish in a sea. High trust, reciprocity and good communication help people manage the amount taken from the commons.
  • Communitarianism is a political philosophy, opposed to classical liberalism, that argues individuals have communal responsibilities in addition to individual rights.