When we are talking about a ‘community’, what do we really mean? A city, a town or a village? Or is it a group of people on the internet sharing ideas over a forum? Or is it a group of people that get together once a year to share their common heritage or way of life? Well, it can be all of the above!
Communities can be defined as ‘a social networks of interacting individuals’. Central to this concept are people and their multiple groupings. Community is also used to represent and communicate meanings about widely held beliefs, shared interests and some forms of social connection. Furthermore, the concept of community can be used to identify local processes and actors alike, but can be tied to processes that occur on a national and even international scale.
One way to define community is to divide the concept into different units of analysis: a geographic or place-based community, a community of interest and a community of identity.
A geographic or a place-based community is the most commonly identified community. The place-based community is restricted to a geographical space in which a boundary can be drawn. Place-based communities are often associated with a local territorial community. Boundaries for this type of community can range in scale from the family to the neighbourhood, and the regional and national level. Boundaries can also coincide with municipal or other forms of political boundaries.
Interest based communities defy the place-based unit of analysis. Communities of interest are formed around a shared interest among its members. They may not have a territorial basis, and can include non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) and business groups. Communities of interest may be found in a single locale, or they may be spatially dispersed. Communities of interest can also be virtually constructed, where communication occurs by way of local newsletters, the telephone and the Internet. Communities of interest can be ephemeral and may only be mobilized for a sole concern or issue. The presence of communities of interest can be found at a local, regional, national, and international level.
‘Communities of identity’ consist of individuals who find affinity with a certain group of other similar individuals. Individuals may define themselves by identity do so by gender, culture, ethnicity, religion or language. ‘Communities of identity’ can be used to address the concerns of people who do not necessarily see themselves as defined by spatial boundaries, but find group affinity by various social networks, conceptualize themselves symbolically and have shared values, interests and experiences.
It is important to recognize that substantial overlap can occur between communities. People can simultaneously hold membership in various groups. For example, people may reside in a certain municipality, hold membership within a local environmental group and a part of a particular ethnic group.
Danya Al-Haydari is an Environmental Planner at Hardy Stevenson and Associates Limited, where she specializes in public consultation, environmental assessment and energy policy. She has coordinated work for the Port Hope and Port Granby Projects, and conducted research on the Port Hope Area Initiative’s Property Value Protection Program. Most recently, she co-authored a paper for the Nuclear Waste Management Organization on community well-being in nuclear host communities. Danya is a member of the Canadian Nuclear Societyand Women in Nuclear Canada.