Community

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{area, community, home}
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{build, building, house}
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{country, population, people}
{government, party, election}
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German sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies distinguished between two types of human association: Gemeinschaft (usually translated as "community") and Gesellschaft ("society" or "association"). In his 1887 work, Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft, Tönnies argued that Gemeinschaft is perceived to be a tighter and more cohesive social entity, due to the presence of a "unity of will."[3] He added that family and kinship were the perfect expressions of Gemeinschaft, but that other shared characteristics, such as place or belief, could also result in Gemeinschaft. This paradigm of communal networks and shared social understanding has been applied to multiple cultures in many places throughout history.[4] Gesellschaft, on the other hand, is a group in which the individuals who make up that group are motivated to take part in the group purely by self-interest. He also proposed that in the real world, no group was either pure Gemeinschaft or pure Gesellschaft, but, rather, a mixture of the two.

Social capital

If community exists, both freedom and security may exist as well. The community then takes on a life of its own, as people become free enough to share and secure enough to get along. The sense of connectedness and formation of social networks comprise what has become known as social capital.[5]

Social capital is defined by Robert D. Putnam as "the collective value of all social networks (who people know) and the inclinations that arise from these networks to do things for each other (norms of reciprocity)."[6] Social capital in action can be seen in all sorts of groups, including neighbors keeping an eye on each others' homes. However, as Putnam notes in Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (2000), social capital has been falling in the United States. Putnam found that over the past 25 years, attendance at club meetings has fallen 58 percent, family dinners are down 33 percent, and having friends visit has fallen 45 percent.[7]

The same patterns are also evident in many other western countries. Western cultures are thus said to be losing the spirit of community that once were found in institutions including churches and community centers. Sociologist Ray Oldenburg states in The Great Good Place that people need three places: 1) the home, 2) the office, and, 3) the community hangout or gathering place.[8] With this philosophy in mind, many grassroots efforts such as The Project for Public Spaces are being started to create this "Third Place" in communities. They are taking form in independent bookstores, coffeehouses, local pubs, and through many innovative means to create the social capital needed to foster the sense and spirit of community.[9]

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