AskDefine | Define community

Dictionary Definition



1 a group of people living in a particular local area; "the team is drawn from all parts of the community"
2 a group of people having ethnic or cultural or religious characteristics in common; "the Christian community of the apostolic age"; "he was well known throughout the Catholic community"
3 common ownership; "they shared a community of possessions"
4 a group of nations having common interests; "they hoped to join the NATO community"
5 the body of people in a learned occupation; "the news spread rapidly through the medical community" [syn: profession]
6 agreement as to goals; "the preachers and the bootleggers found they had a community of interests" [syn: community of interests]
7 a district where people live; occupied primarily by private residences [syn: residential district, residential area]
8 (ecology) a group of interdependent organisms inhabiting the same region and interacting with each other [syn: biotic community]

User Contributed Dictionary



  • /k(ə)ˈmjunəti/ or /k(ə)ˈmjunəɾi/


From communité (French: communauté).


  1. Group of people sharing a common understanding who reveal themselves by using the same language, manners, tradition and law. (see civilization).
  2. Commune or residential/religious collective.
  3. The condition of having certain attitudes and interests in common.
  4. (Ecology) A group of interdependent organisms inhabiting the same region and interacting with each other.


Group of people sharing a common understanding
  • Chinese:
    Mandarin: (shètuán)
  • Finnish: yhteisö
  • German: Gemeinschaft, Gesellschaft
  • Irish: cumann
  • Portuguese: comunidade
  • Russian: сообщество
  • Slovene: skupnost
Commune or residential/religious collective
The condition of having certain attitudes and interests in common
Translations to be checked

Extensive Definition

In biological terms, a community is a group of interacting organisms sharing an environment. The word community is derived from the Latin communitas (meaning the same), which is in turn derived from communis, which means "common, public, shared by all or many". Communis comes from a combination of the Latin prefix com- (which means "together") and the word munis (which has to do with performing services).
In human communities, intent, belief, resources, preferences, needs, risks and a number of other conditions may be present and common, affecting the identity of the participants and their degree of cohesiveness. Traditionally in sociology, a "community" has been defined as a group of interacting people living in a common location. However, the definition of the word "community" has evolved to mean individuals who share characteristics, regardless of their location or degree of interaction. See also community of interest.

Perspectives from various disciplines


Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft

German sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies presented a concise differentiation between the terms Gemeinschaft (usually translated as "community") and Gesellschaft ("society" or "association"). In his 1887 work, Gemeinschaft und 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." 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. 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; all were mixtures between the two.

Individual and community

During human growth and maturation, people encounter sets of other individuals and experiences. Infants encounter first their immediate family, then extended family, and then local community (such as school and work). They thus develop individual and group identity through associations that connect them to life-long community experiences.
As people grow, they learn about and form perceptions of social structures. During this progression, they form personal and cultural values, a world view and attitudes toward the larger society. Gaining an understanding of group dynamics and how to "fit in" is part of socialization. Individuals develop interpersonal relationships and begin to make choices about whom to associate with and under what circumstances.
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)." Social capital in action can be seen in groups of varying formality, including neighbours 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.
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.
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.


Sense of community

In a seminal 1986 study, McMillan and Chavis identify four elements of "sense of community": 1) membership, 2) influence, 3) integration and fulfillment of needs, and 4) shared emotional connection. They give the following example of the interplay between these factors:
Someone puts an announcement on the dormitory bulletin board about the formation of an intramural dormitory basketball team. People attend the organizational meeting as strangers out of their individual needs (integration and fulfillment of needs). The team is bound by place of residence (membership boundaries are set) and spends time together in practice (the contact hypothesis). They play a game and win (successful shared valent event). While playing, members exert energy on behalf of the team (personal investment in the group). As the team continues to win, team members become recognized and congratulated (gaining honor and status for being members). Someone suggests that they all buy matching shirts and shoes (common symbols) and they do so (influence).
A Sense of Community Index (SCI) has been developed by Chavis and colleagues and revised and adapted by others. Although originally designed to assess sense of community in neighborhoods, the index has been adapted for use in schools, the workplace, and a variety of types of communities.


Community and its features are central to anthropological research. Some of the ways community is addressed in anthropology include the following:

Social philosophy


Communitarianism as a group of related but distinct philosophies (or ideologies) began in the late 20th century, opposing classical liberalism and capitalism while advocating phenomena such as civil society. Not necessarily hostile to social liberalism, communitarianism rather has a different emphasis, shifting the focus of interest toward communities and societies and away from the individual. The question of priority, whether for the individual or community, must be determined in dealing with pressing ethical questions about a variety of social issues, such as health care, abortion, multiculturalism, and hate speech.

Business and communications

Organizational communication

Effective communication practices in group and organizational settings are important to the formation and maintenance of communities. How ideas and values are communicated within communities are important to the induction of new members, the formulation of agendas, the selection of leaders and many other aspects. Organizational communication is the study of how people communicate within an organizational context and the influences and interactions within organizational structures. Group members depend on the flow of communication to establish their own identity within these structures and learn to function in the group setting. Although organizational communication, as a field of study, is usually geared toward companies and business groups, these may also be seen as communities. The principles of organizational communication can also be applied to other types of communities.


In ecology, a community is an assemblage of populations of different species, interacting with one another.

Interdisciplinary perspectives


The process of learning to adopt the behavior patterns of the community is called socialization. The most fertile time of socialization is usually the early stages of life, during which individuals develop the skills and knowledge and learn the roles necessary to function within their culture and social environment.
Socialization is influenced primarily by the family, through which children first learn community norms. Other important influences include school, peer groups, mass media, the workplace and government. The degree to which the norms of a particular society or community are adopted determines one's willingness to engage with others. The norms of tolerance, reciprocity and trust are important "habits of the heart," as de Tocqueville put it, in an individual's involvement in community.

Community development

Community development, often linked with Community Work or Community Planning, is often formally conducted by non-government organisations(NGOs), universities or government agencies to improve the social well-being of local, regional and, sometimes, national communities. Less formal efforts, called community building or community organizing, seek to empower individuals and groups of people by providing them with the skills they need to effect change in their own communities. These skills often assist in building political power through the formation of large social groups working for a common agenda. Community development practitioners must understand both how to work with individuals and how to affect communities' positions within the context of larger social institutions.
Formal programs conducted by universities are often used to build a knowledge base to drive curricula in sociology and community studies. The General Social Survey from the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago and the Saguaro Seminar at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University are examples of national community development in the United States. In The United Kingdom, Oxford University has led in providing extensive research in the field through its Community Development Journal, used worldwide by sociologists and community development practitioners.
At the intersection between community development and community building are a number of programs and organizations with community development tools. One example of this is the program of the Asset Based Community Development Institute of Northwestern University. The institute makes available downloadable tools to assess community assets and make connections between non-profit groups and other organizations that can help in community building. The Institute focuses on helping communities develop by "mobilizing neighborhood assets" — building from the inside out rather than the outside in.

Community building and organizing

M. Scott Peck is of the view that the almost accidental sense of community that exists at times of crisis can be consciously built. Peck believes that the process of "conscious community building" is a process of building a shared story, and consensual decision making, built upon respect for all individuals and inclusivity of difference. He is of the belief that this process goes through four stages:
  1. Pseudo-community: Where participants are "nice with each other", playing-safe, and presenting what they feel is the most favourable sides of their personalities.
  2. Chaos: When people move beyond the inauthenticity of pseudo-community and feel safe enough to present their "shadow" selves. This stage places great demands upon the facilitator for greater leadership and organization, but Peck believes that "organizations are not communities", and this pressure should be resisted.
  3. Emptiness: This stage moves beyond the attempts to fix, heal and convert of the chaos stage, when all people become capable of acknowledging their own woundedness and brokenness, common to us all as human beings. Out of this emptiness comes
  4. True community: the process of deep respect and true listening for the needs of the other people in this community. This stage Peck believes can only be described as "glory" and reflects a deep yearning in every human soul for compassionate understanding from one's fellows.
More recently Scott Peck remarked that building a sense of community is easy. It is maintaining this sense of community that is difficult in the modern world.
Community building can use a wide variety of practices, ranging from simple events such as potlucks and small book clubs to larger–scale efforts such as mass festivals and construction projects that involve local participants rather than outside contractors.

Community currencies

Some communities have developed their own "Local Exchange Trading Systems" (LETS) and local currencies, such as the Ithaca Hours system, to encourage economic growth and an enhanced sense of community. Community Currencies have recently proven valuable in meeting the needs of people living in various South American nations, particularly Argentina, that recently suffered as a result of the collapse of the Argentinian national currency.
Conversely, at least one community, The Los Angeles Skills Pool, is built around the sharing of services without the use of any currency.
Community building that is geared toward activism is usually termed "community organizing." In these cases, organized community groups seek accountability from elected officials and increased direct representation within decision-making bodies. Where good-faith negotiations fail, these constituency-led organizations seek to pressure the decision-makers through a variety of means, including picketing, boycotting, sit-ins, petitioning, and electoral politics. The ARISE Detroit! coalition and the Toronto Public Space Committee are examples of activist networks committed to shielding local communities from government and corporate domination and inordinate influence.
Community organizing is sometimes focused on more than just resolving specific issues. Organizing often means building a widely accessible power structure, often with the end goal of distributing power equally throughout the community. Community organizers generally seek to build groups that are open and democratic in governance. Such groups facilitate and encourage consensus decision-making with a focus on the general health of the community rather than a specific interest group.
The three basic types of community organizing are grassroots organizing, coalition building, and faith-based community organizing (also called "institution-based community organizing," "broad-based community organizing" or "congregation-based community organizing").

Community service

Community service is usually performed in connection with a nonprofit organization, but it may also be undertaken under the auspices of government, one or more businesses, or by individuals. It is typically unpaid and voluntary. However, it can be part of alternative sentencing approaches in a justice system and it can be required by educational institutions.

Types of community

A number of ways to categorize types of community have been proposed; one such breakdown is:
  1. Geographic communities: range from the local neighbourhood, suburb, village, town or city, region, nation or even the planet as a whole. These refer to communities of location.
  2. Communities of culture: range from the local clique, sub-culture, ethnic group, religious, multicultural or pluralistic civilisation, or the global community cultures of today. They may be included as communities of need or identity, such as disabled persons, or frail aged people.
  3. Community organizations: range from informal family or kinship networks, to more formal incorporated associations, political decision making structures, economic enterprises, or professional associations at a small, national or international scale.
Communities are nested; one community can contain another - for example a geographic community may contain a number of ethnic communities.


Possibly the most common usage of the word "community" indicates a large group living in close proximity. Examples of local community include:


In some contexts, "community" indicates a group of people with a common identity other than location. Members often interact regularly. Common examples in everyday usage include:


Some communities share both location and other attributes. Members choose to live near each other because of one or more common interests.
  • A retirement community is designated and at least usually designed for retirees and seniors –- often restricted to those over a certain age, such as 55. It differs from a retirement home, which is a single building or small complex, by having a number of autonomous households.

Special nature of human community

Definitions of community as "organisms inhabiting a common environment and interacting with one another," while scientifically accurate, do not convey the richness, diversity and complexity of human communities. Their classification, likewise is almost never precise. Untidy as it may be, community is vital for humans. M. Scott Peck expressed this in the following way: "There can be no vulnerability without risk; there can be no community without vulnerability; there can be no peace, and ultimately no life, without community."
From this it is clear that the concept of the individual is not and cannot ever be separated from the concept of community. Without the primary community of our family, or the secondary communities discussed above, we could not develop stable personalities as individual human beings. This conveys some of the distinctiveness of human community.



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External links

community in Arabic: جماعة مشتركة
community in Czech: Komunita
community in Welsh: Cymuned
community in German: Gemeinschaft
community in Modern Greek (1453-): Κοινότητα
community in Spanish: Comunidad
community in Esperanto: Homa komunumo
community in French: Communauté
community in Indonesian: Komunitas
community in Icelandic: Samfélag
community in Italian: Comunità
community in Hebrew: קהילה
community in Hungarian: Közösség
community in Dutch: Samenleving
community in Japanese: 共同体
community in Norwegian: Samfunn
community in Norwegian Nynorsk: Gemeinschaft
community in Polish: Wspólnota
community in Portuguese: Comunidade
community in Russian: Община
community in Simple English: Community
community in Slovak: Komunita
community in Finnish: Yhteisö
community in Tamil: குமுகம்
community in Cherokee: ᎾᎥ ᏄᎾᏓᎸ
community in Yiddish: געמיינדע

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Everyman, John Doe, Public, accord, accordance, affiliation, affinity, agape, agreement, alikeness, alliance, amity, analogy, aping, approach, approximation, ashram, assimilation, association, balance, bipartisanship, body, body politic, bonds of harmony, branch, brotherly love, caritas, caste, cement of friendship, charity, church, citizenry, clan, class, closeness, coaction, coadjuvancy, coadministration, coagency, cochairmanship, codirectorship, coequality, collaboration, collaborativeness, collective farm, collectivism, collectivity, collegiality, collusion, colony, commensalism, commerce, common effort, common enterprise, common man, common ownership, commonwealth, communal effort, communalism, commune, communication, communion, communism, communitarianism, community at large, community of interests, companionship, company, comparability, comparison, compatibility, complicity, concert, concord, concordance, concurrence, conformity, congeniality, congress, consociation, consortship, constituency, conversation, converse, cooperation, cooperative society, cooperativeness, copying, corelation, correlation, correlativism, correlativity, correspondence, cultural community, culture, democracy, denomination, division, duet, duumvirate, dwellers, economic class, ecumenicalism, ecumenicism, ecumenism, empathy, endogamous group, equilibrium, equipollence, equivalence, esprit, esprit de corps, estate, ethnic group, everybody, everyman, everyone, everywoman, extended family, faction, family, feeling of identity, fellow feeling, fellowship, folk, folks, frictionlessness, general public, gens, gentry, good vibes, good vibrations, group, habitancy, happy family, harmony, identity, imitation, inhabitants, intercommunication, intercommunion, intercourse, inverse proportion, inverse ratio, inverse relationship, joining of forces, joint effort, joint operation, kibbutz, kinship, kinship group, kolkhoz, like-mindedness, likeness, likening, linguistic community, love, mass action, men, metaphor, mimicking, moiety, morale, mutual assistance, mutualism, mutuality, nation, nationality, nearness, nuclear family, octet, offshoot, oneness, order, organization, parallelism, parity, partnership, party, peace, people, people at large, people in general, persons, persuasion, phratria, phratry, phyle, polity, pooling, pooling of resources, populace, population, profit sharing, proportionality, public, public ownership, pulling together, quartet, quintet, race, rapport, rapprochement, reciprocality, reciprocation, reciprocity, relativity, religious order, resemblance, sameness, schism, school, sect, sectarism, segment, semblance, septet, settlement, sextet, sharecropping, sharing, similarity, simile, similitude, simulation, social activity, social class, social intercourse, social relations, socialism, society, solidarity, speech community, state, state ownership, stock, strain, subcaste, symbiosis, symmetry, sympathy, symphony, synergism, synergy, team spirit, teamwork, totem, town meeting, trio, triumvirate, troika, understanding, union, unison, united action, unity, variety, version, whole people, world, you and me
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