The Roots of Communities and Social Capital

The Roots of Communities and Social Capital

Ben Kei Daniel (University of Saskatchewan, Canada)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-663-1.ch001
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Communities are important social systems accountable for sustainability and continuity of humanity. They provide a variety of support to their members, ranging from physical to emotional. Fundamentally, communities evolve when people identify with each other; grow a shared sense of identity, shared culture, language, folklore and professional practices. Communities also develop when members identify with each other, build collective conscience and identify common goals—the village council, for example can work to fight crimes and social injustice. Though communities are to all intents and purposes immutable social system, they are not just empty social boxes waiting for people to populate. They are abstract social systems, where groups of people create shared identities, values, norms, and beliefs to systematically regulate their own behaviours. Since, communities are abstract social systems, the way they emerge, develop, change, and revitalises themselves, serving as focal interests to some individuals but remains mystery to many researchers. It is for this reason social capital is often used as an explanatory paradigm for the inner workings of communities. This Chapter provides an overview of what constitutes a community. It provides some background context to the theory of social capital. More specifically, this Chapter reviews social capital within place-based communities and the logic for extending it to virtual communities. The Chapter also outlines the goals of this book, its intended audience, and the utility derive from a model of social capital.
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Early Work On The Concept Of Community

The concept of community has been a major concern of Sociological research since the beginning of the discipline (Wellman, 1982; Ferlander, 2003). The concept started mainly as one way of expressing anxiety about the social effects of industrialisation (Nisbet, 1962) and was distinguished from other social systems such as society. Early work on the distinction of community from society can be found in the social scientific work by Ferdinand Tonnies in the 1920s. Tonnies’ distinction between Gemeinschaft (community) and Gesellschaft became the baseline for later discussions regarding the semantics and pragmatics of community.

Tönnies discussion on the distinction between community and society in a context of reflecting on different forms of grouping, particularly those capable of distinguishing between pre-industrial society and society developed after the 18th century and most particularly from 19th century onwards. For Tonnies, Gemeinschaft refers to the closeness of holistic social relationships. Gemeinschaft exists by the subjective will of the members which affirms conditions of mutual dependence among them (Tonnies, 1925). Communities organised around ethnicity, language and culture or those communities with membership based on ascribed status are examples of Gemeinschaft communities.

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