Understanding Community

Understanding Community


Opening Exercise
What Is a Community?
Types of Communities
Levels of Communities
Who Defines Communities?
Sense of Community
Four Elements of Sense of Community
Questions and Issues for Defining
Sense of Community
Concepts Related to Sense of Community
The Importance of Community
Social Capital
The Complex Realities of

Multiple Communities in a
Person’s Life
Conflict and Change within a Community
Are Communities Declining?
Building Communities
The Physical and Natural
Spirituality, Religion, and
Online Communities
Chapter Summary
Recommended Readings


Take a look at the following quotes. What do you think these people are talking about? Are they all talking about the same thing? Try to make some guesses about who these people are and what kinds of settings they are referring to.
“I mean I can talk to them and they are there to help me when I need to talk to someone…For example…my father is very close to dying right now…they have all talked with me about it and have been a great deal of comfort to me.”
“…people walk through there all the time…and I get to know them. I’ve probably met hundreds of people who go through there who speak to me every morning and evening and I’ve made some quite good friends amongst some on the street.”
“We have encountered so many good people and we feel at home here. In the church, too, there are very good people, there is a lot of help given and very good people…. They offer us the things we need but treat all of us equal.”
“Yeah, like when we were at meetings, they always asked our opinion. That was kind of fun being able to give your opinion when you have only been there a month. I thought that was great.”

All these quotes are from qualitative studies of people's perceptions of community. The first quote is in reference to an online gaming community (Roberts, Smith, & Pollock, 2002, p. 236); the second is from a person talking about walking his dog in his town in Western Australia (Wood, Giles-Corti, Bulsara, & Bosch, 2007, p. 48); the third quote is from a Latina immigrant in the United States (Bathum & Baumann, 2007, p. 172); and the fourth quote is from a study of adolescents and their involvement in community organizations (Evans, 2007, p. 699).
Community psychology has a clear focus on communities. Communities are the ecological level at which we conduct the majority of our research and interventions. They are what the field is about. In this chapter, we will explore the question of what makes a community. Where do we find them? What forms do they take? We will also be exploring the relationships that people have with their communities. Community psychologists believe that people have emotional relationships with their communities, and we believe that the quality of those affective relationships has important implications for well-being and happiness. We call that affective relationship sense of community.
I have never met anyone-young or old, rich or poor, black or white, male or female, educated or not-to whom I have had any great difficulty explaining what I meant by the psychological sense of community. (Sarason, 1974, p. 1)
This quote is from the book The Psychological Sense of Community by Seymour Sarason. In that book, Sarason set the tone for how community psychologists think about the relationships between individuals and communities. Sarason defined community as "a readily available, mutually supportive network of relationships on which one could depend" (p. 1). Sarason argued that the "absence or dilution of the psychological sense of community is the most destructive dynamic in the lives of people in our society."Its development and maintenance is "the key stone value" for a community psychology (p. x). He applied the term community to localities, community institutions, families, street gangs, friends, neighbors, religious and fraternal bodies, and even national professional organizations (pp. 131, 153).
Look back at the quotes at the beginning of this section. Do you think those people all felt a sense of community?


Ferdinand T￶nnies was a German sociologist who lived from 1855 to 1936. This was a period of rapid and extensive social change as Western countries became increasingly urban, industrial, and technological. T￶nnies was fascinated with the question of how those societal-level changes impacted human relationships, particularly at the community level. T￶nnies (1887/1988) proposed a famous distinction between Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft relationships. Gemeinschaft is often translated as "community."It refers to relationships that are multidimensional and are valued in their own right, not just as a means to an end. When you do something for someone or spend time with someone solely because you value that person and your relationship with him or her, which is a Gemeinschaft relationship. Small towns are often described as being dominated by Gemeinschaft relationships. The members of the communities know each other in many different roles and work to maintain those relationships. There is a shared sense of obligation to each other-not for any specific reason but because of the shared relationships.
Gesellschaft is often translated as "society" and refers to relationships that are based on a specific transaction. The relationship is instrumental in the sense that the participants view the relationship fundamentally as a means to an end, not as something that has value in its own right. This is a relationship you engage in solely because you expect to benefit in some way from the interaction, and the same is true for the other person. So, your relationships with your family and friends are Gemeinschaft relationships, while your relationship with the guy who runs the register at the grocery store where you shop is a Gesellschaft relationship.
T￶nnies recognized that all our lives involve both types of relationships, but he believed that it is Gemeinschaft relationships that define communities. And an amazing number of historians, social scientists, and philosophers have been agreeing with him ever since. Look again at Sarason's definition of a community as "a readily available, mutually supportive network of relationships on which one could depend" (Sarason, 1974, p. 1). He is essentially saying a community is a setting defined by Gemeinschaft relationships.
We do not mean to imply in this discussion that there is one, easily recognized definition of community. That is far from the truth. Discussion of these issues is complicated by the variety of meanings of the term community. Its emotional connotations grant it power as a metaphor but make it difficult to define for research. Community can refer to varying ecological levels-from microsystems to macrosystems. But that diversity of meaning is not necessarily bad. It allows for creative exploration of conceptions of community at multiple levels.

Types of Communities
Definitions of community in sociology and in community psychology distinguish between two meanings of the term: community as locality and community as a relational group (e.g., Bernard, 1973; Bess, Fisher, Sonn, & Bishop, 2002).

Locality-Based Community
This is the traditional conception of community. It includes city blocks, neighborhoods, small towns, cities, and rural regions. Interpersonal ties exist among community members (residents); they are based on geographic proximity, not necessarily choice. When residents of a locality share a strong sense of community, individuals often identify themselves by their locality, and friends are often neighbors. In many nations, political representation, public school districts, and other forms of social organization are delineated by locality.

Relational Community
These communities are defined by interpersonal relationships and a sense of community but are not limited by geography. Internet discussion groups are communities completely without geographic limits. Mutual help groups, student clubs, and religious congregations are defined by relational bonds.
Although relational communities may be based only on friendships or recreation (e.g., sports leagues, sororities), many are organizations bound by a common task or mission. Workplaces, religious congregations, community organizations, chambers of commerce, labor unions, and political parties are examples.
Locality-based and relational communities form a spectrum rather than a dichotomy. Many primarily relational communities are seated in a locality (e.g., universities, religious congregations). An Internet discussion group where the members have never actually met each other face-to-face anchors the purely relational pole of the continuum; a town or neighborhood represents the opposite locality-based pole. How do the communities discussed in the quotes at the beginning of this chapter vary along this continuum?

Levels of Communities

Communities exist at different ecological levels. As discussed in Chapter 1, these include:
? Microsystems (e.g., classrooms, mutual help groups)
? Organizations (e.g., workplaces, religious congregations, civic groups)
? Localities (e.g., city blocks, neighborhoods, cities, towns, rural areas)
? Macrosystems (e.g., the Filipino community, political parties, nations)

Moreover, communities are related across levels. Classrooms exist within a school, which often draws its population from a specific locality. Macrosystem economic and political forces influence workplaces, schools, community programs, and families. Improving community and individual life often involves change at multiple levels, even macrosystems.
If communities exist at different levels, what is the smallest group that can be usefully called a community? Could your immediate family or your network of friends be considered a community? Certainly, these have some of the psychological qualities of communities. However, we previously argued that for conceptual clarity, connections with families and friends should be considered social networks, not communities (Hill, 1996). We defined community as a larger grouping of individuals who may not know all the other members but who share a sense of mutual commitment. In this chapter, we exclude immediate families and immediate friendship networks from our discussion of communities as a way to focus our discussion.

Who Defines Communities?

Certainly, communities define themselves, but it is important to recognize that this may require a struggle and that external systems (e.g., government planners, political forces) may be involved. For example, Sonn and Fisher (1996) studied the sense of community among "Colored" South Africans, a racist category created by apartheid laws. Despite this artificial, externally-imposed categorization, "Colored" South Africans managed to build shared ideas and commitments that helped them resist racist oppression and that persisted even among those who immigrated to Australia. In Australia itself, discussion of the Aboriginal "community" has often been in terms defined by European Australians in government and academia. Thus, it is phrased in Western concepts and often fails to recognize diversity among indigenous Australian peoples (Dudgeon, Mallard, Oxenham, & Fielder, 2002; Lee, 2000). This also occurs in dominant views of Native Americans and other dispossessed groups. Finally, concepts of what it means to be Australian (or any other national identity) are socially constructed and challenged over time (Fisher & Sonn, 2002).
In a 2001 study of neighborhood boundaries for families and children, census-tract definitions of neighborhoods in Cleveland, Ohio, often did not match residents' own drawings of neighborhood maps. Measures of social indicators such as rates of crime and teen childbearing differed depending on whether census or resident maps were used. This would greatly affect both community research and community programs that use census data (Coulton, Korbin, Chan, & Su, 2001).
One interesting development in this area is the use of new technologies, such as GIS (geographic information system software), which can be used to allow community members to self-identify the geographic boundaries of their communities. These technologies may make it easier for researchers to identify member-defined local communities (Lohmann & McMurran, 2009).


Very important to community psychologists is the strength of bonding among community members, which Sarason (1974) termed the psychological sense of community. He defined it as

 the perception of similarity to others, an acknowledged interdependence with others, a willingness to maintain this interdependence by giving to or doing for others what one expects from them, the feeling that one is part of a larger dependable and stable structure (p. 157).

David McMillan and David Chavis (1986) reviewed research in sociology and social psychology on the sense of community and group cohesion. Their definition of sense of community resembled Sarason's:
a feeling that members have of belonging, a feeling that members matter to one another and to the group, and a shared faith that members' needs will be met through their commitment to be together.
(McMillan & Chavis, 1986, p. 9)

Four Elements of Sense of Community

What are the specific qualities of sense of community? McMillan and Chavis identified four elements: membership, influence, integration and fulfillment of needs, and shared emotional connection. These elements help translate the overarching theme of a sense of community, which characterizes Sarason's thinking, into measurable constructs for research and specific objectives for action. In their formulation, all four elements must be present to define a sense of community.
No one element is the root cause; all strengthen each other. Our description of these elements is based primarily on McMillan and Chavis (1986) and McMillan (1996). The elements are summarized in Table 6.1.
Think of a community to which you belong as you read about these four elements.

This is the sense among community members of personal investment in the community and of belonging to it (McMillan & Chavis, 1986, p. 9).
It has five attributes. The first attribute, boundaries, refers to the necessity of defining what includes members and excludes nonmembers. For a locality, this involves geographic boundaries; for a relational community, it may involve personal similarities or shared goals. Boundaries may be clearly or obscurely marked, and they may be rigid or permeable. They are necessary for the community to define itself. Ingroup-outgroup distinctions are pervasive across cultures (Brewer, 1997). Other qualities of sense of community depend on having boundaries.
T A B L E 6.1 Elements of the Psychological Sense of Community

Common symbols
Emotional safety
Personal investment
Sense of belonging
Identification with community
Mutual influence of community on individuals-and individuals on community
Integration and Fulfillment of Needs
Shared values
Satisfying needs
Exchanging resources
Shared Emotional Connection
Shared dramatic moments, celebrations, rituals

SOURCE: Based on McMillan and Chavis (1986) and McMillan (1996).
Common symbols help define boundaries, identifying members or territory. Examples include the use of Greek letters among campus sororities, colors and symbols among youth gangs and sports teams, religious imagery, university decals on automobiles, characteristic slang expressions and jargon, and national flags and anthems (Fisher & Sonn, 2002).
In a community with clear boundaries, members experience emotional safety. This can mean a sense of safety from crime in a neighborhood. More deeply, it can mean secure relationships for sharing feelings and concerns. Emotional safety in that sense requires mutual processes of self-disclosure and group acceptance (McMillan, 1996).
A member who feels safe is likely to make personal investment in the community. McMillan (1996) refers to the latter as "paying dues," although it is often not monetary. Investment indicates long-term commitment to a community, such as home ownership in a neighborhood, membership in a religious congregation, or devotion of time to a charity organization. It can also involve taking emotional risks for the group.
These acts deepen a member's sense of belonging and identification with the community. The individual is accepted by other community members and defines personal identity partly in terms of membership in the community. Individuals may identify with being a resident of a neighborhood, adherent of a religion, member of a profession or trade, student in a university, or member of an ethnic group.
The second element refers both to the power that members exercise over the group and to the reciprocal power that group dynamics exert on members. McMillan and Chavis (1986, pp. 11-12) based their discussion of influence in part on the group cohesiveness literature in social psychology.
Members are more attracted to a group in which they feel influential. The most influential members in the group are often those to whom the needs and values of others matter most. Those who seek to dominate or exercise power too strongly are often isolated. The more cohesive the group, the greater is its pressure for conformity. However, this is rooted in the shared commitments of each individual to the group, not simply imposed on the individual. (It does, however, indicate a disadvantage of a strong positive sense of community that we will discuss later.) Thus, the individual influences the wider group or community, and that community influences the views and actions of the person.
Integration and Fulfillment of Needs
 While influence concerns vertical relations between individuals and the overall community, integration concerns horizontal relations among members. Integration has two aspects: shared values and exchange of resources. Shared values are ideals that can be pursued through community involvement: e.g., worship in a religious community, improving educational quality may be the shared value of a parent-school group.
The second concept refers to satisfying needs and exchanging resources among community members. McMillan (1996) referred to this as a "community economy." Individuals participate in communities in part because their individual needs are met there. Needs may be physical (e.g., for safety) or psychosocial (e.g., for emotional support, socializing, or exercising leadership). Integration is similar to interdependence and cycling of resources in Kelly's ecological perspective (see Chapter 5).
Shared Emotional Connection McMillan and Chavis considered this the "definitive element for true community"(1986, p. 14). It involves a "spiritual bond"-not necessarily religious-transcendent, and not easily defined, yet recognizable to those who share it. Members of a community may recognize a shared bond through behavior, speech, or other cues. However, the bond itself is deeper, not merely a matter of behavior. Shared emotional connection is strengthened through important community experiences, such as celebrations, shared rituals, honoring members, and shared stories (Berkowitz, 1996; McMillan, 1996; Rappaport, 2000).

Questions and Issues for Defining Sense of Community

In community psychology, sense of community has been defined and used in a diversity of ways, raising a number of questions and issues. These illustrate the strengths and limitations of the concept.
Elements of Sense of Community Are the four McMillan-Chavis elements the best way of describing the basic elements of sense of community? Empirical research has established the validity and importance of the overall sense of community construct, but findings have been inconsistent concerning the independence and validity of the four McMillan-Chavis elements. Some studies have generally confirmed them (Bateman, 2002; Obst & White, 2004) or validated them but also found additional dimensions (Obst, Zinekiewicz, & Smith, 2002). Some researchers found the four elements so highly inter correlated that they focused only on the overall construct of sense of community (Mahan, Garrard, Lewis, & Newbrough, 2002). Other studies found different dimensions of sense of community (Chipuer & Pretty, 1999; Hughey, Speer, & Peterson, 1999; Long & Perkins, 2003).
These inconsistencies may be due in part to problems in the existing measures of sense of community. Existing quantitative scales often lack the richness of examples found in the original Sarason and McMillan-Chavis descriptions (Bess et al., 2002; Chipuer & Pretty, 1999; McMillan, personal communication, August 25, 2003). Qualitative research methods can be useful but also have limitations (Brodsky, Loomis, & Marx, 2002; Rapley & Pretty, 1999).
Perhaps sense of community is contextual, varying in different cultures and communities. If that is true, the McMillan-Chavis model (or any other single framework) might describe the basic elements in some communities, but other communities would require different conceptualizations. Indeed, that is one way to interpret some of the findings just discussed. Moreover, sense of community seems contextual to many community psychologists (Hill, 1996; Bess et al., 2002). For instance, Hughey, Speer, and Peterson (1999) found new dimensions of sense of community among members of locality-based organizations in a U.S. city. New conceptual frameworks may be especially needed in cultures markedly different from the Western ones-for example, among Australian Aboriginal groups (Bishop, Coakes, & D'Rozario, 2002; Dudgeon et al., 2002).
A related question: Is sense of community primarily a cognitive-emotional construct or does it includes such related behaviors as acts of neighboring and citizen participation in decision making? The idea of "sense"of community refers to thinking and emotions: e.g., a feeling of belongingness, of emotional safety, a shared emotional connection. Should measures of sense of community include items concerning those actions (as in Chavis, Hogge, McMillan, & Wandersman, 1986)? Or are they separate concepts to be measured separately (Perkins & Long, 2002)? For our introductory purposes, we will discuss the behaviors of neighboring and citizen participation as separate concepts. However, note that McMillan argues that the cognitions, emotions, and actions of sense of community cannot be separated (personal communication, August 25, 2003).
Levels of Sense of Community
Is sense of community simply in the eye of the beholder-the individual's perception of the wider community? Or is it a characteristic of a community as a whole? Most studies have measured sense of community with questionnaires for individuals-analyzed at the individual level. However, in samples of high school and university students, Lounsbury, Loveland, and Gibson (2003) found that personality variables (e.g., extraversion, agreeableness) accounted for up to 25% of the variance in how much sense of community students perceived in their school or college. In contrast, a study of residential blocks in urban neighborhoods found substantial agreement among residents of each block in their reports of sense of community there as well as significant differences in sense of community between blocks (Perkins & Long, 2002). These shared perceptions of community seem to go beyond individual personality differences.
Both personal and neighborhood factors contribute to perceptions of sense of community (Long & Perkins, 2003). It also seems likely that their relative importance would vary in different contexts. For example, shared sense of community may develop more strongly in residential neighborhoods where individuals may remain for a longer time than in high school or college. The residential street blocks studied by Perkins and Long, although urban, also may be smaller communities than a university.
Sense of community is a rich concept. At this point in its development, it is probably better to study it in a variety of ways: with the McMillan-Chavis model and other frameworks, at individual and community levels, with qualitative and quantitative methods, while remaining sensitive to contextual differences.

Concepts Related to Sense of Community

Sense of community is conceptualized as the affective component of our relationship with our communities. But that affective component is related to and perhaps built on specific behaviors and connections. Some of these concepts include neighboring, place attachment, citizen participation, and social support.
Neighboring Perkins and Long (2002, p. 295) define this as informal contacts and assistance among neighbors. In their view, it involves specific behaviors, while sense of community is strongly emotional and cognitive. It also refers to personal interaction among neighbors, not to participation in neighborhood associations. For instance, in a study of neighboring, Unger and Wandersman (1983, p. 295) asked residents of city blocks, How many of the people on this block would you:
? Know by name?
? Feel comfortable asking to borrow some food or a tool?
? Feel comfortable asking to watch your house while you are away?
? Feel comfortable asking for a ride when your car is not working?
Neighboring often occurs between persons who are not close friends, but acquainted sufficiently to pass on information and news, recognize mutual interests as neighbors, and provide limited assistance. These contribute to integration and fulfillment of needs. But they can occur to some extent even in neighborhoods with little sense of community and between neighbors who feel little connection to the wider community. Neighboring thus overlaps with sense of community but can be understood as distinct from it (Prezza, Amici, Roberti, & Tedeschi, 2001).
Place Attachment
Seldom studied by community psychologists but important for locality-based communities, this refers to emotional bonding to a particular physical environment and usually to the social ties one has there (Perkins & Long, 2002, pp. 296-297). Environments may vary in scale: a room, a building, a street corner's public space, a neighborhood or college campus, or a hometown or region. A research team's meeting room described by Brodsky et al. (2004) is also an example of the importance of place. Neighborhood sense of community is anchored in places there. Even sense of community for an ethnic or national group is often related to a geographic place as well as a society or culture (e.g., Sonn, 2002). These remarks by a geographer express the emotional and social power of places:
Our lives are full of events that take place, in place.ナPlaces are socially constructed; at the same time they have a physicality and an ecological historyナ. Places are charged with energy; they are full of stories that anchor the memories that shape our individual and collective identities. (Flad, 2003)
Citizen Participation
As we discussed in Chapter 1, this is having a voice and influence in community decision making. It involves community decisions, not simply community service. Sense of community is a strong predictor of citizen participation in neighborhood associations (Perkins & Long, 2002; Saegert & Winkel, 2004; Wandersman & Florin, 2000). However, citizens may participate in community decisions even if they do not share a strong positive sense of community, so citizen participation can be considered distinct from sense of community. We will discuss citizen participation in detail in Chapter 11.
Social Support
This is help provided by others to promote coping with stress. Social support and sense of community overlap but also differ. Certainly, a group with a strong sense of community will provide social support; this is one aspect of integration and fulfillment of needs. However, the community in which one feels a sense of belongingness may be much larger and less intimate than the immediate network of persons who provide support for coping with a specific stressor. Also, sense of community is not solely a resource for coping but also related to other important processes, including citizen participation. In Chapter 8, we will discuss social support in detail.
Mediating Structures
Some groups and organizations connect individuals or smaller groups with a larger organization, locality, or society. Joining them provides a sense of community for the individual and a practical way to participate in the larger community or society. These intermediate communities link differing ecological levels and are called mediating structures(Berger & Neuhaus, 1977). For example, parent-teacher associations, civic clubs, political advocacy groups, and neighborhood associations all offer ways to become involved in wider communities and can give collective voice to their members' views about community issues. They mediate between individuals and the wider community. In a university, student clubs, residence hall organizations, and student governments are mediating structures.

So, what good is a sense of community? Why is it important? Certainly, social scientists have long argued that strong communities are essential for well functioning societies. Durkheim (1893/1933) expressed the dominant view when he stated that it is because of our membership in communities that we adhere to social norms. This is the belief that our conscience lies in our bonds to other people. If community membership means nothing to us, then community norms and sanctions have no influence over our behavior.
Individuals also seem to benefit from strong communities. Research has demonstrated repeatedly that a positive psychological sense of community is correlated with a number of positive outcomes for individuals. A positive sense of community has been shown to correlate with adolescent identity formation (Pretty, 2002; Pretty, Andrews, & Collett, 1994, Pretty et al., 1996), individual well-being, mental health, recovery from substance abuse (e.g., Farrell, Aubry, & Coulombe, 2004; Ferrari et al., 2002; Pretty et al., 1996; Prezza et al., 2001), and neighboring (e.g., Farrell et al., 2004; Garcia et al., 1999; Perkins & Long, 2002; Prezza et al., 2001).
Sense of community has also been linked with positive outcomes for communities, such as members believing that working with others to take community action can be effective (e.g., Perkins & Long, 2002; Peterson & Reid, 2003; Speer, 2000), and participation in neighborhood groups and religious institutions (e.g., Brodsky, O'Campo, & Aronson, 1999; Hughey et al., 1999; Perkins & Long, 2002). Finally, some correlates of a positive sense of community have national implications, such as voter participation (Brodsky et al., 1999; Davidson & Cotter, 1989, 1993; Xu, Perkins, & Chow, 2010). These positive outcomes for communities and societies are often discussed in terms of a concept related to sense of community: social capital.

Social Capital

If the crime rate in my neighborhood is lowered by neighbors keeping an eye on one another's homes, I benefit even if I personally spend most of my time on the road and never even nod to another resident on the street. (Putnam, 2000, p. 20)

In this quote, the political scientist Robert Putman is referring to the concept of social capital. This concept was first developed by the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, who originally used it to explain class-related differences in children's educational outcomes (Bourdieu, 1998). Bourdieu's point was that children of the upper class in France did not just depend on their education to succeed, but they also had access, through their parents, to an extended array of powerful social networks. For example, when they were looking for a job or starting a business, there was a wide group of people, some of whom they may have never met, who could be counted on to help them. A person may have significant social capital even if he or she does not personally own a large amount of economic capital (monetary wealth).
James Coleman took Bourdieu's concept and extended it to include the idea that it was not just the members of the upper class who benefitted from social capital (Coleman & Hoffer, 1987; Field, 2003). His research on educational attainment of children living in poverty in 1960s America found that children who attended Catholic schools had better educational outcomes than their counterparts in public schools. Coleman attributed this to school and community norms that encouraged involvement in school, and he theorized that those norms, along with the relationships that developed in those schools, were a form of social capital. This difference in educational attainment was particularly striking for those children coming from the most economically disadvantaged families. In short, he concluded that the availability of social capital was particularly important for children with very limited access to economic capital.
(It should be noted that this research was done in the 1960s. Research on public vs. private school outcomes in 21st-century America is much less clear-cut.)
Bourdieu and Coleman saw social capital as being fostered and developed through societal structures (class or schools), but each discussed the benefits of social capital primarily in terms of individuals. Robert Putman further extended the concept by explicitly discussing social capital as a community construct (Field, 2003; Putman, 2000). As is clear in the quote at the beginning of this section, Putman believes that social capital varies by communities (and societies); some have a lot of social capital and some have very little. And when communities have a great deal of social capital, their members benefit. Putman said:
by'social capital' I mean features of social life-networks, norms and trust-that enable participants to act together more effectively to pursue shared objectives. (Putman, 1996, p. 56)
Putnam is especially concerned with face-to-face associations that strengthen relationships and communication about community life. This may be formal-through community organizations-or informal-through friendships, neighboring, and other social contacts. Both types of association increase social capital (Putnam, 2000).
Pamela Paxton (1999) has attempted to operationalize this definition by suggesting that social capital includes two components: objective associations (an observable network structure that links individuals) and a positive subjective/ emotional tiecharacterized by reciprocity and trust. Paxton summarizes this definition by saying that social capital is built through associations (an objective component) and trust (a subjective component). We will return to Paxton's research later in this section.

Bonding and Bridging
This is a key distinction (Putnam, 2000, pp. 22-23).
Bonding refers to creating and maintaining strong social-emotional ties-usually in groups of similar persons that provide belongingness, emotional support, and mutual commitment. These internal ties underlie a sense of community and shared identity. Their limitations are often a lack of diversity of members or views and an exclusion of outsiders.
By contrast, bridging refers to creating and maintaining links between groups or communities. Bridging ties reach out to a broader set of persons than bonding and involve links among people whose life experiences may be very different. Bridging ties are especially useful when diverse groups face a common challenge and need to work together.
Bridging relationships often have what Granovetter (1973) termed the strength of weak ties. These are relationships between persons who are not close friends but sufficiently acquainted to recognize mutual interests, pass on information about the community, and act together when needed. A person may bridge by cultivating relationships with people in two different factions, groups, or communities. A community coalition to promote positive youth development may bridge by bringing together persons from diverse parts of the locality, such as schools, religious congregations, police, recreation groups, diverse racial or ethnic communities, and youth themselves. Bridging links can also help a group obtain access to key decision-makers in a locality in order to make their concerns heard (Bond & Keys, 1993; Hughey & Speer, 2002). Bonding ties alone seldom accomplish these objectives.
Daniel Kent was working specifically to develop bonding and bridging relationships when he formed Senior Connects, a youth-run nonprofit organization that sent high school and college students into assisted living programs to help elderly residents get connected to the Internet. One of his first pupils, Helen Lenke, said:

Now we don't have to sit around waiting for the undertaker. [Daniel] and his aids were patient, respectful, kind and successful in teaching us with a simple formula of his own to write e-mails, play poker, bridge, watch the news, search for bargains on the Internet, find pictures of my family receiving honors as professors of law and medicine and so much more. (Neilsen, n.d.) See Box 6.1 to read more about Daniel and his organization.
The strengths of bridging links are their reach or breadth of contacts, access to a diversity of views and resources, and ability to support wider community collaboration. However, they seldom offer the sense of community that occurs in bonding groups. Both serve to strengthen social capital. Some relationships or groups can have elements of both. For example, a community coalition that brings together persons across lines of social class and race yet builds a sense of shared community is both bridging and bonding.

B o x 6.1 Community Psychology in Action
Daniel Kent and Net Literacy
Net Literacy is a student-founded nonprofit where high school and college students comprise 50% of the board of directors and are responsible for all the actual volunteering services. Twenty-five hundred student volunteers have provided over 200,000 hours of community service, have increased access to over 150,000 Americans, donate $4,500 to schools and nonprofits each year, and have been recognized by two American presidents.
Senior Connects is one of Net Literacy's five core programs. It is an intergenerational program where student volunteers teach senior citizens computer and Internet skills in senior centers, community centers, and independent living facilities. Senior Connects believes that highly motivated youths can make a difference in the communities where they reside.
Friendly high school student volunteers teach senior citizens, many of which are technophobic and have had negative experiences trying to learn computer and Internet skills.

The "magic" developed by the volunteers include developing senior-friendly training manuals that contain large fonts, few technical terms, and many descriptive pictures.
Students spend a portion of each of the 8-12 training sessions to learn each senior citizen's broadband value proposition-or what makes it important and compelling for each senior to be able to enjoy the full richness that broadband offers. Some seniors are interested in being able to e-mail friends and family, others pursue their hobbies online, and others appreciate access to news, health care information, and online entertainment. The students teach seniors on a one-to-one basis rather than a one-to-many basis and build relationships with the senior citizens that they are helping. Some seniors "adopt" the student volunteers, and as the seniors progress through the digital divide, the students cross the intergenerational divide. More about the Senior Connects program is at and more about Net Literacy is at

Social capital can result in important benefits at multiple ecological levels, and unfortunately, it is a form of capital that is often overlooked. Some of the clearest examples of the benefits of social capital involve individuals and families, but even these are often discounted or not even recognized. For example, when discussing the economic difficulties faced by residents of small, rural towns in northeastern New Mexico, and particularly the problems with finding jobs in those communities, prominent politicians have suggested that those people who could not find jobs in their hometowns should leave and move to where there are jobs. It has even been suggested that it was time to "let the small towns of northern New Mexico die."This is a perfect example of the ways in which the importance of social capital can be ignored. Yes, those people could move to Albuquerque (the largest city in the state) to find jobs, increasing their income (economic capital). But what about the loss in social capital such a move would bring? Suppose you are a single mother with two children. If you get a job in your hometown, the chances are you will have family members and friends who can help with child care. But if you move 200 miles away for that job, you will need to pay for day care, resulting in a serious decrease in the amount of your income you will have available for other expenses. Yes, you may earn more in the city, but the loss of social capital might actually result in a decrease in quality of life for you and your children.
Social capital also results in benefits at the community level, as is clear in the quote from Putman at the beginning of this section. Let us go back to our New Mexico example. Many of the small towns of northern New Mexico are particularly beautiful communities in the Rocky Mountains. But New Mexico is rich in such ecological resources as oil, gas, and minerals and some of these communities are under strong economic and political pressure to allow development of those resources. It takes a great deal of social capital for a small, poor community to insist on responsible development of these resources. If the members of your community are moving to urban centers to find jobs, the town's social capital is decreased, and the ability of the community to play a positive, strong role in the development of the region is lessened.
Finally, social capital has extremely important benefits at the level of societies and nations. There are many researchers and social commentators, such as Putman, who believe that social capital is fundamental to the maintenance of a democracy. Pamela Paxton, who we mentioned earlier in this section, has done research that supports this hypothesis. She analyzed two international data sets -one including 41 countries and one including 101 countries. She concluded that there is a reciprocal relationship between social capital and democracy.
Countries with higher levels of democracy generated more associations and higher levels of generalized trust over time. The reciprocal relationship is demonstrated by the finding that high numbers of associations and levels of trust in a country supported the development of a democratic system of government (Paxton, 2002).
Can you see how both those relationships would hold true? Countries with totalitarian governments but a relatively large number of associations actually had spaces and relationships that allowed for discussion of and planning for political change. People who wanted to change those governments had the opportunity to meet with others who felt the same way. In the other relationship, democratic governments tend to support the development and maintenance of voluntary organizations-in many cases, actually providing funding for those organizations.
And democratic governments also tend to foster generalized trust among their citizens (Paxton, 2002).
Community Psychology and Social Capital Community psychologists have begun to adopt the concept of social capital. For example, Perkins and Long (2002) propose a psychological definition of neighborhood social capital composed of four elements: sense of community, neighboring, citizen participation (covered earlier in this chapter), and sense of collective efficacy (the belief that neighbors acting together can improve community life). They analyzed data from a study of New York City neighborhoods, finding these four elements to be generally interrelated. Sense of community was significantly related to all three other factors.
One concern with this concept is that an emphasis on local social capital (or local sense of community) can lead to underestimating the importance of macro system factors. Corporate decisions, losses of federal funding for effective programs such as Head Start, and other macro system forces do affect community life. Strengthening local social capital is certainly important for addressing community problems. But in many communities, local resources cannot do it all. Broader social change is also important to address social problems and injustices.


It should be clear by now that the role communities play in our lives is a complex one. It is tempting to view the concept of community and, in particular, sense of community in a simplistic, romanticized way. In reality, communities overlap, are sometimes in conflict, and may actually have negative impacts for their members and societies. In this section, we will discuss some of those complex realities.
Strong communities do not come without their costs. If you think back to McMillan and Chavis' four elements of sense of community, these costs become obvious. A sense of community involves a personal investment, which almost always involves some kind of obligation. Your communities expect things from you, and those community obligations often "cost" you personal resources, such as your time. Membership in a community means you are acknowledging that a community can influence your behavior, your beliefs, and even your personal identity. While social scientists may have emphasized the positive aspects of community, these costs have not been ignored. It is understood that communities can sometimes painfully restrict individual development and freedoms. Can you think of a time in your life when you felt you had to distance yourself from a community for your own well-being?
I don't go out here. I don't start things with people. I don't bother people. I go home, I close my door, I lock my door, I stay in my house.
Don't bother me and I won't bother you. Don't bother my kids, I won't bother you. (Brodsky, 1996, p. 357)
What is this woman talking about? Does it have anything to do with sense of community? So far, we have discussed sense of community in positive terms.
Sense of community exists when individuals feel positively about their communities. But does individual perception of sense of community vary only from neutral to highly positive or can it be negative? Psychological sense of community is negative when a person feels strongly negative about the wider community (Brodsky, Loomis, & Marx, 2002). Thus the person may resist community involvement, concluding it will be harmful.
The quote is from a study conducted by Anne Brodsky (1996) with 10 resilient single mothers who were living and raising daughters in an urban U.S. neighborhood with high rates of crime and violence. These women were nominated as especially resilient, effective mothers by two sources in their daughters' elementary schools. All were parenting at least one child and working full-time or part-time. Some were also pursuing education or taking care of other family members. Their views of their neighborhood in general were decidedly negative.
They drew a strong boundary between family and neighborhood:
And when you come into my house it's totally differentナ.It's my worldナ. when you close that door, leave that world out there.
(Brodsky, 1996, p. 351)
Physical and emotional safety, a key characteristic of sense of community in the McMillan-Chavis model, seldom existed in their neighborhood. These mothers also shared few values with many others in the neighborhood. The neighborhood did have some positive resources for parents, and these women were involved in some of them (e.g., resident council, school), especially where involvement directly benefitted their children. But this involvement did not alter their views of the neighborhood at large. Their strength as persons and mothers involved resistance to neighborhood forces, not sense of community (Brodsky, 1996).
The adaptive value of a negative psychological sense of community is not limited to this sample (Brodsky, Loomis, & Marx, 2002). For example, consider a community with limited acceptance of diversity, where conformity pressures are strong. Persons who are not accepted there may strengthen their well-being by distancing themselves from the community and seeking settings where they are accepted.
Brodsky's findings thus raise the question: Is a strongly positive sense of community always "good for you"? Does it always promote individual wellbeing or resilience under stress? Community psychologists and others may romanticize the idea of sense of community. In many circumstances, it is true that a strongly positive sense of community benefits the individual. But it is also clear from Brodsky's findings that sometimes a negative psychological sense of community better promotes well-being.
Even social capital is not always a completely "good" thing. Putman talked about the fact that inner-city gangs possess social capital, but the ways in which they choose to use that social capital are not beneficial to the rest of us (Putman, 2000). And in his original writings on social capital, Bourdieu (1972/1977) was explicitly talking about the ways in which social capital supported the maintenance of class differences. There is a great deal of evidence supporting the idea that it is easiest to build social capital in groups that are homogenous in nature.
We tend to develop associations with-and trust people more-when they are like us. Paxton has done research demonstrating that counties with higher levels of connected associations (whose members tend to belong to more than one organization) have higher levels of generalized trust than do countries with high levels of isolated associations (whose members tend to belong to only that one organization) (Paxton, 2007). Thus, social capital at the national level cans actually be negatively affected by a large number of associations if those associations are largely isolated. This is true even though those associations might display high levels of social capital within themselves. It just does not translate
to the national level.

Multiple Communities in a Person's Life
Individuals belong to many communities (Hunter & Riger, 1986). These multiple memberships can play a role in strengthening identity. We form multiple identities as members of multiple communities, such as student, employee, family member, and neighbor. Sometimes, these multiple commitments compete for our time and energy or conflict in important ways. A student may experience a sense of belonging to the college in which she is enrolled and to her hometown or neighborhood, with friends in both, yet neither of these communities may appreciate her loyalty to the other. Individual adult life is often filled with multiple identities in multiple communities and the balancing of commitments among them. On the other hand, some communities in our lives revitalize us, providing resources and energy for involvement in other communities. Spiritual and mutual help communities can have this effect but so can an exercise class or musical group. The key to understanding multiple community membership is the role of each community in a person's life. Individuals choose how committed they are to the various communities in their lives (Hunter & Riger, 1986). Community psychology is only beginning to study how these multiple communities interact (Brodsky et al., 2002).
Our membership in communities changes continually over our lives, as does the relative importance of the communities to which we belong. As we grow older, we may see ourselves making more conscious choices about our community connections. For example, we may actively decide to distance ourselves from a community that has been important to us but which no longer feels supportive. Young adults who are lesbian or gay may find themselves choosing to distance themselves from their childhood neighborhood communities if those communities do not support their sexual orientation. There may even be times during our lives when we do not feel a need for a sense of community and do not feel particularly engaged with any community in our life-instead focusing on family relationships. These changes in community relationships and in our need for sense of community are another area that has not received significant attention in the research to date.

Conflict and Change Within a Community
The psychological sense of community has a virtuous sound, stimulating as it does visions of togetherness and cooperation uncluttered by conflict, controversy, and divisiveness. Such visions are hard to resist, but they must be resisted because they are illusory (Sarason, 1974, p. 11).
Because members of a community also participate in other communities and have multiple identities, relationships between communities can be complex and interacting. Often, these interacting communities reflect the diversity of the people involved. So, you may identify yourself as a member of your college community and also as a member of the community of gay students or biology majors (or both) at your college. This identification as gay or as a biologist probably extends beyond your college to include communities in your town or state or even national communities. This diversity can be strength for a community but only if it is recognized and valued (Trickett, 1996).
An emphasis on the similarities without attending to the differences in a community is what Wiesenfeld (1996) termed the myth of "we" in a community.
Romanticizing sense of community, without recognizing diversity within a community, supports the myth of "we."
An example of the myth of "we" occurred among residents of four southeastern U.S. cities in response to Hurricane Hugo (Kaniasty & Norris, 1995).
After the hurricane, these communities seemed to unite to help each other.
Overall, citizens who suffered greater loss and personal harm received greater amounts of social support from others. A sense of "we" did exist within these communities. However, some groups received less support, especially if they suffered greater harm: African-Americans, persons with less education, and unmarried persons. In action, the sense of "we" did not include the entire community.
Similar patterns have occurred following other disasters in the United States (Kaniasty & Norris, 1995).
Relationships among diverse communities can create conflict. But that is where constructive community change often begins (Wiesenfeld, 1996). For example, the societal transformations of the civil rights movement and the women's movement in the United States began with some communities, especially African Americans and women, attempting to change their local communities and the nation as a whole.
Without attention to these complex interrelationships among communities, and the conflict and change that can result, sense of community can become a static concept, supporting an unjust status quo instead of showing the way to constructive social change (see Fisher & Sonn, 2002; Rudkin, 2003). Ignoring conflict, stifling dissent, or excluding specific groups eventually undermines a community, while constructive resolution of conflict can strengthen it. A community has changed, is changing, and will change again. (Sarason, 1974, p. 131)
Change is inevitable for communities. Sense of community is ultimately a process. For instance, Loomis, Dockett, and Brodsky (2004) found that it rose among students at one university in response to an external threat and then subsided later. Fisher and Sonn (2002) thoughtfully discuss conflict and change regarding what it means to be an Australian. Similar issues arise in communities at many levels: What does it mean to be a member of this community? How does that reflect the diversity within this community? How do we respond to the challenges of ongoing change?
A danger of strengthening sense of community is the potential that it may increase conflict between communities, especially if they encourage prejudice or hostility toward others. Sense of community may be strong in communities that scapegoat outsiders or in privileged communities that deny problems of poverty and injustice or in groups whose values are repugnant to many others, such as neo-Nazi or vigilante groups or youth gangs (McMillan & Chavis, 1986, p. 20; Sarason, 1974). Exclusion can be extremely painful when the person involved greatly values the community from which he or she is excluded. Recently, I (Jean) cut my waist-length hair extremely short. One of my students who is Din← (a member of the Navajo nation) was very taken aback. He told me that when he was a teenager, he had cut his hair, and as a result, some very important members of his community declared that he was "dead" to them. Even 20 years later, this feeling of exclusion from a community that he very much valued was still easily triggered by the sight of my newly cut hair.
These issues concern the relationships between communities. Communities influence other communities, are influenced by them, and are influenced by macrosystems (Hughey & Speer, 2002; Hunter & Riger, 1986). However, those complex relationships are not explicitly addressed in the four McMillan Chavis elements of sense of community, which focus on the internal dynamics of a community. McMillan and Chavis (1986) concluded with a call for building "free, open, accepting "communities" based on faith, hope, and tolerance "and using sense of community"as a tool for fostering understanding and cooperation" (p. 20). Their model has been used to pursue those important values.
However, because it focuses on the internal dynamics of communities, it does not provide explicit conceptual guidance for that pursuit.
For a practical example of these issues, imagine that you are approached for help with community development by a neighborhood organization whose members are all European Americans. You soon learn that their underlying aim is to exclude persons of color (especially African Americans and Latinos/as) from moving into their neighborhood. Unless those exclusionary aims are changed, strengthening sense of community within the neighborhood would have racist effects (Chavis, personal communication, October 1987). This dilemma reflects a potential conflict between core values of community psychology: sense of community in one neighborhood versus social justice and respect for human diversity (and, ultimately, individual wellness of all). An ethical response would be to decline to work with the organization unless it genuinely renounced its exclusionary aims.
The issues that we have just discussed involve balancing sense of community as a value with other values. Newbrough (1995) argued that traditional concepts of community do not address issues of justice and equality. He proposed a concept of the just community, whose members would seek to balance values of community, individual liberty, and equality (social justice)-within the community and in relations with the wider world. His view raises such questions as:
How much concern does a community have for other communities? For its own diverse sub communities and individual members? How is that concern expressed in action?


Remember Ferdinand T￶nnies, the German sociologist who developed the concepts of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft relationships? T￶nnies lived during a time of unprecedented change in Western societies. He believed that preindustrial agrarian towns and villages were characterized by Gemeinschaft relationships, resulting in strong communities. He also believed that modern Western society, characterized by isolating urban settings and increasingly specialized employment, not only promoted Gesellschaft relationships but actively undermined Gemeinschaft relations. His view was an early statement of the theme of loss of community.
This theme has been prominent in art, literature, film, and social criticism ever since. Examples of this theme are too numerous to document here but include the development of the idea of anomie by ￉mile Durkhm in 1893 and Robert Nisbet's book The Quest for Community in 1953. These ideas build on T￶nnies' beliefs that modern, industrialized society resulted in an increased sense of alienation among individuals.
In the book Bowling Alone (2000), Robert Putnam marshaled broad evidence to argue that community ties and civic engagement in the United States have been steadily declining for 30-40 years. His research found declines in involvement in civic associations, political participation, religious congregations, charitable giving, and even trust in fellow citizens. Public opinion polls have found that individuals' sense of alienation from their communities is at the highest level sever measured, while reported trust in others is at the lowest levels ever measured. Active involvement in local community organizations has also steadily declined over the last 30 years. These declines are especially serious for organizations that provide volunteer services for youth development and persons in need because government services for these populations also are being slashed. Informal neighboring and social visiting also are declining, although not as sharply as other indicators. Many forms of citizen participation in government have weakened over 30 years: voting, signing petitions, writing letters to the editor, and volunteering for a political party or campaign (Berkowitz, 1996; Putnam, 2000).
Putnam also attempted to explain the causes of this decline. He investigated numerous potential causal factors, including generational differences in civic engagement, the rise of television, suburban sprawl and commuting, and increased work time and strain. While he found evidence that all these factors contributed to his perceived decline, he placed particular emphasis on television as the main culprit.
The evidence that Putnam cited is not the whole picture. Many researchers disagree with Putman's conclusions regarding a decrease in civic engagement. For instance, Paxton analyzed some of the same data as Putman (from the General Social Surveys) but found little indication of a change in social capital in the United States between 1975 and 1994. She found that numbers of memberships in various associations remained stable, time socializing with neighbors decreased slightly, and time socializing with friends increased slightly (Paxton, 1999). She agreed with Putman that there was evidence of a decline in trust toward both individuals and institutions, but she found that levels of trust varied widely by year. These variations appeared to correlate with national events. For example, trust in religious organizations went down the year that a prominent religious leader (television evangelist Jim Bakker) was publicly involved in a sex scandal. Likewise, trust in political institutions decreased during the Watergate scandal. Taken together, these effects looked like an overall decline in trust, but Paxton argues that they would be more accurately interpreted as temporary responses to specific events.
Other data also point to high levels of civic engagement. In the United States, participation in mutual help groups has increased strongly (Kessler, Mickelson, & Zhao, 1997). Two out of every five U.S. adults are involved in a small group that provides caring for its members, a category that includes not only mutual help but also religious study and prayer groups (Wuthnow, 1994).
In 2009, 26.8% of adults in the United States did some sort of volunteer work, a slight increase over the previous year (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2010).
Community service is growing among youth and retirees. Youth are increasingly involved in citizen advocacy. "E-activism", using online resources to engage citizens for action, is growing rapidly, often with youthful leadership (Kamenetz, 2005). In 2008, 61.8% of eligible voters participated in the U.S. presidential election, continuing a trend of increasing voter participation for the last three presidential elections (McDonald, 2010, 2008a, 2008b).
Other researchers have argued that Putman's conclusions might be unique to the United States. For example, declines in organization membership in Britain were found to vary widely by types of organization. While evidence suggested large declines in women's organizations, this was balanced by increases in membership among environmental organizations (Hall, 1999). Another study of time use in Great Britain found that parents in the late 1990s spent more time with their children than they did in the 1960s and more time socializing and more time playing sports with others than they had in previous decades (Gershuney & Fisher, 1999).
Even when we can point to demonstrable changes in community, social scientists are far from unanimous in the view that these changes represent an invariable decline. Durkheim (and others) discussed the role of social regulation and integration in insulating individuals from anomie. He felt that complex industrialized societies needed to develop new ways of promoting regulation and integration, not that they were incapable of it. He hypothesized the need for a collective consciousness to hold societies together. The sociologist Travis Hirschi (1969) also discussed the role of integration and regulation in healthy human development and, like Durkheim, did not feel that these tasks were beyond the capabilities of modern communities.
If these ideas of regulation, integration, and bonding seem to reflect McMillan and Chavisz' four elements of sense of community, you are right. We hope that throughout this chapter we have given multiple examples of these elements being present in diverse communities in modern society. Next, we will discuss how we can use the information in this chapter to build strong communities.


One of the major points of this chapter is that in recent decades, we have become very conscious of the communities around us and how our actions can strengthen or weaken them. The information presented in this chapter has very clear implications regarding how we can construct strong communities. Once again, think about the four elements of sense of community proposed by McMillan and Chavis. If you want to build a strong community, you should ensure that the members define the community for themselves through the development of recognizable community boundaries. The members should develop a set of common symbols, celebrations, and narratives that describe and reflect the meaning they assign the community. The members should set norms that support a sense of personal safety and that ensure all members have a level of influence over the community.

The Physical and Natural Environments
In addition to the elements of sense of community, the ways in which we construct our physical environment can work to support or destroy community.
There are not many studies of changes in sense of community over time, but one of them demonstrates the negative effects of building a freeway through a community (Lohmann & McMurran, 2009). Sense of community was measured before and after the construction of a freeway through a Los Angeles suburb.
Residents in neighborhoods adjacent to the freeway reported a decrease in sense of community over time compared to the rest of the city. At least part of this decrease is probably related to the fourfold increase in noise levels in their neighborhoods after the freeway was built.
Architects have long understood that how we construct buildings has a direct effect on how the residents interact and on the development of sense of community. A clear example of this can be found in the history of public housing projects in the United States. Low-income public housing in the United States started after World War II. The initial projects were designed as groups of small housing units-sharing a common entry point. During the 1960s, new low-income housing was dominated by high-rise apartment buildings. This turned out to have serious negative effects for those communities.
Think about this in terms of neighboring. Neighboring develops because you see the same small group of people every day. Neighboring behaviors are negatively affected by high-rise apartment buildings. When people do not interact with each other, it is impossible for a sense of community to develop. People did not feel a sense of connection to the buildings they lived in, and they did not feel safe there. This lead to high levels of violence and vandalism, and some of these public housing projects, such as the Robert Taylor Homes in Chicago, became synonymous with urban decay in America (Bradford, 2001). In the1990s, public planners recognized their mistake and began to replace the high rise buildings with low-rise apartment buildings and single-family units. But even with all their problems, some residents did develop communities in these high rise public housing projects, and their displacement from the places that have been their homes for generations has been extremely difficult (Venkatesh, 2002).
Architecture and freeway construction are aspects of the "built" environment that can affect sense of community. In addition to the built environment, there is a growing body of evidence that connection to the natural world is an important element of communities. Children living in urban public housing were shown to engage in twice as much play, have twice as much access to adults, and to engage in more creative play when their outdoor spaces were rated as high in trees and grass versus low in trees and grass (Taylor, Wiley, Kuo, & Sullivan, 1998).
Research has also found lower levels of both property and violent crime in inner-city neighborhoods with relatively high levels of trees, grass, and other plants. This relationship held true even though residents were randomly assigned to the buildings and such factors as the size and occupancy rate of the buildings were controlled for. As the researchers concluded, "the greener a building's surroundings were, the fewer crimes reported"(Kuo & Sullivan, 2001).
Unfortunately, this connection between the natural environment and sense of community is not yet widely recognized and, like the history of high-rise apartment buildings, has been largely ignored. The second study cited here was conducted in the Ida B. Wells public housing project in Chicago. This project was built in the 1940s and initially consisted of low-rise buildings surrounded by trees and grass.
Over time, much of the green space surrounding many of the buildings was paved, and the trees died. At the time this research was conducted, some of the buildings had mature trees and grass around them, while others were surrounded by pavement. Even though the residents were randomly assigned to their apartments and were subject to the same levels of poverty and unemployment, there were about 50% fewer crimes reported in the buildings surrounded by trees compared to the buildings surrounded by pavement (Kuo & Sullivan, 2001).
This research hypothesized two major mechanisms through which the presence of plants and trees improves community functioning. The first is on the personal level. There is a growing body of evidence that interaction with green spaces reduces "mental fatigue," increases self-control, and decreases aggressive behavior. People feel calmer and more relaxed when they get to spend time around trees, shrubs, and grass. The other mechanism is at the community level. When people have access to common spaces with a high level of landscaping, they are more likely to spend time in those spaces. This then leads to an increase in neighboring practices and informal surveillance of the community (Kuo, Sullivan, Coley, & Brunson, 1998).
These are just two examples of ways in which the built environment and the natural environment can affect a sense of community-particularly in geographically based communities. But what about relational communities? We now turn to two extended examples of communities and community building: spiritual communities and online communities.

Spirituality, Religion, and Communities
The beauty of the religious and spiritual impulse, at its best, is the humility, person-affirmation, service-orientation, and mainstream culture-challenge which it can engender, along with a glimpse of the reality that we all are part of a larger whole, each of us (and each subgroup) valuable, necessary, and interdependent. (Maton, 2001, p. 611)
Spiritual communities play important roles in community life. Their holistic perspectives integrate spiritual, emotional, cognitive, and social aspects of personal life (Mattis & Jagers, 2001). Sarason (1993) noted that sense of community throughout history has often been tied to a sense of the transcendent-of spiritual experience beyond oneself and one's immediate world. He asked whether modern forms of community could be sustained without that sense of transcendence. Because of its holistic significance for human and community development, some assert that "spirituality is integral to community psychology as a human science" (Dokecki, Newbrough, & O'Gorman, 2001, p. 499).
In this section and throughout this book, we define spirituality inclusively as beliefs, practices, and communities associated with a personally meaningful sense of transcendence, beyond oneself and one's immediate world. This includes but is not limited to religious traditions worshipping a supernatural deity (Hill, 2000; Kloos & Moore, 2000b). While over 90% of U.S. poll respondents believe in God or a higher power, many of them do not associate themselves with religious institutions, and a sizable minority consider themselves spiritual but not religious (Hill, 2000; Pargament & Maton, 2000). Hill (2000, pp. 145-146) defined spirituality as a sense of connection to the human and natural worlds and awe at mysteries beyond our comprehension. Additional definitions of spirituality include "exploring what it means to be fully human"(McFague, cited in Dokecki et al., 2001, p. 498) and the "search for the sacred"(Hill & Pargament, 2003, p. 65), while Rasmussen, following theologian Paul Tillich, defined religion as concerning "ultimate meaning in universal life experiences" (Moore, Kloos, & Rasmussen, 2001, p. 490). As with concepts of community, definitions differ, but this can be strength if carefully understood. Community psychologists are concerned with spirituality as expressed in communion with others, not simply individual belief or practice. We use the inclusive term spiritual communities to refer to religious or spiritual or faith-based institutions, organizations, or settings.
Spiritual communities differ in whether they focus on matters of belief, spiritual experience, or action. Some are primarily concerned with personal salvation; others with broader spiritual growth, community bonding, social service ministries, or prophetic calls for social justice. Many differences are subtle (Kress & Elias, 2000). Examples of spiritual communities studied by community psychologists have included:
? Afrocentric spiritual perspectives (Myers & Speight, 1994)
? Spirituality in Native American cultures (Hazel & Mohatt, 2001; Walsh Bowers, 2000)
? Women's spirituality (Molock & Douglas, 1999; Mulvey, Gridley & Gawith, 2001)
? Twelve-step mutual help groups (Humphreys, 2000)
? Communities within Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism (Abdul Adil & Jason, 1991; Dockett, 1999; Dokecki et al., 2001; Kress & Elias, 2000; Mattis & Jagers, 2001; Stuber, 2000)
In the United States, poll respondents have more confidence in religious institutions than any other social institution. Over one third of volunteer activity is based in religious congregations, and congregations contribute more money to community causes than corporations do (Pargament & Maton, 2000). Spirituality and religion have played important roles in survival of oppressed groups. Spiritual beliefs, practices, and communities provide important resources for finding meaning in living and coping with stressors. They comprise important forms of community, contribute important resources to society, and often advocate for social justice.
Their importance is increasingly recognized in community psychology (e.g., Hill, 1996, 2000; Kloos & Moore, 2000a, 2000b, 2001; Mankowski & Rappaport, 2000a; Maton & Wells, 1995; Pargament, 1997; Pargament & Maton, 2000).
However, the impact of religious and spiritual traditions is not always positive.
History reveals many examples of religious exclusion and oppression. Research has indicated that some especially religious U.S. college students are more prejudiced than other students against African Americans, women, gay men, lesbians, and others (Hunsberger, 1995; Pargament, 1997, p. 352; Waldo et al., 1998). Like other communities, religious and spiritual traditions and local congregations can have positive and negative effects on persons, communities, and societies (Brodsky, 2000, 2003; Martin-Baro, 1990; Pargament, 1997; Ventis, 1995).
How Are Spiritual Communities Involved in Community Life? Spirituality serves five important community functions (Kloos & Moore, 2000b; Pargament & Maton, 2000). First, it helps meet primary human needs for finding meaning in everyday life (Frankl, 1959/1984; Pargament, 1997). Spirituality provides solace in the face of uncontrollable circumstances and guides active coping with controllable ones. A sense of transcendence provides a way to understand one's life, while spiritual values provide guides for living.
Second, spiritual communities provide sense of community and meet primary human needs for belonging. Many can be described in terms of the four McMillan-Chavis elements. They provide a sense of membership through common rituals and symbols, including rites of passage for membership. These rituals also foster identification with the community. Emotional safety is provided through small-group and one-to-one sharing. The formation of a religious identity can be an important social identity-fostered by multiple religious contexts (Kress & Elias, 2000).
Spiritual communities also foster mutual influence and integration and fulfillment of needs. Shared spiritual practices influence individual decisions. In turn, many spiritual settings provide opportunities for members' participation in leadership and decision making (Maton & Salem, 1995). Members of a spiritual community help meet each other's interpersonal, economic, psychological, and spiritual needs. Finally, spiritual communities foster emotional and spiritual bonds based on a deeply shared sense of spiritual transcendence. Small groups, religious education classes, and shared worship foster community (Wuthnow, 1994).
Third, spiritual communities provide important community services. Religious involvement among teens and adults has been shown in research to protect against risky behavior and promote well-being (Kloos & Moore, 2000a; Kress & Elias, 2000; Steinman & Zimmerman, 2004). Spiritual communities offer supports for families, parents, and marital partners, including workshops, small-group meetings, and counseling. Many other community services have religious-spiritual bases- from soup kitchens to Habitat for Humanity. The Caroline Center, operated by sisters of a Roman Catholic order, provides job training and an important community for low-income Baltimore women (Brodsky & Marx, 2001). Twelve-step mutual help groups are common and effective forms of healing (Humphreys, 2000). Programs to promote sobriety in Alaska Native communities involve indigenous Native spiritual concepts (Hazel & Mohatt, 2001).
Fourth, spiritual communities are especially valuable for members of oppressed, disenfranchised populations who lack resources and power in society. For example, these have included Native Americans, African Americans and other peoples of color, gay and lesbian individuals, the economically oppressed, and women (Hazel & Mohatt, 2001; Mattis & Jagers, 2001; Potts, 1999; Rappaport, 2000).
Fifth, some spiritual communities challenge forces in mainstream culture. In Western cultures, these communities help to counterbalance mainstream values of individualism and materialism through concern for the public good, for the disenfranchised and for social justice, and for values of compassion and service.
Social advocacy, one way that spiritual perspectives challenge mainstream culture, includes public positions taken by nationwide religious institutions and community-level efforts by local faith-based groups (Maton, 2000; 2001). For example, the U.S. civil rights movement involved many faith-based social change initiatives. Community organizing for social justice, based in faith communities, has achieved substantive community changes (Putnam & Feldstein, 2003; Speer, Hughey, Gensheimer, & Adams-Leavitt, 1995). "Basic ecclesial communities" are small spiritual groups that meet for worship, interpersonal support, reflection on spiritual ideals, and taking collective action for social justice and community development (Dokecki et al., 2001; Trout, Dokecki, Newbrough, & O'Gorman, 2003). Not surprisingly, many examples of faithbased advocacy arise among members of oppressed populations.
Of course, some spiritual communities focus on individual salvation or spiritual development or on community-building within the congregation, having little impact on wider community life. But when one considers all spiritual communities, these five functions are important contributions to communities and societies.
Narratives, Identity, and Meaning-Making in Spiritual Communities Spiritual communities explicitly work to provide the shared emotional connection identified by McMillan and Chavis as being central to sense of community. One of the most effective ways these communities accomplish this goal is through the development of narratives (stories). Spiritual and religious narratives express important ideals and build spiritual bonds (Mankowski & Rappaport, 2000a; Rappaport, 2000). The narrative of Passover and the Exodus in Jewish tradition, the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus in Christian tradition, and Muhammad's encounters with the angel, call to prophecy, and ascension into heaven in Islamic tradition are examples. Numerous parables in these and other faiths are ways of teaching through narratives.
Spiritual narratives provide resources for individuals seeking to understand their own life experiences. This is especially important at life transitions or when a person or group is demeaned in dominant cultural narratives. For college students questioning their beliefs or struggling with choices, a campus ministry that interprets such questioning as a basis for growth thus provides a positive way of understanding one's own experiences (Mankowski & Thomas, 2000). To an alcoholic who has "hit bottom,"12-step principles offer a community narrative that explains his or her descent into alcoholism and offers a path to recovery validated by other group members' experiences (Humphreys, 2000). To persons wounded by past trauma, many spiritual settings provide narratives of healing and redemption. To spiritual gay men and lesbians, a congregation that offers a positive, strengths-based perspective on their sexuality and spirituality provides a safe haven and a place for spiritual growth. To persons experiencing serious mental illness, a mutual help group offers a focus on strengths and practical coping (Rappaport, 2000).
Spiritual narratives are vessels that carry meaning and values, communicating them to individuals and supporting their personal growth (Stuber, 2000).
Meaning-making in spiritual communities can lead to personal and social transformations. Kenneth Maton, a community psychologist long involved in research with spiritual communities, argued for their importance in developing the strong sense of community necessary to engage in social change:
ナwithout incorporating the religious and spiritual domains of the larger community, prevention, empowerment-oriented, and other social action efforts stand little hope of mobilizing the resources, building the scale, and challenging mainstream culture in the ways necessary to make any truly substantive difference in our social problems. (Maton, 2001, p. 610)

Online Communities

The World Wide Web is about 20 years old at the time of this writing. The first paper describing the basics design of the Web was published in 1989 and the first website was established on the Internet in 1991. According to the latest statistics available (June 2010), 77.4% of the population in North America currently uses the Internet-an increase of 146% from December 2000 (Internet World Stats, 2010). Internet usage is increasing at an even faster rate in other regions of the world. In the Middle East, the percentage of the population that uses the Internet increased 1,825% from 2000 through 2010, and in Africa, the increase was 2,357%. This represents an incredibly rapid pace of technological change.
In some respects, the most recent edition of this book is closely tied to the Internet. The authors live in South Carolina, New Mexico, Washington, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. Close collaboration on the book was made possible through frequent conference calls via Skype and even more frequent use of e-mail.
This use of the Internet to facilitate relationships over geographic distance is an undeniable benefit of the Internet age.
But as with all technological changes that impact how humans interact with each other and the world around them, the possibility of negative effects from the amazingly rapid growth of the Internet must be considered. One of the earliest studies of the effects of the Internet on human interactions involved purchasing computers and Internet connections for 73 households that were not previously connected to the Internet. After two years, the researchers concluded that increased use of the Internet was correlated with decreased interactions with family members, smaller social networks, and slight increases in reported loneliness and depression (Kraut et al., 1998). These findings seemed to support the pessimistic predictions regarding the Internet's effect on human relationships.
However, in a three-year follow-up study of the same households, the researchers found that the negative effects found in the original study had disappeared.
And data from a new sample found that Internet use was associated with positive effects on social interaction and psychological well-being (Kraut et al., 2001).
So, in the space of three years (from 1996 when the first study ended, to 1999 when the second study ended), the researchers reversed their conclusions about the effect of Internet use on human relationships. But even the positive effects found in the second study did not hold for all the participants. Participants classified as extroverts and those with more social support tended to have positive outcomes from Internet use, while those classified as introverts or those with less social support tended to have negative outcomes (Kraut et al., 2001).
One of the clearest findings in the research is that people tend to use the Internet to strengthen existing relationships rather than for establishing new ones. The research seems to show that the Internet is used as a supplementary form of communication with friends, colleagues, and family and can result in a strengthening of those relationships (Ellison, Steinfield, & Lampe, 2007; Lee & Kuo, 2002; Lenhart, Madden, & Hitlin, 2005). This strengthening of relationships can also extend to organizations. For example, research has found that teens' Internet use tended to not only strengthen their already existing friendships but also their connection to school (Lee, 2009).
One example of this use of the Internet to strengthen existing relationships is Caring Bridge, an online community started in 1997. Caring Bridge allows people experiencing a critical illness or accident to maintain connections with family and friends ( If you have ever had to deal with the critical illness of a family member yourself, you know about the time and energy involved in staying in constant communication with everyone who wants updates on the situation. Caring Bridge allows you to develop a free website on which you can post updates for all your family and friends. For people who are isolated at home or in the hospital during recovery, this allows an easy way for family and friends to supply emotional support (a bonding activity). It also allows families to communicate specific needs to a wide variety of people. So, a family faced with building a ramp into its home for a member who will be using a wheelchair can suddenly learn that a friend has a friend who can donate the concrete (a bridging activity).
What about societal-level effects? If Internet use is decreasing the quantity and quality of social interactions overall, that will impact the social capital available to communities and nations. If the Internet is strengthening social interactions, and particularly if it is strengthening both bonding and bridging relationships, that will result in an increase in social capital, which will in turn strengthen communities and nations. The issue of social capital and the Internet has just begun to be explicitly examined. Perhaps the best publicized use of the Internet to develop social capital was the Obama campaign's development of a social networking site ( during the 2008 presidential election in the United States. This site successfully recruited and organized thousands of volunteer campaign workers around the country (Dickinson, 2008). Other examples include and, which both have the stated aim of supporting people around the world in local efforts to address such issues as poverty, AIDS, environmental concerns, and human rights (Raynes-Goldie & Walker, 2008). Even general social networking sites have been shown to be correlated with increases in measures of social capital. One study found small but positive relationships between the intensity of Facebook use and social trust, civic engagement, and political participation among college students (Valenzuela, Park, & Kee, 2009).
What about the ability of the Internet to help develop new relationships?
Can relational groups that exist only on the Internet develop into communities?
Take another look at the first quote at the beginning of this chapter:
"I mean I can talk to them and they are there to help me when I need to talk to someoneナFor exampleナmy father is very close to dying right nowナthey have all talked with me about it and have been a great deal of comfort to me."(Roberts et al., 2002, p. 237)
This quote is from a member of an online gaming community. But obviously this individual is not talking about games or entertainment. He is talking about the relationships he has developed and the support he has received from his community. An online community may be said to exist when "people carry on public discussions long enough, with sufficient human feeling, to form webs of personal relationships in cyberspace" (Rheingold, 2000). Some online communities are tied to an existing locality and build community ties among citizens there (e.g., A mainly relational online community can arrange local events where members meet personally, such as the meet ups hosted by the political organization Other online communities are purely relational, with membership that can be worldwide.
Roberts et al. (2002) interviewed a sample of individuals in online gaming environments. Most believed that their gaming site had a positive sense of community. Respondents' comments fit each of the four McMillan-Chavis elements of sense of community. Boundaries are enforced by membership requirements for site members and for the fictional characters they create. These communities have mechanisms for excluding members whose online behavior does not match community norms and a common symbol system. In the sites studied, there are offices and decision-making procedures allowing mutual influence, and mutual helping occurs (online and in person) that represents integration. Site users reported strong shared emotional connection. Roberts et al. concluded that these online environments were a relational community with a shared sense of community.
There is research indicating that Internet use is correlated with a generalized sense of community. Among Internet users in Australia who were aged 55 years or older, there was a positive correlation between Internet use, sense of belonging to an online community, sense of community, and general well-being (Sum, Mathews, Pourghasem, & Hughes, 2009). Generalized sense of community in this study was measured through such questions as, "The world is becoming a better place for everyone "and" I have something valuable to give to the world."
Sense of online community was measured by such questions as, "The Internet has allowed me to communicate with all kinds of interesting people I otherwise would never have interacted with "and" I feel I belong to an online community on the Internet." These statements are clearly related to sense of community.
In online mutual help groups, individuals with a shared problem or concern (such as breast cancer or problem drinking) help each other online. This facilitates support among persons unable to attend face-to-face mutual help groups and those who feel especially stigmatized, out of place, or reluctant to attend in person. Some of the largest sites on the Internet (in terms of number of visitors) are support groups. Research indicates that helping in online mutual help settings resembles helping in face-to-face groups. We will discuss this form of support in more detail in Chapter 8.
Online communities have several advantages for community building. They can transcend geographic distance and social status boundaries. They offer choice for individuals in finding a community and sense of belongingness. The lack of nonverbal communication can be an advantage; stereotypes related to appearance are lessened when race, social class, attractiveness, age, and even gender are unclear. This can facilitate more democratic relationships and power sharing.
Lack of nonverbal cues can also be a disadvantage; the communication of emotion is more difficult and easily misunderstood. The anonymity of much online communication is a strength and a drawback; it can allow heavily stigmatized individuals to self-disclose and form supportive relationships but can also lead to exploitation, mistrust, and rudeness ("flaming") (see the Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use, Boundaries for membership and behavioral rules must somehow be established for online communities as they are for face-to-face groups and localities. Online communities represent an important new form of community, which can be linked with existing communities or create new ones (Putnam, Feldstein, & Cohen, 2003; Rudkin, 2003).


Concepts of community lie at the heart of community psychology but also involve the questions, issues, and values we have discussed. This chapter is only an introduction to the use of these concepts. In later chapters, we will discuss in detail other forms of community, such as mutual help groups (Chapter 8), and related topics, such as human diversity (Chapter 7), citizen participation in communities (Chapter 11), and community and social change (Chapter 12).


1. Social scientists have been interested in the concept of community for more than 150 years. One of the earliest discussions of community was from the sociologist T￶nnies, who distinguished between Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft relationships.
2. We defined locality-based and relational communities. Communities exist at different ecological levels: microsystems, organizations, localities, and macrosystems. The question of who defines communities is an important one. Some communities must struggle for the right to define themselves.
3. Sense of community was first proposed as a key concept for the field by Sarason
(1974) and defined in more specific terms by McMillan and Chavis (1986). They identified four elements of sense of community: membership, mutual influence between individual and community, integration and fulfillment of needs among members, and shared emotional connection. The elements and their attributes are listed in Table 6.1. Research on sense of community demonstrates its importance.
4. Questions remain about the sense of community concept. Does it have the four McMillan-Chavis elements or others or does it vary in each community? Does it exist as both an individual cognition and a characteristic of a community?
5. Concepts related to sense of community include neighboring, place attachment, citizen participation, social support, and mediating structures. Mediating structures provide links between individuals and larger communities or society.

6. A positive psychological sense of community has been shown to have positive outcomes for both individuals and communities. Strong communities often display high levels of social capital. Social capital refers to connections among citizens and reciprocity and trust based on them. It may be formal or informal and involve bonding or bridging. Research on social capital demonstrates its importance for community life and society.
7. Communities-and our relationships with them-are complex. A person can have a negative psychological sense of community and have multiple psychological senses of community for the multiple communities in one's life. The myth of "we" overlooks diversity in a community. Sense of community changes over time. Newbrough's concept of the just community balances community, freedom, and equality (social justice).
8. For as long as social scientists have been writing about communities, there have been concerns that communities in modern society are in decline. There is evidence supporting this position (summarized by Putman, 2000), but this evidence is open to opposing interpretations. There is also evidence supporting an increase in some measures of community. At this point, the question of whether communities are in decline has not been conclusively answered.
9. In addition to the aspects of community mentioned so far, there is strong evidence that the structure of the physical and natural environments have powerful effects on social interactions and the development and maintenance of communities.
10. Religious and spiritual communities represent an important form of community. We defined spirituality more broadly than religion; spiritual communities include both. These fulfill five functions in communities: providing meaning, sense of community, community services, resources for the oppressed, and challenges to mainstream culture. Shared narratives in spiritual communities promote these.
11. The Internet is definitely affecting communities in industrialized countries and will continue to do so. Although there were initial concerns that increasing use of the Internet would result in a decline in community, research now suggests that most people use the Internet to strengthen existing relationships. Research also shows that true online communities can develop, which demonstrate all the elements of sense of community proposed by McMillan and Chavis (1986).

Sarason, S. B. (1974).The psychological sense of community: Prospects for a community psychology. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
McMillan, D. W. & Chavis, D. M. (1986). Sense of community: Definition and theory. Journal of Community Psychology, 14,6-23


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