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  A social network of interacting individuals, usually concentrated into a defined territory. The term is widely used in a wide range of both academic and vernacular contexts generating a large number of separate (often implicit) definitions (Stacey, 1969). As a consequence \'What community means has been disputed for even longer than the effects of place\' (Bell and Newby, 1978): in the UK, for example, ethnic groups are often referred to as communities, irrespective of whether they occupy separately identifiable territories.

Bell and Newby follow Schmalenbach\'s (1961) definition of community as something more than the sense of belonging to an active social network — which they term communion. Community membership involves \'a matter of custom and of shared modes of thought or expression, all of which have no other sanction than tradition\': one belongs to a community, but may only be conscious of that when it is threatened. Thus a community does not involve emotional ties, which characterize communion: a community may stimulate such experiences, providing the context within which they can develop, but all communities are not necessarily in communion.

Interest in communities in sociology and social geography developed from the work of the Chicago school, in particular its evaluation of the social and behavioural consequences of urbanization (cf. urbanism). Tönnies\'s original concept of gemeinschaft identified communities as particular types of social networks (i.e. community as a form of human association), and was not concerned with community as either a local social system or a finite, bounded physical location (i.e. a territorially-defined social whole). Later workers brought the three together into an all-embracing definition, stimulating the term\'s wide range of usages.

For the Chicago sociologists and their followers the enhanced definition of community was consistent with their contrast of the (assumed) impersonality and social disorganization of urban life with the (also assumed) closely-integrated social networks characteristic of rural areas, as expressed in their concept of a rural-urban continuum. Rural communities were presented not only as the norm against which urban societies could be compared (see urban village) but also as the desirable condition: rural communities were integrated and stable and so not conducive to individual alienation and social problems, whereas urban societies were much more disorganized, and potentially characterized by anomie and widespread social disorganization. This glorification of the rural was associated with anti-urban sentiments, as in the garden city movement in late nineteenth-early twentieth-century Britain (see Pepper, 1990): rural societies were perceived as desirable because their communities were in communion, whereas those in urban areas were not. Later studies argued that whereas urban areas may lack certain positive characteristics relative to rural counterparts they may also have their own positive features which are absent from rural areas (see Frankenberg, 1966).

Community studies declined in popularity throughout the social sciences (except social anthropology) from the 1960s on. The introduction of the concept of locality in the 1980s suggested a renewed interest in local social systems among some observers, but Giddens (1984) nowhere equates locale with community in his presentation of the former as central to structuration theory (cf. contextual theory). Further, developments in time-space compression have increased the potential for close interaction among people separated by substantial distances, creating what some term \'community without propinquity\' and the rapid expansion of the Internet and the World Wide Web has enhanced this, with the creation of \'virtual communities\' (Kitchin, 1998) of people able to interact constantly, and in \'real time\', by electronic media which can transmit a wide variety of texts. (RJJ)

References and Suggested Reading Bell, C. and Newby, H. 1978: Community, communion, class and community action: the social sources of the new urban politics. In D.T. Herbert and R.J. Johnston, eds, Social areas in cities: processes, patterns and problems. Chichester and New York: John Wiley, 283-302. Frankenberg, R. 1966: Communities in Britain: social life in town and country. London: Penguin Books. Giddens, A. 1984: The constitution of society. Cambridge: Polity Press. Kitchin, R. 1998: Cyberspace: the world in the wires. Chichester and New York: John Wiley. Pepper, D. 1990: Geography and landscapes of anarchistic visions of Britain: the examples of Morris and Kropotkin. In I. Cook and D. Pepper, eds, Anarchism and geography. Contemporary issues in geography and education 3 (2), 63-79. Schmalenbach, H. 1961: The sociological category of communion. In T. Parsons et al., eds, Theories of society 1, 331-47. Stacey, M. 1969: The myth of community studies. British Journal of Sociology 20: 134-47.



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