Defining Community: A discussion with mom

My mom came up for a visit today. It’s been a while since we’ve had a really good visit. This time, I had to ask what her take on community was. How one is defined. How one exists or is sustained. How one grows. I learned a lot from this conversation since she’s taken quite a few classes in college about it.

We, or perhaps just I, have added to my definition of a community. Here’s my variables as of today:

  1. Common ground
  2. Time
  3. Choice
  4. (*) A Facilitator

The frequency of variables with relation to other members in the community (or in other words, the “higher intensity” of each variable) seem to make the intensity of (thus, perhaps the growth and commitment to) the community higher. This might corrolate to a longer duration of involvement in it as well.

Ok, that’s a lot of scientific mumbo jumbo to define it. I think it’s much more organic than we can know, but it’s an interesting study none-the-less. I’ll try not to make this so dry, but I want to go through each item above to expand on it a bit. They’re not really self explanatory.

(1) Common ground:

An interpersonal relationship is a social association, connection, or affiliation between two or more people. It varies in differing levels of intimacy and modes of connection, implying discovery or establishment of common ground, and may be centered around something(s) shared in common. Its study is one of the concerns of the social science known as sociology, and, to a lesser extent, of psychology and anthropology.

Common ground can be anything common. Time, place, friends, family, interests and even disinterests can all be a common ground. Having that common ground is one facet of a community. It facilitates the interpersonal relationships. Practically speaking, try to have a conversation with someone for more than 45 minutes when you are finding nothing in common to speak about. When you’re done, ask yourself if you ever want or care to see that person again. In my case, it’s difficult to ever say yes to that unless I’m simply being polite.

(2) Time (a.k.a. duration):
I’ve attempted to seperate this element from Common ground because of the necessity of it’s length, not simply it’s commonality. In fact, it’s commonality may even be argued from the perspective of “online (I will not say virtual) communities” that the individuals do not necessarily have to be present at the same time to be a part of the same community. Discussion forums are an instance of this, where one person posts and leaves. At another time, another member enters into delayed dialogue with the original person, and community is formed although not at the same time. Perhaps if you expand the timeline of the community into the self-defined timeline, then yes, time would be considered an aspect of common ground. However, in this case, I’d argue that duration is the more relevant variable. The duration of connection the individual has with other members becomes a direct link to the intensity of the community, although not the only link.

(3) Choice:
Many times people are not affiliated with a particular community directly, but by chosen association. This also has a connection to common ground, but more as a cause/effect relationship than by mutuality. In those instances where I have no particular interests in common, I still may have a relationship with the individual or community when I choose to. The motivation to choose may not be clearly defined, however.

(4) Facilitator (*):
I’m not so sure about this one, but my mother suggested it is an element as well. Someone or some thing needs to facilitate the community. It could be a mayor of a city, the city government, one or both individuals in a relationship, or just the same locale. In that case, other than the fact that a facilitator might govern the rules of the community, I might put this under the same label as common ground.


Nate Ritter lives in the Pacific Northwest (U.S.), popularized the #hashtag and creates web applications for a living. He also does miles and point hacking to enable cheap travel for his family. More here →

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