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I Don’t Really Know What the Hell Is This Essay Sample

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I Don’t Really Know What the Hell Is This Essay Sample

It is the inescapable fact that people’s clustering together in space has important influences on their daily activities which give us perhaps our best clue to a definition of the community as a social entity. We shall consider a community to be that combination of social units and systems which perform the major social functions having locality relevance. This is another way of saying that by “community” we mean the organization of social activities to afford people daily local access to those broad areas of activity which are necessary in day to day living. We shall organize our description and analysis of such activities around five major functions which have such locality relevance. These functions are:

1. Production-distribution-consumption
2. Socialization
3. Social Control
4. Social Participation
5. Mutual Support

While all have locality relevance, this does not mean that they necessarily are functions over which the community exercises exclusive responsibility or over which it has complete control. On the contrary, the organization of society to perform these functions at the community level involves a strong tie between locally based units such as business, schools, governments, and voluntary associations and social systems extending far beyond the confines of the community. Rather than being extraneous to the present consideration of the community, these relationships to extra-community systems (are) an important focus of attention. Nor does it mean that these functions are not performed by other types of social systems such as informal groups, formal associations, and whole societies. The community, however, is especially characterized by the organization of these functions on a locality basis. The function of production-distribution-consumption has to do with the local participation in the process of producing, distributing, and consuming those goods and services which are a part of daily living and access to which is desirable in the immediate locality.

While it is customary to consider economic entrepreneurs—most typically the modern business corporation—as the principal providers of such goods and services, all community institutions whether industrial, business, professional, religious, educational, governmental, or whatever, provide such goods and services. Indeed, the conditions under which one such unit or another shall provide the particular goods and services are an important consideration, and the switch in their provision from one type of auspices to another has important implications. The function of socialization involves a process by which society or one of it constituent social units transmits prevailing knowledge, social values, and behavior patterns to its individual members. Through this process the individual comes to take on the way of living of his society rather than that of some other. The process is particularly important and noticeable in the early years of the individual, but it extends throughout his life.

In American communities the formal school system is ordinarily considered the principal community institution in charging this function, although it is recognized that individual families have an important role to play, particularly in the early ears, and that many other groups are also active in the process. The function of social control involves the process through which a group influences the behavior of its member toward conformity with its norms. Here too, several different social units perform this function on the community level. Customarily, formal government is considered particularly pertinent, since by definition government has ultimate coercive power over the individual through the enforcement of universally applicable laws. The police and the courts are especially relevant in the performance of the social control function by local government, but, as we shall see, many other social units, including the family, the school, the church, the social agency, also play a large part. An important community function is that of providing local access to social participation.

Perhaps the most widely prevalent social unit for providing social participations the religious organization—church or synagogue—and so these religious organizations will be considered in the context of their great importance in performing this function. Ordinarily, one thinks of voluntary organizations of various sorts as the community’s mot important units for channeling social participation. Nevertheless, many different types of social units, including businesses, government offices, and voluntary and public health and welfare agencies, provide through their formal activity important avenues of social participation to their employees or volunteer workers in the course of the performance of their occupational tasks. Likewise, family and kingship groups, friendship groups, and other less formal groupings provide important channels of social participation. A final major community function is that of providing for mutual support on the local level.

Traditionally, such mutual support, whether in the form of care in time of sickness, the exchange of labor, or the helping out of a local family in economic distress, has been performed locally very largely under such primary group auspices as family and relatives, neighborhood groups, friendship groups, and local religious groups. Specialization of function, along with other social changes…has led to a gradual change in auspices for many of these mutual support functions—to public welfare departments, to private health and welfare agencies, to governmental and commercial insurance companies, and so on. Perhaps the present archetype of the community based mutual support unit might be the voluntary agency in the field of health and welfare, but the distribution of this function, like others, through a wide range of social auspices is an important aspect of the current situation in American communities…

As the above implies, the definition of the community in terms of the systems which perform the major social functions having locality relevance leads to an emphasis on community functions rather than on community institutions. A conventional way of describing the related community phenomena is to consider the various institutional areas of the community—its economic institutions, its government, its educational institutions, its religious institutions, and perhaps its health and welfare, recreational, communicational, or other institutions. As noted, however, these institutional areas correspond only very loosely to the major locality-relevant functions. As already indicated, most of these functions are performed by a great variety of institutional auspices. The present period is characterized by important shifts in the performance of these functions from one set of community auspices to another.

Hence, a function rather than an institutional approach seems to have the greatest potential for bringing out this cross-institutional distribution of important community functions. A problem facing any student of American communities is how to be able to make general statements abut communities which are widely applicable despite the many graduations in size and other characteristics which differentiate one community from another. One possible approach is to consider numerous different “ideal types” of communities and make general statements only about each type. Another alternative is to confine one’s statements to relationships which are so general that they apply to all communities, regardless of the important differences existing among them.

Another possible approach is to consider some of the important dimensions on which communities differ from each other, relate these dimensions to general statements applicable to all communities, and then “locate” any particular community or type of community under discussion at a particular point along each such dimension. Thus a dimensional field can be set up which is sufficiently broad to encompass all communities and make meaningful statements about them on an appropriately abstract level: at the same time It can provide a means for describing eh difference between one community and another with respect to their location within the multidimensional field. Statements about specific communities can thus have general relevance so long as the location of the community within the field I known. Stein has made an attempt to apply this procedure to the analysis of American communities, employing his three main analytical concepts—urbanization, industrialization, and bureaucratization—as the dimensions of his field.

For our present consideration, a somewhat different set of dimensions will be employed…. The first of the way in which American communities differ from each other in their structure and function relates to the dimensions of autonomy. Our postulate is that American communities differed on this dimension and that the difference in relevant to an approach which defines the community in terms of its functions. In considering any community, we (are) interested in the extent to which it is dependent on or independent of extra community units in the performance of its five functions. The second type of difference is in the extent to which the service areas of local units (stores, churches, schools, and so on) coincide or fail to coincide. At the one extreme, the service areas coincide and hence everyone within the community service area boundary is served by institutions from the same community.

At the other extreme, there is relatively little coincidence of service areas, and an individual may find himself living within the school district of a locality to the east of him, going to church in a locality to the south of him, trading at a trade center to the north of him, and so on, without any common geographic center of community activities and without a common geographic area of service. A somewhat different type of variation concerns the extent of psychological identification with a common locality. In some communities a strong sense of local identification is apparent. Putting this another way, the local inhabitants consider the community as an important reference group. At the other extreme are communities whose inhabitants have little sense of relationship to one another, little sense of the community as a significant social group. And little sense of “belonging” to the community.

A final dimension…(is) the extent to which the community’s horizontal pattern is strong or weak. The horizontal pattern is the structural and functional relation of the various local units (individuals and social systems) to each other…In some communities the sentiments, behavior patterns, and social systemic interconnections of the horizontal pattern may be strong, in others weak. In considering community differences, specific instances can be contained within a more generalized frame of reference by using these four dimensions. Putting this graphically, we can say that communities differ on all four of the following dimension, and we can meaningfully locate each community at some point on each of the lines going from one extreme to another (see Figure 1).

Figure 1—Four dimensions on which American communities differ

1. Local Autonomy: Independent01234Dependent

2. Coincidence of

3. Psychological
with localityStrong01234Weak

4. Horizontal


The Community Problem

So far we have discussed some changes which have taken place in American communities, so theoretical difficulties involved in community studies, and the function conception of the community. …Let us now turn to a somewhat different type of problem, perhaps much more meaningful to the layman. In his eyes, the problem lends urgency to the study of communities, giving it an importance which mere theoretical interest would not afford. For through their newspapers and television and through their own experience, discerning Americans have come to the uneasy realization that all is not right with their community living, that undesirable situation appear with growing frequency or intensity which appear to be not the adventitious difficulty of one community or another so much as the parts of a general pattern of community living. “Something is wrong with the system”; there is a community problem. It is apparent that certain type of “problems” are broadly characteristic of contemporary American communities. While most noticeable in the metropolitan areas, mot of them are apparent in smaller communities as well.

They app in such forms as the increasing indebtedness of central cities, the spread of urban blight and slums, the lack of adequate housing which people can afford, the economic dependence of large numbers of people in the population, poorly financed and staffed schools, high delinquency and crime rates, inadequate provision for the mentally ill, the problem of the aged, the need for industrial development, the conflict of local and national agencies for the free donor’s dollar, the problem of affording rapid transit for commuters at a reasonable price ad at a reasonable profit, and the problem of downtown traffic congestion. The list is almost endless, and each of the problems mentioned could be subdivided into numerous problematical aspects. On this level, on can continue naming specific problems almost indefinitely. Are such problems simply a host of disparate plagues with which the modern community, Job-like, is made to suffer?

Or are they in some sense interrelated? If so, how? This [paper] is not problem oriented in the sense of being an analysis of community problems and what might possibly de bone about them. Yet no systematic treatise on the community can overlook their existence or neglect to explore their interrelations with each other and with the other aspects of community living Perhaps some light can be shed by examining community behavior as it had developed and changed over recent decades. Putting this another way, a closer look at some of the underlying processes taking place within the community may afford a backdrop against which the community conditions which we interpret as “problems” can be understood as part and parcel of the system of community living which has developed in America.

The alternative approach is to take each problem out of it situational context and treat it in relative isolation from the basic community conditions which produced it. To do so is to operate on a superficial and often ineffectual level, as many concerned citizens who have attempted to cope with these problems can attest… Meanwhile, it is well to distinguish between the existence of a problem and the existence of the ability to take effective action to resolve it. Look at another way, if no social system is “perfect,” then each system will produce certain “problems.” They are, in a sense, the price paid for whatever advantages that particular system of community living entails. We can thus inquire what sorts of problems are generated in American communities and also how effectively they are dealt with.

One sees not only specific problems of one type or another, but also the general problem of inability of the community to organize its forces effectively to cope with its specific problems. Let us consider this last for a moment. The question now becomes, What are the conditions of American community living which make it difficult for people to muster their resources on the community level to cope with their problems? Certainly, one part of the answer is the fact that many of the problems which are confronted on eh community level simply are not solvable on that level at all, but are problems of the larger society of which the community is a part. Any single community’s effort is a little or nothing as against the forces of the larger society. Much important behavior which takes place at the community level takes place within units, groups, companies, and other entities which themselves are internal part of larger state or national systems.

It is a thesis of this [paper] that such units often are more closely related to these larger systems than to other components of the local community. Thus, problems of the larger society are not something which are adventitiously imported into the local community like a germ carried by some visitor, but rather they are conditions inhering in the systems of which the community’s various units are a part, and the community’s units share these conditions as a basic part of their very existence. Thus, for example, problems of unemployment or of inflation are not amenable to solution community by community, although some palliative action on the community level may attenuate the former. On a somewhat different level, certain problems such as those arising from marital and family conflict, from the vicious fund raising controversy between national and local health and welfare organizations, and difficulties in the central city attendant upon the flight of upper and middle income groups to the suburbs along with the retail stores which serve them, are more closely related to the interaction which takes place within the community itself.

Nevertheless, they are a part of the larger cultural patterns of living which communities share by being a part of the American society. As an example, the problem of family breakdown in the local community is partly, at least, as resultant of forces in the wider culture, such as conflicting role expectations in marriage, discontinuity in the socialization process, emphasis on hedonistic romantic irresponsibility in the courtship process, decline in opportunities for useful functions performed by children, and separation of the economic sustenance function from the home. Just as communities are not islands isolated from the major social systems of American society, so they are not cultural islands separated from the broad forces of cultural development and change which characterize the major institutions of American society.

In sum, many problems which communities face are simply beyond any realistic expectation of resolution through the effective mustering of resources at the community level alone. A closely related barrier to effective community action is the loss of community autonomy over specific institutions or organizations located within it and closely intermeshed with the community’s welfare. The decision of the absentee-owned company to discontinue its branch plant, the decision of the state highway department to build the new road on the east side of the river rather than the west, the decision of the national health agency than its locals may no longer participate in the untied fund—all of these represent decisions by community-based units over which the community exercises little control To of possible action at the community level and the loss of community autonomy can be added a third barrier to effective community action, one which seems on the surface, at least, to be more nearly under the potential control of community people.

This barrier is constituted of a number of related phenomena which may be best characterized as lack of identification with the community. Perhaps the most widely recognized aspect of such lack of identification of the individual with the community is the much deplored apathy of citizens regarding community affaires. People who plunge into community problems with a concern for community improvement often complain with despair that “you can’t get anybody interested” in whatever the problem happens to be. So many problems seem to depend for their effective confrontation on sustaining the interest and activity of a large number of people over a sufficient period of time to bring about the remedies thought to be desirable that the alleged apathy of citizens seem to be a paramount stumbling block. The point is often distorted by unrealistic comparisons with over idealized depiction of New England town meetings or by individual comparisons with some community where “people got together and really did something about it.” Yet there is a valid point here. The increasing association of people on the basis of common occupational or other interest, rather than on the basis of locality along (as among neighbors) is no doubt a contributing factor.

The union man, the banker, and the school administrator often have strong vocational ties to their own groups, and they have less in common vocationally than, say, three farmers living in the same rural neighborhood. Even in recreational and civic activity, association is often on the basis of specialized interest. Thus the apathy does not turn out to be complete, for interests often run high in specialized concerns. Rather, the apathy turn out to be a lack of interest in community wide concerns which cut across the various specialized interestest, thus becoming “nobody’s business.” Over the years, communities have grown larger and larger. The problem of direct as against representative participation arises in large social bodies, not only in government but in various community affairs. Attempts at solution of the problem have been no more free of effects in other aspects of community participation than they have in political representation.

Community councils for example, represent an attempt to involve both individuals and organization in the processes of community-wide betterment. They have been extremely sporadic, and even at their best they seldom attain active participation more that a small minority of citizenry. Participation in community activities thus usually takes place through participation in some specialized interest group such as a health association, a chamber of commerce, or a better government league, each having its own sphere of interests and activities and is loyal supporters who can generally be relied upon to rally to a cause within their sphere of interests, but not necessarily outside it. One might ask what else might reasonably be expected, for time does not permit each individual citizen to participate actively in all the concerns which have broad community import. Thus, what is often interpreted as apathy, as “nobody cares,” is merely an instance of the hard fact that the number of legitimate community concerns is so great that individual citizens could not actively concern themselves with all of them even if they wanted to, which of course, many do not. The increasing transciency of residents of the suburbs has already been mentioned.

The constant moving back and forth across the country in search of the better job, or as a result of the company’s planned policy of personnel rotation, or for whatever reason, put a premium on the tree which can survive with shallow roots, a point which William H. Whyte has made with great effectiveness in his study of The Organization Man. The knowledge that one will probably not remain for many ears in the community where one is now living is not likely to favor civic participation, and the really remarkable thing is that participation doe run so high precisely in the suburbs which show such a great degree of transiency. Failure to identify with the community takes still another form, which might be called alienation. An example is the extent to which useful participation roles are increasingly unavailable to the aged in American communities. Numerous studies of the “problems of the aged” document the point that as people grow older, their roles in family, religious organization, occupation, and voluntary civic endeavor become less meaningful and less active.

Compulsory retirement, the friction cause by having older in-laws living with the conjugal family, the fast pace which turns to youthful leadership and new ideas rather than to the wisdom accumulated from another day by older people—all these tend to estrange the elderly from normal avenues of community participation and force them into a state of dependency which is caused less by their inability to function effectively than by the community’s inability to make vital use of them. The fact that this occurs at the very time when shortages in vital community jobs are experienced, particularly in the professions, and when the need for volunteer services in health and welfare agencies is greater than ever, makes the situation particularly ironic. Another type of estrangement from the community is represented by the spread of delinquent culture in the cities. This is a type of estrangement from dominant values of the community, in fact a deliberate rebellion against many of those values.

Small groups of people in rebellion against dominant community values take various forms—splinter sects, practitioners of various cults, revolutionaries, and so on. Many such groups perform a useful function in challenging the validity of the prevailing values, as gadflies to the conscience of society. Such types of behavior as delinquency, vice, and mental illness, on the other hand, represent an order of deviance whose usefulness to the community is far less apparent. They all have in common, though, the estrangement of the individual form the usual values, behavior systems, and satisfactions of the community.

There is considerable evidence to indicate that such estrangement is widely characteristic of people in the lowest socio-economic status, the so-called lower-lower class as described by Warner, Hollingshead, and others. So basically different is their whole pattern of living that they might well constitute a completely different culture. Estrangement from commonly held values has, since Durkheim, come to be ascribed by the term anomie or normlessness, a situation in which there is little sharing of commonly accepted values, and social control over behavior becomes ineffectual. In analyzing the disintegration of a New England community, Homans observes:

If the good opinion of his neighbors is a reward to a man, then a loss of their good opinion will hurt him, but if this loss does not follow a breach of a norm, where is the punishment? And how can it follow, when the norms themselves are not well defined.

Lack of accessibility of many problems to solution on the community level, lack of community autonomy, and lack of identification with the community are three barriers to the efficient mustering of forces to confront community problems. As a final [point] it might be well to relate these characteristics to the rise of a process which has come to be called “community development.” For one way of describing community development is by saying that it is a process of helping community people to analyze their problems, to exercise as large a measure of autonomy as is possible and feasible, and to promote a greater identification of the individual citizen and the individual organization with the community as a whole. Through such a process, communities may be helped to confront their problems as effectively as possible.

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