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What is a community?

September 26, 2011

Prompt: What is community? How is a classroom community different from and similar to the UC community? The city of Cincinnati? What notable things did you learn from your peers during our first class session?

What is a community? It’s a tricky concept, since the definition has to cover a lot of different kinds of communities. Our classroom is a community. My dorm room is a very small community. On the other hand, all of Cincinnati is a community. Reddit is a community of 800,000 people scattered around the world. But on the other hand, the definition shouldn’t be so broad that you can define any group of people as a community. If I can create a community by pulling names out of a hat, it’s not a useful definition.

The best definition I heard in class was “A group of people united by a common goal or interest.” For our classroom, that interest is learning. For an online forum, that interest could be funny cat pictures. However, “Every person on Main Street” isn’t a community, because there’s nothing in common except for a geographical location. Not to say that geography isn’t a factor, but there’s more than that in forming a community. My next-door neighbor and I are linked by our school, by our mutual love of videogames, by living in the same place, not just being present in the same area. It’s tricky to pin down what holds a community together, but this should cover it for now.

Our classroom community is very small, and reasonably close-knit, since we see each other every week. Also, all of us want to be part of the class, since it’s an honors seminar and there were plenty of other options we could have taken, so we’re all there to learn and hopefully have fun with it. On the other hand, we might go to UC for the Co-op program, or for a good scholarship, or because it was close to home. And if we zoom out a bit further, there’s an infinite number of reasons you might live in Cincinnati. Because your job is there, or because your family has always lived there, or because you love hypothetical streetcars. As a community gets bigger and more diverse, it becomes even harder to pin down the common goals and interests that hold it together.

In our first class, we did a small “getting to know you” game, where we wrote or drew fun facts about ourselves and our interests on big easel-sized sticky notes. I found a bunch of similarities in what we chose to share. There were a lot of self-described “nerds”, but even the strangest things, like our teacher’s obsession with owls, found a few parallels. So our little classroom community had a surprising number of things in common, even though we listed a broad variety of interests. It makes me wonder if all honors students are homogenous, or if we just joined this class because we have similar interests. Either way, it was a good way to look at who makes up our community.

  1. Jessica permalink

    Excellent points, Ben. It is truly difficult to pinpoint community, and certainly it feels as though strong communities want to be defined in their own image; would you agree? I appreciate that you found commonalities in our introductions — including my own eccentricities — and I hope we continue to explore that aspect of community as we learn together this quarter.

  2. You brought up a lot of good points in this post, particularly about how you define a community. I like how you pointed out that although location plays a part in creating a community, it’s not everything. You also mentioned that it’s not just being in the same place at the same time so much as actually living in a certain area. What do you think makes plays the biggest role in determining the strength of a community?

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