Is the idea of community nostalgic? - RSA

Is the idea of community nostalgic?


  • Education
  • Communities
  • Social networks

"Now you're telling me, you're not nostalgic. Well give me another word for it, you who are so good with words"

"Now you're telling me, you're not nostalgic. Well give me another word for it, you who are so good with words"

- Joan Baez, Diamonds and Rust(in reference to her relationship with Bob Dylan)

I am still too young to get nostalgic on a regular basis, but this Baez line always made a deep impression on me, and comes to mind when thinking of community. The idea of neighbours coming together, looking out for each other, having a common sense of identity, values and purpose, and such neighbourhoods bridging with others like them to form some sort of civic whole....Well, has there ever been such a place? Is community an inherently nostalgiac notion?

Before pondering this question I surfed for quotes on nostalgia and my favourite was by American engineer Charles F Kettering:

"You can't have a better tomorrow if you are thinking about yesterday all the time"

If community is going to be a non-redundant concept, we need to stop looking back to a bygone pre-globalized, pre-digital age and reimagine community as something that people with multiple parts can still feel some belonging to, and desire to contribute to. So what kind of community do we want here and now?

Part of the problem is that community seems to be at least three things today:

1) Your geographic neighbourhood (where you live, the streets you walk)

2) Your social network (who you meet, go out with, do things with)

3) Your digital network (who you email, who you text and call etc)

Community is all of these things and more, but the calls for stronger communities is tied up with an understandable conflation of 1 and 2, plus a growing awareness of the importance of 3.

Part of what we are doing here at the RSA connected communities project is to understand how best to frame the idea of community in a way that makes it fit for purpose, and the purpose we have in mind is an idea of citizens of the future in which people are informed, engaged, other regarding, capable of handling complexity, and posessing greater self-reliance.

But citizens are embedded in communities of various sorts, and our informed hunch, based on findings detailed at social networking blogs is that the best way to create such citizens is to have strong social networks and the best way to make sense of community in the 21st century is to get a better grasp of how these networks operate. This seems to us to be the pattern that best connects the three forms of community outlined above- let us know whether you agree.

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