The Meaning of Community

Look through any local newspaper, and the idea of community is front and centre. It’s hard to miss. The front page of almost any local newspaper will tout ‘news about your community’. Flick through the local paper, and sure enough, there will be headlines announcing bargain property for sale or that kid in the next suburb who is breaking world records for track and field. It’s news about happenings in your neighbourhood. But, have you ever wondered what the meaning of community is?

This post will explore the meaning of community.

The word ‘community’ has Old French and Latin origins and is derived from the word ‘common’ so that the word would mean ‘the common people’. This word from the 14th Century meant ‘people from the same locality’. The Oxford dictionary provides a lengthy definition of ‘community’ – there are many meanings. The first definition is “a body of people living in one place or country and considered as a whole”. The meaning of ‘community’ therefore, seems to be based on a shared location. The many different dictionary definitions make this word seem vague, but this is probably because the meanings of words evolve. Words can change meaning for many reasons, but technological change plays a vital role.

The influence of technology on the meaning of community

The information revolution has changed society in many ways, and communication technology has advanced in leaps and bounds. Consider, for example, the impact of social media in everyday life. The emergence of social media has fundamentally changed the way people interact with each other. The world’s biggest platform, Facebook, has the following mission statement: “Give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.” The idea is that users of the platform can get together because of their shared interests. Unlike in previous generations, people don’t have to be geographically close to build a community. So the meaning of community – at least for Facebook – is about shared interests, regardless of a user’s physical location. 

Not having to share the same geographical location has spurred the online gaming community as well. According to pcmag.com, the global video games market is projected to be worth a jaw-dropping $305 Billion by 2025. It takes a vast number of gamers to underpin such a lucrative market. How many? Well, it is estimated there are more than 2.2 billion active gamers in the world. A shared interest in gaming means that it is estimated that gamers aged 18-25 years spend around 6-7 hours per week gaming. With so many hours spent in front of a screen, many parents of teenage boys especially would prefer their sons to spend their time at a boxing or gymnastics club instead. Achieving a common goal is what draws players to games like Sony’s Battlefield – where gamers who have never met (and are unlikely to ever meet in person), get together to defeat a common enemy. Newfound friendships based on a shared interest provides these players with a sense of belonging – the meaning of community for these gamers.

What community means for children

A popular proverb is: ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ Community organisations which provide recreational activities for young people have an essential role in protecting the health and wellbeing of children. Underdeveloped communities have been shown to impact child development negatively. So, having community resources (like sporting organisations) play a crucial role in improving health outcomes for children. Families connected to their communities are better able to cope with negative influences. The meaning of community for children, therefore, is creating healthy environments that will foster the social and emotional development of children.

A government perspective on the meaning of community

A white paper published by The Australian Institute of Family Studies gives a detailed meaning of community for policymakers to understand. The paper titled ‘Community engagement: An essential strategy for improving outcomes for Australian families’ sets out the importance and implications of community engagement. The paper defines community in terms of geography as well as relationships and concludes that people’s sense of belonging is fundamental to the health and wellbeing of that community.

Finally, it is clear that the meaning of community is not limited to geography, and people can be a part of many communities. What is certain is that the meaning of community has immense importance to people’s health and wellbeing.   

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