Often, we hear about communities or “the community” without clearly knowing what the term refers to. We know that it refers to a body of people, social and institutional agents and, often, to a territory (although it also refers to communities on the Internet). But really, what defines this concept? How is it different from the neighbourhood or the public? What do we understand by community?
The concept of community has its origins in the Latin term “communis”, which refers to people who live together, sharing something in the same space.
Currently, the term does not have a single definition, but different theorists have provided different views on what the fundamental elements of “the community” are.
Marco Marchioni defines community as “a group of people who live in the same territory, with certain ties and certain common interests”. Its fundamental elements are: the territory, the population, the demand and the resources, taking into account that the second element, the population, is considered as a source of demand and resources. This is a way of seeing the community with a strong territorial, institutional and urban dimension, where the maximum integration of social benefits and the best coordination of resources can occur, and where organized participation is possible (as well as spontaneous) of the population.
Natalio Kisnerman considers that the community is formed by the space where people’s lives take place and where the social interactions that make unity awareness possible take place, by a system of social relationships based on knowing people face to face and for common interests and needs. Therefore, space and interactions, interests and common needs are the fundamental elements of the Community.
For Ander-Egg, a community is an organized group of people who perceive themselves as a social unit and whose members participate in some common trait, interest, element, objective or function, with a sense of belonging, located in a certain geographical area in which the plurality of people interacts more intensely with each other than in another context. Again, the common objectives, the interactions and the territory appear as features of the community, adding here the consciousness of belonging as an important element.
Analysing the different authors, it is observed that there are features in common that seem fundamental to understand the community, namely:
To these elements could be added the sense of belonging
Both the interactions and the interests, needs, demands or other common elements are elements susceptible to community development, understanding that this development supposes the improvement of the living conditions of that community, either through the improvement of its interactions (when these are deteriorated, there are conflict situations, etc.) as well as the process of achieving those needs, demands, objectives, etc. In other words, the improvement of the community arose, to a large extent, from the processes of common coping with the situation of their interactions and from obtaining the needs, interests, demands…
Another relevant aspect to take into account is the agents of the community space. For M. Marchioni, community intervention must have three types of agents:
Other authors give less weight to institutional agents and resources, insisting that the protagonists of the community are the population itself. In any case, it is essential to have the three types of actors in the processes.
It is important to distinguish that when we speak of “the community”, this term is not interchangeable with “the neighbourhood” or “the public”. These three concepts are not the same thing, but the neighbourhood and the public are areas of action of the community, which can compose the same, but are not equated.
Neighbourhood is understood as what happens in neighbourhood and close relations, therefore, it is also united by the territory, the interactions and by common elements. However, the community exceeds the neighbourhood, since it includes other agents (such as the institution) and more extensive networks. The neighbourhood alludes more to closeness, while the community alludes more to the common destiny.
On the other hand, the public is linked to what belongs to the administrations and is managed by them, while the community includes the citizens themselves in that management and decision-making.