Naturally forming communities in a suburb?

‘Naturally forming communities’ is an idea/ reference/ term that I thought I would initially just ignore. On one hand it does seem to be a common sense and plain language way of referring to one of the core elements of my project, but I just really do not like it and the inferences I draw from describing any social phenomena in that way.

It reminds me of that joke, ‘Don’t eliminate bathroom mould. It is the the only culture some people have.’ Are natural communities what we find if we go in to create an account of social order in those areas seemingly beyond the control of state apparatus?

What would be a ‘naturally forming’ community? (How can we describe it without recourse to the mother-baby relationship?) Are naturally forming communities those that form without state intervention? If there are naturally forming communities what are unnatural communities? I do not this this could be mapped onto a dichotomy between agency-generated-communities and structure-generated-communities. I also do not think it is a division between emic and etic accounts of community.

These divisions are interesting and I am not arguing that they are purely an artificially constructed taxonomy. Some interests align and some conflict and some people have certain things in common with each other that they do not share with everybody else. Some people do get along better than others. People choose to do things with others and such interactions may be quite different from interactions with people the do not choose (in the same way) to do things with – such as fellow passengers on the train. There are groups we are categorised into by others, generally through what could be considered factors outside our control, such as your year of birth when you go to school, your nationality when you apply for asylum in another country, or the waiting room you go to when you attend St Vincent’s outpatients clinic.

Bringing it back to my project and the title of this post, what is natural or un-natural about where we live? Are naturally forming communities in neighbourhoods groups of people who seek each other out? What if they only seek each other out to protest against or benefit from a state imposed project in their area? Maybe I am looking to find what people in the neighbourhood consider to be communities with a shared interest, or perhaps it is about finding groups that consider themselves to have shared interests and obligations beyond a single issue?

I guess I am confusing matters by conflating very different ideas and questions

  • Are there groups of people that actually have a shared interest/ shared interests and obligations?
  • Are there groups of people that are aware of a shared interest/ shared interests and obligations?
  • Are there groups which a shared interest/ shared interests and obligations are imposed on them for the use of others (administrative, discursive, etc.)?
  • Is there a difference between groups that come together ‘grass-roots style’ or are created intentionally through state or ‘based-elsewhere-NGO’ programs?

I have chosen an area that does not have a Neighbourhood Renewal or other large, state funded, community development program aimed at bringing into existence a sense of community at the neighbourhood level. I am interested in seeing what notions of, claims to and uses of community actually exist in this suburb in the absence of such programs (or social scientists’ fears about disorder). Yet, I am willing to argue, elements of urban planning, social engineering and state apparatus are factors in all communities in Australia. Surely the existence of such a context is natural, and to try to separate it out from social interactions is a theoretically motivated abstraction.


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