What is community anyway?

Yesterday I ended up going to the Brotherhood of St Laurence lunchtime seminar when I realised it was on one of the federal government’s Social Inclusion Agenda programs, a place-based community partnership set up for Centrelink offices in some highly disadvantaged areas.

The highlight of the session came before it even started. On the other side of the room I noticed a conversation going on. I assume the person asking the questions spoke English in a way that suggests he is either hearing impaired or it is not his first language because his interlocutor was speaking in that awkward way where people do funny things to their intonation, raise the volume of their voice and leave out a lot of the important in between words in order to emphasise nouns. The questioner seemed to be asking his interlocutor about what community is, and his interlocutor was struggling to provide a suitable answer. The interlocutor went on to suggest it is ‘much smaller groups in society’, that they have a ‘common thing’, and that yes, you can say ‘world community’. There was also mention made that people ‘might not speak to neighbours’, and but you can say ‘place based communities’. I was somewhat relieved that it is not only a PhD student trying to start her literature review who is struggling to to decide what people mean when they say ‘community’.

One of the themes running through the presentation which also came up in a question at the end was the issue of how do you measure the outcomes. Janie Davey, the speaker, added quite a lot of qualifiers through her talk that while they were keeping track of certain things, that they would not be able to judge the success of the program through those data sets. The database has been developed with the Social Inclusion Agenda in mind, but they have yet to ‘nail’ how to measure social inclusion.

There are a few other interesting points that made it into my notes, but I am hoping if I get back to staring at this non-existent literature review of mine I will make some headway.


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