The meanings and manifestations of communities have kept changing throughout the history of various cultures. Community is a basic concept in community development, in which a community is most often defined as the lack of something, as something that does not exist but would be desirable, and whose ‘birth’ should be promoted.

The three most common approaches to the notion of community:

  • A place where the community dwells – locality. Community as commonality. Neighbourhood.
  • Interest communities/elective communities. The personality (selfhood) has opened an opportunity for creating a non-locally based community. Cohesion in these communities is created by factors other than locality: identity, religion, sexual orientation, occupation, ethnicity – e.g. Catholic, gay or Chinese communities, etc.
  • Intellectual, spiritual community (communion).

In its weakest form it is a connection to a given place, group or idea (in other words, when the ‘community spirit’ exists). In its strongest form it signifies a profound encounter with other people, and even with God and creation.
These interpretations may overlap, e.g. locality and interest may be identical.

Another interpretation of ‘community’ needs to be added to the above, attachment, as the interpretation based on place and interest does not express the identity shared by the community. One needs institutions to safeguard identity: ‘school and church’ but even families, folklore groups, political parties, radio, television, newspapers and others. If these are missing or lost, safeguarding the identity becomes more difficult or sometimes impossible.

Communities embody similarities and differences, and may thus also become reference points (‘one community being the opposite of another’). Boundaries between communities may be shown by a map (e.g. public administrative areas), or by some rule or physical feature, such as a river or a road. There are also religious or linguistic boundaries, though not all boundaries are so obvious: some exist in people’s mind or spirit, and these require a completely different treatment, as this is a symbolic aspect of community boundaries, and it is fundamental to have the right view on how people interpret their own communities. Religions are the obvious examples, as each has its own set of symbols, signals and ritual traditions. Belonging to one community might mean an act of exclusion from another.


[1] Vercseg, I.: Közösségfejlesztő leckék kezdőknek és haladóknak. [Community building for beginners and professionals]. 2004, Parola booklets. Budapest, Hungarian Association for Community Development

This article based on the following document: Community development methodological guide