Conceptualizing Community

Albert Hunter*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

3 Scopus citations


The concept of community is a recurring question in social thought and an enduring quest in social life. The purpose of this chapter is to explore classic and contemporary views of community fully recognizing the multiplicity and open-ended evolving meanings of the concept. I refer to this as a “fracturing” of the concept of community. After a very brief look at the nature and fate of community in classical statements (Tönnies, Weber, Durkheim, Marx and Simmel). I begin with the simple but powerful idea that community is both an object, a thing, a unit of social organization, and also a quality, a variable. The framework advanced here sees the concept of community as a multi-dimensional variable where each dimension may vary by degree. It is an empirical question of the degree to which any given specific social entity, that is communities as objects, exhibit this or that dimension of community. As an empirical generalization the “ideal type” community framework (see Park, Wirth, Hillery) consists of the three distinct dimensions defined as ecological (space, time), social structural (networks of institutions and interaction), and symbolic cultural (identity, norms and values). These multiple dimensions of community suggest community has “fractured” into various real-world forms and also varied conceptual meanings not only are these three dimensions theoretically informed and elaborated in much empirical research, they are also a heuristic device, a useful tool, for guiding both policy agendas and research questions focused on local communities; and, they inform not only the remainder of this chapter but are exemplified in chapters throughout the volume. The chapter then looks at a number of the different “fractured” products and processes of community as seen in the rich variety of contemporary theories and empirical research. These include, for example, communities “lost, found and liberated” (Gans, Wellman), “mislaid” and “silenced (Schmallenbach, Hunter) “limited” (Janowitz, Greer), “socially constructed” (Suttles, Hunter), “networked” (Wellman, Castells), “vertically nested” (Warren, Milofsky), and “organized” (Alinsky, Smock), among others. The chapter concludes with a discussion of enduring “dilemmas of community” that include “ambivalence” (costs vs. benefits) of community, and the “ambiguities” (denotative clarity vs. rich connotations) of community.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationHandbooks of Sociology and Social Research
PublisherSpringer Science and Business Media B.V.
Number of pages21
StatePublished - 2018

Publication series

NameHandbooks of Sociology and Social Research
ISSN (Print)1389-6903
ISSN (Electronic)2542-839X


  • Ambiguities of community
  • Classical community theory
  • Community organization
  • Limited community
  • Social construction of community

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology (miscellaneous)
  • Social Psychology
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Sociology and Political Science


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