The social construction and reconstruction of community.
Community is a complex term whose usage within sociology has ranged from being
a key idea to being dismissed as irrelevant. At the same time as its virtual dismissal by
sociology, community continued to have widespread usage within everyday language and
as an adjunct to social policy. Its ubiquitous nature and the lasting power of the concept
were evident at the outset of this research and created a number of contradictions that were
considered worthy of further exploration.
This thesis surveys sociological approaches to community and relates the career of
the concept to changes in the political and economic context. A new approach is suggested
which captures both the dynamic, kaleidoscopic nature of the concept at any one time and
the layered, archaeological nature of its development over time. This provides a way out
of the impasse of traditional sociological approaches to community.
The approach proposes that different conceptualisations of community can be
constructed through specific fragments of meaning being differentially articulated to
produce various constellations of meaning. Partial fixations of meaning, within any one
particular context, and the existence of common elements allow a description both of the
uniqueness and generic nature of the concept. This provides a model for the
conceptualisation of community and this has been applied to ideal type descriptions of
community and to a number of well-known community studies.
Empirical explorations of the conceptualisation of community were undertaken at
CastleV ale, Birmingham. Conceptualisationso f community were recordedf rom the various
perspectives of residents, local workers and local media. These were related to patterns of
historical development and to recent political and economic restructurings.
Different stakeholders' approaches to community were related to the time of the
estate's construction (1960s), the time of settlement and adjustment (1970s), the time of
reduction in state social intervention (1980s) and the time during which the estate took on
Housing Action Trust status (1990s). Different and overlapping conceptualisations of
community were explained using the approach already developed. From this it was possible
to describe ways in which the wider context interacts with day-to-day lifestyle practices
through representations and understandings of community. A loose typification of
community at Castle Vale has been developed. Taking the discussion further allowed a
device to be developed for the description of various conceptualisations of community, and
allowed a framework to be developed within which different conceptualisations of
community have been located.
This work has allowed a reassessmenot f the position of community within sociology
at the present time. It identifies those areas of momentum that are re-establishing
community on the political and social agenda, suggests that the time is now right for
sociology to reformulate a more adequate approach to community, and asserts that the
approach developed aids moves towards new theoretically-informed ways of conveying the
complexities of life at a local level within a more globalised context. It is a community
study more appropriate for this age and is part of the enterprise of developing more
sophisticated approaches to community.