Rethinking the Concept of Community
AbstractTraditionally, historians have preferred to rely on “common sense” approaches to the meaning of community, but such definitions, emphasizing the ideas of a shared place and a static, self-contained entity, are simply inadequate for historical research and writing. Three elements are fundamental to understanding the historical significance of community: community as imagined reality, community as social interaction, and community as a process. An interdisciplinary approach to this question takes into consideration the thinking of social scientists and humanists on the importance of space and networks in social life. The historical study of community, one that embraces both cultural and spatial perspectives, has much to benefit from and much to contribute to this ever-growing and evolving body of work. As they have done with such concepts as “the family” and “the nation”, historians must make “community” a problem to be studied, discussed, and debated.