McMillan and David
George Peabody College
For several years many
us at Peabody College have participated in the
evolution of a theory of community, the first conceptualization of which
was presented in a working paper (McMillan,
of the Center for Com-
support the proposed definition, McMillan focused on
the literature on group cohesiveness, and we build here on that original defini-
tion. This article attempts to describe the dynamics of the sense-of-
community force-to identify the various elements in the force and to
describe the process by which these elements work together to produce the
sense of community.
Review of Related Research
Doolittle and MacDonald
developed the 40-item Sense
to probe communicative behaviors and attitudes at the community or
neighborhood level of social organization. The basis
was what had been
called the “critical dimension of community structure” (Tropman,
it was to be used to differentiate low, medium, and high SCS neighborhoods on its five
factors: informal interaction (with neighbors), safety (having a good place to live), pro-
urbanism (privacy, anonymity), neighboring preferences (preference for frequent
neighbor interaction), and localism (opinions and a desire to participate in neighborhood
affairs). The results
Doolittle and MacDonald’s study led to three generalizations.
First, there is an inverse relationship between pro-urbanism and preference for neighbor-
ing. Second, there is a direct relationship between safety and preference for neighbor-
ing. Finally, pro-urbanism decreases as perception of safety increases.
measure of the psychological sense of community is based on the
augmented by responses
domly selected members of the Division of Community Psychology of the American
Psychological Association. Glynn administered his measure to members of three com-
munities and hypothesized that residents
Kfar Blum, and Israeli kibbutz, would
demonstrate a greater sense of community than residents of two Maryland communities.
behaviors or subconcepts related to sense of community, from which
items were developed, representing real and ideal characteristics. As predicted, higher
real levels of sense of community were found in the kibbutz than in the two American
towns. However, no differences were found among the three
the ideal scale. Mul-
tiple regression analysis showed that
selected demographic items could predict ade-
quately the real scale score
but not the ideal score
The strongest predictors of actual sense
community were (a) expected length of com-
munity residency, (b) satisfaction with the community, and (c) the number of neighbors
one could identify by first name. Glynn also found
positive relationship between sense
of community and the ability to function competently in the community.
requests should be sent to David
SENSE OF COMMUNITY:
DEFINITION AND THEORY
Riger and Lavrakas (198
studied sense of community as reflected in neighborhood
attachment and found two empirically distinct but correlated factors they called social
bonding and behavioral rootedness. The social bonding factor contained items concern-
ing the ability to identify neighbors, feeling part
the neighborhood, and number of
neighborhood children known to the respondent. Behavioral rootedness refers to years
of community residency, whether one’s home
owned or rented, and expected length
residency. Using these factors, the authors identified four “meaningful and distinct
groups of citizens”: young mobiles (low bonded, low rooted), young participants (high
bonded, low rooted), isolates (low bonded, high rooted), and established participants
(high bonded, high rooted). In this study, age played a major role in determining
Examining the relationship between community involvement and level
fear of crime, Riger, LeBailly, and Gordon (1981) identified four types of community
involvement: feelings of bondedness, extent of residential roots, use of local facilities,
social interaction with neighbors. They found that the first two types of
bondedness were related significantly and inversely to residents’ fear of crime, while the
last two, reflecting behavior rather than feelings, were not related significantly to fear
crime. A plausible explanation for the differential relationships is that variables within
a domain (e.g., feelings of bondedness and other feelings) are more likely to be strongly
correlated than are variables measured across domains (e.g., feelings and behaviors)
Fiske, 1959). Despite the weakness of the study as suggested by such an
explanation, we believe that the findings
Riger et al. attest to the force
community in the lives of neighborhood residents.
Ahlbrant and Cunningham (1979) viewed sense of community as an integral con-
tributor to one’s commitment to
neighborhood and satisfaction with it. They found
that those who were most committed and satisfied saw their neighborhood as a small
community within the city, were more loyal to the neighborhood than to the rest of
the city, and thought of their neighborhood as offering particular activities for its
the characteristics representing the authors’ conceptualization of sense
munity. Also considered to be a contributor to commitment to neighborhood and
satisfaction with it was social fabric, a term they used to capture the “strengths of in-
terpersonal relationships” as measured through different types of neighbor interactions.
Bachrach and Zautra (1985) studied the coping responses to a proposed hazardous
waste facility in a rural community. They found that a stronger sense of community
led to problem-focused coping behaviors -behaviors that attempt directly to alter or
counter the threat
and had no bearing on whether emotion-focused coping strategies
efforts to adjust emotionally to the threat
path analytic model showed
that problem-focused coping contributed strongly to the level of one’s community in-
volvement (e.g., reading reports, attending meetings, signing petitions), and the authors
concluded that stronger sense of community may lead to a “greater sense of purpose
and perceived control” in dealing with an external threat. In a similar study, Chavis
(1983) identified the process of empowerment, which occurs through the development
of community. Others have reported consistent findings; Florin and Wandersman (1984)
and Wandersman and Giamartino (1980) found high self-reported levels
munity to distinguish those who participated in block associations from those
McMILLAN AND CHAVIS
Bachrach and Zautra
reported that they used a “brief, but face valid” sense
of community scale on the basis
questions developed by Kasarda and Janowitz
Their measure included seven items: feeling at home in the com-
munity, satisfaction with the community, agreement with the values and beliefs of the
community, feeling of belonging in the community, interest in what goes on in the com-
munity, feeling an important part
the community, and attachment to the commun-
ity. The scale was found to be internally consistent (alpha
The studies reviewed here contributed to our initial understanding of sense of com-
munity and emphasize the importance
this concept for research, intervention, and
policy. Most important is the recurring emphasis on neighboring, length of residency,
planned or anticipated length of residency, home ownership, and satisfaction with the
work is particularly important in its recognition
discrepancies between real and ideal levels of sense of community and in demonstrating
the relationship between sense of community and an individual’s ability to function com-
petently within it. The study by Riger and Lavrakas
is especially significant for
its conceptualization of the emotional aspect of the experience.
These were the initial studies in the area of sense
community; however, they
cannot be expected to contribute an elaborated theoretical understanding
community is and how it works, and there are some important limitations to which
we hope to respond. All of these studies, for example, lack
coherently articulated con-
ceptual perspective focused on sense of community, and none of the measures used in
the studies were developed directly from
sense of community. Five of
the studies used factor analytic techniques to create, post hoc, their domains and/or
subdomains without theoretical or prior empirical justification, a practice about which
suggest caution. The sixth (Bachrach
defined its domain on the basis of face validity.
In addition, all authors assumed that each element in their measures of sense of
community contributed equally to an individual’s experience, although the value-laden
nature of the phenomenon (as expressed by Sarason,
would lead one to believe
that some feelings, experiences, and needs would be more important than others. It is
also notable that the studies reviewed did not investigate what was common among their
participants regarding their sense
community. Rather, the studies focused on prov-
ing the validity of their measures through differentiation of communities or individuals.
Primarily, these studies revealed that the experience of sense of community does
exist and that it does operate as a force in human life. What is needed now is a full
the nature of sense of community as a whole. We begin that process of
definition and theory.
A Definition and Theory of Sense
distinguished between two major uses
the term community. The
first is the territorial and geographical notion
neighborhood, town, city.
The second is “relational,” concerned with “quality of character of human relationship,
without reference to location”
xvi). Gusfield noted that the two usages are not mutually
exclusive, although, as Durheim
observed, modern society develops community
around interests and skills more than around locality. The ideas presented in this article
will apply equally to territorial communities (neighborhoods) and to relational com-
munities (professional, spiritual, etc
We propose four criteria for a definition and theory of sense of community. First,
the definition needs to be explicit and clear; second, it should be concrete, its parts iden-
tifiable; third, it needs to represent the warmth and intimacy implicit in the term; and,
finally, it needs to provide a dynamic description of the development and maintenance
of the experience. We will attempt to meet these standards.
Our proposed definition has four elements. The first element is
Membership is the feeling of belonging or
sharing a sense of personal relatedness.
The second element is
a sense of mattering, of making a difference to
the group mattering to its members. The third element is reinforcement:
tion and fulfillment of needs.
This is the feeling that members’ needs will be met by
the resources received through their membership in the group. The last element is
the commitment and belief that members have shared and will
share history, common places, time together, and similar experiences. This is the feel-
ing one sees in farmers’ faces as they talk about their home place, their land, and their
families; it is the sense of family that Jews feel when they read
In a sentence, the definition we propose is as follows: Sense
munity is a feeling that members have
belonging, a feeling that members matter to
one another and to the group, and a shared faith that members’ needs will be met through
their commitment to be together (McMillan,
Membership is a feeling that one has invested part
oneself to become a member
and therefore has
right to belong (Aronson
It is a feeling of belonging, of being
this means that there are people who belong and people who do not.
The boundaries provide members with the emotional safety necessary for needs and
feelings to be exposed and
intimacy to develop (Bean,
The most troublesome feature
this part of the definition is boundaries. In
demonstrated that groups use deviants to establish
boundaries. He recounted the banishment
Anne Hutchinson as a heretic in
the Quakers from
and the witch trials of Salem in
these incidents, Erikson showed how the sense of order and authority was
deteriorating and how there was a need for an issue around which the Puritans could
unite. The community in each case needed a deviant to denounce and punish
Social psychology research has demonstrated that people have boundaries protect-
ing their personal space. Groups often use language, dress, and ritual to create bound-
aries. People need these barriers to protect against threat (Park,
While much sympathetic interest in and research on the deviant have been generated,
group members’ legitimate needs for boundaries to protect their intimate social connec-
tions have often been overlooked.
We would like to note two additional points concerning boundaries. First, the harm
which comes from the pain
rejection and isolation created by boundaries will con-
tinue until we clarify the positive benefiits that boundaries provide to communities.
Second, while it is clear that groups use deviants as scapegoats in order to create solid
boundaries, little is said about the persons who volunteer for the role of deviant by break-
ing a rule or speaking out against the group consensus in order to obtain attention (Mead,
MCMILLAN AND CHAVIS
We think that deviants often use groups, just as the groups use them in the crea-
boundaries is particularly relevant to a neighborhood community. The
earliest research on community in American sociology focused on the boundaries
established by neighborhood residents (e.g., Park &Burgess,
Park and the Chicago
School’s ecological model explains the mechanisms
classes and ethnic groups as they
work out spatial relations among themselves (Bernard,
boundaries define who
is in and who is out. However, the boundaries can be
subtle as to be recognizable
only by the residents themselves (e.g., gang graffitti on walls marking ethnic
Berger and Neuhaus
see them as creations of social distance
protection against threat -that are
necessary when people are interpersonally vulnerable. Such barriers separate
“them” and allay anxiety by delimiting who can be trusted.
may be considered as part of the broader notion of
Boundaries established by membership criteria provide the structure and security that
protect group intimacy. Such security may be more than emotional; gangs, for example,
provide physical security and collectives enhance economic security (Doolittle
belonging and identification
involves the feeling, belief, and expecta-
tion that one fits in the group and has a place there, a feeling of acceptance by the group,
and a willingness to sacrifice for the group. The role
identification must be empha-
sized here. It may be represented in the reciprocal statements “It is my group” and
am part of the group.”
is an important contributor to a person’s feeling
membership and to his
her sense of community. McMillan
contended (a) that
working for membership will provide
feeling that one has earned a place in the group
and (b) that, as a consequence of this personal investment, membership
meaningful and valuable. This notion of personal investment is paralleled by the work
cognitive dissonance theorists (Aronson
the hazing ritual
college fraternities strengthens group cohesiveness (Peterson
Personal investment places
large role in developing an emotional con-
nection (such as in home ownership) and will be considered again.
common symbol system
serves several important functions in creating and main-
taining sense of community, one of which is to maintain group boundaries. Nisbet and
stated, “First and foremost of the social bond
the symbolic nature of
all true behavior or interaction” (p.
defined a symbol as “a thing the
value or meaning of which is bestowed upon it by those who use it” (p.
standing common symbols systems is prerequisite to understanding community. “The
symbol is to the social world what the cell is
the biotic world and the atom to the
The symbol is the beginning of the social world as we know it”
Warner and Associates
in their classic study
“Jonesville,” a midwestern
community, recognized the strong integrative function of collective representation such
as myths, symbols, rituals, rites, ceremonies, and holidays. They found that in order
obtain smooth functioning and integration in the social life of a modern community,
especially when there
heterogeneity, a community must provide a common symbol
system. Groups use these social conventions (e.g., rites
passage, language, dress) as
DEFINITION AND THEORY
boundaries intentionally to create social distance between members and nonmembers
mentioned that black leaders used symbols to unify
the black community and defy the white population (e.g., Black Power, clenched fist),
offered a rationale for this strategy. Symbols for a neighborhood may
reside in its name, a landmark, a logo, or in architectural style. On the national level,
holidays, the flag, and the language play an integrative role, and, on a broader scale,
basic archetypes unite humankind (Jung,
To summarize, membership has five attributes: boundaries, emotional safety, a sense
belonging and identification, personal investment, and a common symbol system.
These attributes work together and contribute to a sense of who is part of the com-
munity and who is not.
Influence is a bidirectional concept. In one direction, there is the notion that for
a member to be attracted to a group, he
she must have some influence over what
the group does (Peterson
On the other hand, cohesiveness is contingent on a group’s ability to influence its members
This poses two questions: Can these
apparently contradictory forces work simultaneously? Is it a bad thing for a group to
exert influence on its members to attain conformity?
Several studies suggest that the forces can indeed work simultaneously (Grossack,
People who acknowledge that others’
needs, values, and opinions matter to them are often the most influential group members,
while those who always push
influence, try to dominate others, and ignore the wishes
and opinions of others are often the least powerful members.
The second question has received more attention than the first (see Lott
and the major finding has been a positive relationship between group cohesiveness
and pressure to conform. Festinger, Schachter, and Back
and Kelley and Woodruff
considered these correlational findings to be a demonstration of the negative effects
of group cohesiveness (i.e., loss
freedom and individuality).
set of studies on consensual validation that provides some balance to
the contentions about group cohesiveness and conformity. The consensual validation
construct assumes that people possess an inherent need to know that the things they
see, feel, and understand are experienced in the same way by others, and the studies
have shown that people will perform a variety of psychological gymnastics to obtain
feedback and reassurance that they are not crazy-that what they see
real and that
it is seen in the same way by others (Backman
Implicit in conformity research has been an assumption that group pressure on the in-
dividual to validate the group’s world view is the primary force behind conformity (Cart-
However, consensual validation research demonstrates that the force toward uniform-
ity is transactional-that it comes from the person as well as from the group. Thus,
uniform and conforming behavior indicates that a group is operating to consensually
validate its members as well as to create group norms.
Conformity is not necessarily synonymous with loss of personal choice.
and Riger (this issue) caution that many people do try to escape the conformity
close community in order
express their individual freedom. This emphasizes the need
to develop communities that can appreciate individual differences. The group member
believes that either directly or indirectly he or she can exert some control over the com-
saw that through the leadership role, people can feel that they have
influence even when their influence may be only indirect. According to Long, the people
in a community sense
need for a leadership with the status, capacity, and the role
to attend to the general problems of the territory and give substance to a public
The role of power and influence within
community has been at the head of one
of the classic paradigms in sociology (Bernard,
around the ways that power and influence have determined the forma-
tion and functions of community. Bernard
believed that as influence is drawn
away from a locality, the integration and cohesion of the community are threatened.
Voluntary associations act as intermediates (or mediating structures) between the in-
dividual and the state (Berger
by increasing influence and fostering
sense of efficacy. Through collective action, they cause the environment to be more
responsive to the needs of the individual and the small collectivity. Participation in volun-
tary associations or in government programs yields a sharing of power that leads to
the community by the participants, greater satisfaction, and
greater cohesion (Dahl,
The concepts of
power, influence, and participation as they relate to
sense of community can be seen
in the growing neighborhood movement, the strength of labor unions, various social
and the Japanese perspective on management (Pascale
In summary, the following propositions concerning influence can be drawn from
the group cohesiveness research:
Members are more attracted to a community in which they feel that they are
There is a significant positive relationship between cohesiveness and a com-
munity’s influence on its members to conform. Thus, both conformity and community
influence on members indicate the strength of the bond.
The pressure for conformity and uniformity comes from the needs of the in-
dividual and the community for consensual validation. Thus, conformity serves as a
force for closeness as well as an indicator of cohesiveness.
Influence of a member on the community and influence of the community
member operate concurrently, and one might expect to see the force
simultaneously in a tightly knit community.
The third component of our definition of sense of community
fulfillment of needs, which, translated into more ordinary terms, is reinforcement. Rein-
motivator of behavior is a cornerstone in behavioral research, and it
is obvious that for any group to maintain
positive sense of togetherness, the
individual-group association must be rewarding for its members. Given the complexity
of individuals and groups, however, it has been impossible to determine all of the rein-
forcements that bind people together into a close community, although several rein-
forcers have been identified. One is the
of being a member (Kelley,
Peterson and Martens
SENSE OF COMMUNITY:
shown that group success brings group members closer together. The literature on in-
terpersonal attraction suggests that
is another reinforcer (Hester, Roback,
People are attracted to others
whose skills or competence can benefit them in some way. People seem to gravitate toward
people and groups that offer the most rewards. Rappaport
The main point is that people do what serves their needs. But this leaves questions
unanswered: How do people prioritize their needs, especially after meeting the basic
survival needs? What creates
need beyond that
basic survival? Reinforcement
an organizing principle seems blind and directionless unless it is complemented by other
One such directing concept is
Our culture and our families teach
us a set of personal values, which indicate our emotional and intellectual needs
and the order in which
attend to them. When people who share values come together,
they find that they have similar needs, priorities, and goals, thus fostering the belief
that in joining together they might be better able to satisfy these needs and obtain the
reinforcement they seek. Shared values, then, provide the integrative force for cohesive
Groups with a sense of com-
munity work to find a way to fit people together
that people meet the needs of others
while meeting their own needs. (cf. Riley,
The following summarizes the role of integration and fulfillment
Reinforcement and need fulfillment is
primary function of
Some of the rewards that are effective reinforcers
communities are status
of membership, success of the community, and competence or capabilities of other
There are many other undocumented needs that communities fill, but individual
values are the source
these needs. The extent to which individual values are shared
among community members will determine the ability of a community to organize and
prioritize its need-fulfillment activities.
A strong community is able to fit people together
that people meet others’
needs while they meet their own.
Shared Emotional Connection
A shared emotional connection is based, in part, on a shared history. It is not
necessary that group members have participated in the history in order to share it, but
they must identify with it. The interactions of members in shared events and the specific
attributes of the events may facilitate or inhibit the strength
The following features are important to the principle of shared emotional
The more people interact, the more likely they are to
become close (Allan
The more positive the experience and the relationships,
the greater the bond. Success facilitates cohesion (Cook,
McMILLAN AND CHAVIS
Closure to events:
If the interaction is ambiguous and the community’s tasks
are left unresolved, group cohesiveness will be inhibited (Hamblin,
Shared valent event hypothesis:
The more important the shared event is to those
involved, the greater the community bond. For example, there appears to be a tremen-
dous bonding among people who experience
crisis together (Myers,
This feature contributes more than just boundary maintenance and
cognitive dissonance. Investment determines the importance to the member of the com-
munity’s history and current status. For example, homeowners who have invested money
and time in their part
a neighborhood are more likely to feel the impact of the life
events of that community. Similarly, persons who donate more time and energy to an
association will be more emotionally involved. Intimacy is another form of investment.
interpersonal emotional risk one takes with the other members and the
extent to which one opens oneself to emotional pain from the community life will affect
one’s general sense of community (Aronson
honor and humiliation
Reward or humilia-
tion in the presence of community has a significant impact on attractiveness (or adverse-
ness) of the community to the person (Festinger,
This is present to some degree in all communities. Often the
the community experience is the primary purpose of religious
and quasi-religious communities and cults. It is very difficult to describe this important
calls this factor “community of spirit,” likening it to the
nineteenth-century concept of
(folk spirit). The concept of soul as it relates
to blacks and its role in the formation
a national black community is an excellent
example of the role
a spiritual bond.
They [blacks] had a spiritual bond that they understoad and that white people could
not. Soul was an indefinable, desirable something; black people had it but white
people could hardly aspire to it. It was the animating spirit behind their music,
their dance, and their styles. It even expressed itself in their taste in food, their
language, and their speech. Not even all black people shared it. Those who rejected
their blackness did not. (Bernard,
shared emotional connection can be traced through Tonnies’
use of the term
social unity based on locale. According to Konig
(local community), had a long-time original application
as “the totality of those who own something in common”
this in the related concept of the
Neither gemeinschaft nor Bund nor shared emo-
tional connection as presented here includes the requirement
a small-scale local com-
munity. Kasarda and Janowitz
demonstrated that “increased population size and
density do not significantly weaken local community sentiments” (p.
aids us in understanding communities that are not bounded by location.
Future research should focus on the causal factor leading to shared emotional con-
nection, since it seems to be the definitive element for true community. In summary,
strong communities are those that offer members positive ways to interact, important
events to share and ways to resolve them positively, opportunities to honor members,
opportunities to invest in the community, and opportunities to experience a spiritual
bond among members.
SENSE OF COMMUNITY: A DEFINITION AND THEORY
Dynamics Within the Elements
Now that we have defined the elements of sense of community, we will consider
how the subelements work together
create each element and how all work dynamically
together to create and maintain sense of community. (See Table
Five attributes of
seem to fit together in a circular, self-reinforcing
way, with all conditions having both causes and effects. Boundaries provide the protec-
tion for intimacy. The emotional safety that
a consequence of secure boundaries allows
people to feel that there is a place for them in the community and that they belong.
sense of belonging and identification facilitates the development of a common sym-
bol system, which defines the community’s boundaries. We believe too that feelings of
belonging and emotional safety lead to self-investment in the community, which has
the consequence of giving a member the sense of having earned his or her membership.
Community and Their Hypothesized Relationships
Boundaries Sense of Belonging
Integration and Fulfillment
Shared Emotional Connection
Member openness to influence by community members- power of member to influence the
community’s need for conformity
to influence members (community norms).
the degree that communities successfully facilitate person-environment fit (meeting
among members, members will be able to develop sense of community.
Shared emotional connection
(events with successful closure
sharedness of the event)
amount of honor given to members
amount of humiliation.
Within the context of
community influence on the member allows him
or her to have more influence in the community. When one resists the community’s in-
fluence or tries to dominate the community, one is less influential. People are more likely
to choose a leader who listens and is influenceable rather than one whose mind is made
and will never change.
allowing others to have power over oneself can eventual-
ly lead to having influence with them. The last two attributes of influence, conformity
(community norms) and consensual validation, are less clear
us. We believe that if
people choose freely whether
conform, their need for consensual validation will
strengthen community norms. The more a community provides opportunities for valida-
tion of its members, the stronger community norms become.
The transactional dynamics
integration and furfillment
are clearer. Com-
munities organize around needs, and people associate with communities in which their
needs can be met; people can solve their problems and meet their needs
alternatives and resources. Reinforcement at the community level allows people to be
that everyone’s needs are met. People enjoy helping others just as they en-
joy being helped, and the most successful communities include associations that are
mutually rewarding for everyone.
Shared emotional connection
can be represented symbolically in two heuristic for-
specifies the elements of shared emotional connection. Formula
with the content
high-quality interaction. (See Table
Dynamics Among the Elements
It is difficult to describe the interworkings
the four elements
sense of com-
munity in the abstract. Therefore, the following examples are offered as illustrations.
Someone puts an announcement on the dormitory bulletin board
about the formation of an intramural dormitory basketball team. People attend the
organizational meeting as strangers out
their individual needs (integration and fulfill-
ment of needs). The team is bound by place of residence (membership boundaries are
set) and spends time together in practice (the contact hypothesis). They play a game
and win (successful shared valent event). While playing, members exert energy on behalf
of the team (personal investment in the group).
the team continues to win, team
members become recognized and congratulated (gaining honor and status for being
members). Someone suggests that they all buy matching shirts and shoes (common sym-
bols) and they do
Thus, the elements
sense of community operated in
linear fashion. Individuals
sought to meet their needs by integrating them with the needs of others. Membership
boundaries were set and practice sessions for members only were scheduled. This allowed
for shared time and space, which in turn provided shared valent events. Winning
facilitated reinforcement for being a member, which engendered influence and
Consider a community organizer, whose prime task is the crea-
community. First, he talks to people in an area to find out their prob-
lems and concerns, that is, what would reinforce them and motivate them to work
together (integration and fulfillment
common concern emerges (i.e.,
something they all seem to need, such as a safe neighborhood), the organizer begins
ways in which the residents can work together to meet their need. Many
the residents have been victims of muggings, robberies, and assaults. Those who have
not been victimized are ruled by their fear of becoming a victim. Fear of further vic-
shared valent event. The community organizer calls a meeting
cerned neighbors with an announcement that explains whom the meeting is for. This
sets the boundaries for belonging. At the meeting, the organizer introduces neighbors
to one another and tells them about their common concerns. Members elect officers,
set up bylaws, and begin to plan and implement programs (influence and salient event).
They talk and plan for getting to know one another, and watching out for one another’s
safety emerges as a common theme. Other meetings are planned around buffet suppers
at members’ homes (another valent event). People arrange travel
and from these
meetings in groups for safety. Neighbors begin calling the police when they see strangers
in the area, and intruders breaking into homes are caught (influence). The success con-
tinues with neighbors feeling a greater sense of community.
SENSE OF COMMUNITY:
DEFINITION AND THEORY
In this idealized story, one can see how the elements
used by the community organizer. He studied needs and thought about their possible
integration. He called a meeting
residents, thus creating a potential for membership,
and there asked members to discuss the shared valent event of victimization and fear.
This led to the formulation of a structured plan and a successful outcome. Members
began to accept others’ needs as influencers of their behavior, leading to conformity
(going out together in groups). The neighborhood’s sense of community served as a
catalyst for participation in local action (cf. Bachrach
The youth gang is a community generally considered to be com-
alienated individuals. Its formation and maintenance are based on its members’
shared experience of estrangement from traditional social systems and on the security
(emotional and physical) that membership provides (Cloward
develop both territorial and symbolic boundaries. Gang colors (dress and symbols) and
initiation rites serve as the bases for the integration and bonding of members and as
important mechanisms for differentiating gang members from others. The gang exerts
tremendous pressure on members to conform, and the gang’s status and victories enhance
the bonding even moreso. The rules to which members conform are based largely on
the shared values and needs met by the gang. Along the same lines as college frater-
nities, youth gangs give members influence over the environment not available to them
as individuals (Cloward
kibbutz. Before World War
idealistic Zionists began immigrating to Palestine
new state based on humanistic and religious values. After the formation
Israel, the kibbutzim became primary holders of the new state’s values
and cultural norms. The following analysis of the kibbutz movement is based on Cohen’s
The people who formed the original kibbutzim were Jews who expressed a hunger
for a rebirth of a Jewish community that was not a minority in a dominant culture,
but would be the dominant culture. They hoped to experience Jewish fellowship in a
way that integrated the best aspects of the Western European ghetto without the op-
pression. Many had been displaced from their homes in Europe and were in search of
new home. They gathered, then, in hopes
integrating their needs and out
emotional connection. Boundaries of membership were defined by being Jewish and
by sharing the vision and symbols of these Jewish pioneers. Kibbutz members made
great personal sacrifices in order to reach Israel and to establish a new viable commun-
ity on a hostile part of the earth. Their sacrifices were a part of their investment in their
new world, and while they made their own sacrifices, they watched their feIIow members
take great personal risks also. Such a willingness to risk for the community gave members
sense of security that they were among people who cared and whom they could trust.
This shared caring engendered a sense of belonging that in turn supported strong bound-
aries and a willingness for personal investment. These dynamics are all part of the prin-
The pioneering spirit, to create a culture that was not capitalistic and individualistic
but based instead on caring and a willingness to share their vision and ideals, kept the
communities cohesive and intact for some years. Their resources came in part from the
Israel, which needed citizens of the new state
lands and make them productive. The kibbutz movement was proud that the govern-
ment used it as one
the chief socializers of the new nation and as an example
nation and the world that
state in which human caring is as important as power and
economic success could exist. The esteem or pride <hat came about was a source for
change in the values of kibbutzim. Dependent on the outside world for economic sup-
port and esteem, the kibbutzim were vulnerable to outside demands for change. The
needs of the kibbutz communities thus merged with those
the larger community (in-
tegration and fulfillment
needs), and the attributes that were appreciated and valued
by the government and the greater culture began to filter into the kibbutzim.
Simultaneously, as they received attention from the outside world, their inner strength
Once the state
Israel became well established economically, militarily, and
politically, it was not as dependent on kibbutzim for socializing immigrants and no longer
wanted to support the communities with tax dollars. Consequently, kibbutzim began
to feel pressure for economic self-sufficiency. Because of this pressure, many kibbutzim
failed and were disbanded or resettled. Others specialized and modernized their means
of production. A management structure developed, and power was no longer shared
influence was directed more to the Israeli state, many kibbutzim lost their
autonomy. Those that maintained or reinstilled it remained strong.
The formation of classes or subgroups within the kibbutzim came about with the
introduction of new members, who were less experienced in all aspects
ity’s life. Housing and resources were often allocated on the basis of seniority of member-
ship. This resulted in a status differential between the new and the old. Seniority came
to symbolize commitment and stability, creating a shared emotional connection (Glynn,
The life stages of the members also changed the value orientation of the kibbutz
movement. Members were initially antifamily, but as children were born, members began
to identify themselves as family units oriented toward the nurturance
new life. The
education of members into specialists, who were part
a profession and whose profes-
sional problems and challenges were understood only by other professionals who were
likely not to be members
the commune, also weakened members’ orientation toward
the kibbutz as the primary reference group. These developments highlight the changes
in cohesiveness that must occur when values are no longer closely shared
With these changes came economic success and abundance; having more than the
community needed for subsistence became a serious problem. How were resources to
be allocated fairly? Who got to take trips and who got to continue their education?
Did the community want to support members to meet individual interests and needs
that were irrelevant or unbeneficial to the community, even if it had the resources to
group’s success in negotiating this problem of integration of resources and
needs reflected the success
the community itself. Members needed to feel that they
had power in such decisions, yet the community needed to know that members would
place the community’s needs high on their list of priorities. Abundance, however, meant
that the community was basically secure and that members were more concerned with
pursuing their individual needs and interests.
Because of the kibbutzim’s organizational success and internal and external changes,
cohesive bonds loosened. Day-to-day conduct
affairs became separated from the
founding values, and these values were weakened. Life on the kibbutz lost its sacred
quality. Social ties rather than idealistic allegiance became the chief integrating force,
and subgroups formed.
these problems one wonders how the kibbutzim have survived and pros-
long as active and thriving communities. One answer is that members have
shared emotional connection. They have lived and worked together; they have fought
their country’s enemies and the hostile climate together; and they have resolved these
threats (shared valent events) with positive outcomes. This is reminiscent of the song
that asks how the Jews have managed to balance on the roof
when the world is
hostile. The answer is a loud, deep affirmation, “Tradition.” The
kibbutzim, even in their short history, have built a tradition. Each has a story of how
it was settled and how its life changed and grew as the community struggled success-
fully to survive. Members are proud of what they have accomplished together. Their
shared story is the basis of their spiritual bond.
The kibbutz provides
the dynamics inherent in the life cycle
of a sense of community. Sense of community is not a static feeling. It is affected by
time through changing values and external forces such as commerce, the media, transpor-
tation, specialization of professions, economics, and employment factors. This example
of the kibbutz demonstrates the number of communities that one can belong to, each
meeting different needs (e.g., family, kibbutz, nation, profession, religion). Sometimes
these communities are compatible and sometimes their requirements are in conflict. In-
dividual values and needs determine one’s top allegiance in such cases. The layering of
communities is very much part of modern life (Fischer,
in which multiple affilia-
tions are based both on territoriality and tradition (neighborhood, city, state, nation)
and on what Durkheim
called “organic solidarity’’ (interests, professions, religion,
A fuller understanding of the variety of communities in our society is essential.
The definition and theory of sense
community presented in this article apply equally,
we believe, to all types
their common core, although our
four elements will be of varying importance depending on the particular community
and its membership. These elements, then, can provide a framework for comparing and
contrasting various communities.
The theoretical framework presented here has the potential for
broad range of
also Hobbs et al.,
has proposed that we should in-
tentionally model public policy around the values of human development and community.
He suggested that emerging policies be evaluated against
highlight the implications for human development, the family, and the cohesion of a
community. Our definition
sense of community influenced the development of
clear and empirically validated understanding
sense of com-
munity can provide the foundation for lawmakers and planners to develop programs
that meet their stated goals by strengthening and preserving community. Glenwick and
have shown that there are many contingencies in a system and that the
community psychologist can play a role in identifying and designing mechanisms that
reinforce behaviors leading to the development
a sense of community.
For example, consider that most governnmental assistance programs require in-
dividual application. What if it were required that residents apply as a group to receive
certain benefiits? This would necessitate that specific group activites take place and that
certain percentage of an area’s residents participate in the decision to apply (though
all might not want the assistance themselves). A sense of community could develop,
MCMILLAN AND CHAVIS
especially if appropriate technical assistance were provided to assist in organizing. A
situation is thus established whereby members’ needs are met by being part of the group.
Facilitation of the other elements in our definition will further strengthen the formation
Our understanding of sense
community has implications also for community
treatment programs for the retarded and mentally ill. Where “community” means more
than residency outside of an institution, strategies can be introduced to allow the
community to be developed within group homes and to provide
for better integration with communities surrounding such facilities.
stated that an understanding
how communities are formed will
enable us to design housing that will be better maintained and will provide for better
use of surrounding areas (streets and parks) and safety from criminal activity. Along
similar lines, Ahlbrandt and Cunningham
have shown that people make the
greatest investments in home improvements in neighborhoods where there is a strong
reported that, in
an intense need to compensate for the impersonal and threatening aspects of modern
life by seeking mutual identification with others,” on the basis
a sense of belonging
together. “By the beginning
the number of Americans deeply involved in
the search for community had increased from
It is clear that sense
community is a powerful force in our culture now. This
force does not operate just for good, however. In the South, the Klu Klux Klan is gain-
ing in membership and power. Urban vigilante forces are forming to attack and intimidate
people in the name of community. Neighborhoods advertised as exclusive communities
are fencing themselves in
keep out people who do not belong and to separate themselves
from poverty and problems of social justice. As the force of sense of community drives
people closer together, it also seems to be polarizing and separating subgroups
The potential for great social conflict is increasing-a side of community that must be
understood as well. A critical examination of community is essential.
It is our wish that this article will intensify the search for ways to strengthen the
social fabric with the development of sense of community. Somehow we must find a
way to build communities that are based on faith, hope, and tolerance, rather than
fear, hatred, and rigidity. We must learn to use sense of community as a tool for foster-
ing understanding and cooperation. We hope that research on this topic will provide
a base on which we can facilitate free, open, and accepting communities. We present
the concept of community here not as
panacea, rather, as one of the means to
about the kind
world about which we and others have dreamed.
A new public policy
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