Community in the English-Speaking World
The concept and its uses in social and political discourses
International conference, organised by Mathilde Bertrand, Trevor Harris and Sophie Koppe
26-27 September 2019
MSHA, Salle Jean Borde [Getting there]
The term “community” is widely used in the English language, in everyday conversation, in the vocabulary of social workers and political leaders, in the analyses of social scientists. The term is encountered in many different fields of research, though one is right to wonder if it refers to the same object. “Community” is often used and invoked to the point of being naturalized as unquestioned common sense, and its usage and implications are seldom consciously examined or interrogated. It elicits positive, reassuring associations with what is familiar, close, recognizable. “Community”, as Raymond Williams underlines, is both "the warmly persuasive word to describe an existing set of
relationships; or the warmly persuasive word to describe an alternative set of relationships” (“Community”, Keywords, A Vocabulary of Culture and Society. London: Fontana, 1983, p.75.) Community is used by scholars, as a conceptual tool defining a social group interacting on the basis of shared interests, values, representations, language, cultural practices, with or without being bound to a specific geographic space; it is also used in an empirical manner as a descriptive tool which seems to conjure up an ideal level of social organisation characterized by closeness. It seems to articulate the levels of local and global, especially with the rise of the internet which has strengthened the possibility for new “imagined communities” to flourish, beyond the national community whose symbolic representations were examined by Benedict Anderson.
What makes “community” such a successful and enduring concept? Is it always satisfactory and pertinent, or can it be an easy and fashionable word which may be reductive, generalizing, and even manipulative? The conference seeks precisely to interrogate the uses made of the term in political discourse, in the social sciences, in the terminology of organisations. The conference will explore the historical and contemporary uses of the term, from the utopian socialist communities imagined by Owen to uses of the term today, in relation with minorities or with online social networks. It aims at charting the course of a concept which seems to be equally present both in progressive and conservative political discourses.