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‘Community and Remoteness’

Thanks to David for his thorough review of the Community and Mobility conference in Oxford last week. As reflected in that posting, much was said about mobility and about the technologies of remote communication. We also gained some insights into how they relate to notions of ‘community’ and I just want to add some thoughts on that from a community development perspective.

We don’t have to look hard to find examples of genuine community in a wholly or predominantly virtual context. That doesn’t mean that when a number of people gather together online – synchronously or asynchronously – a sense of community is an natural direct consequence. Similarly, there are plenty of examples of people living in physical proximity where there is little evidence of a sense of community. The notion that community can only be found where people have face-to-face interaction is as flawed as the notion that community is an inevitable consequence of such interaction.

It seems reasonable to suppose that where people share a common experience of particular intensity – as we heard in the case of women experiencing domestic violence, for example – then the sense of community is likely to form readily if communication channels can be opened and sustained. The role of mobiles in this example was really striking. Responding to questions, Joy Etheridge clarified for us that although members of the network were just calling one another, one-to-one, nevertheless they were doing so very much within the context of their supportive community.

We know also that when a group of people share a common lifestyle or have in common some all-consuming aspect of their lives, the sense of community is readily sparked when they connect. In the conference we heard about Turkish speaking communities, young gypsies and travellers, and disabled people, who reflected the value of being able to retain that sense of commonality remotely. Indeed it did occur to me that we might have titled the conference ‘Community and Remoteness’ – since in some cases it was the power of the remote technologies, more than the fact of mobility, that generated the insights into the nature of community.

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