15 Jan 2010
Why ‘Community’ Might Not Need ‘Organising’
I read with interest John Michael Greer’s recent post, The Costs of Community, and then Sharon Astyk’s response, On the Problem of Community and I wanted to add some thoughts to the flow. Here is a very quick summary of the debate thus far… Greer’s basic argument is that the way politics used to work was that citizens formed themselves into groups and those groups into movements and that was what brought the pressure to bear to make things happen. Today, we are so atomised and isolated that this doesn’t happen, due, in part, to our preciously-guarded sense of autonomy, our lack of time, and our lack of enthusiasm for putting in the work that actually building communities entails. Rebuilding community, he argues, “requires “sacrificing some of the autonomy so many Americans guard jealously”.
Astyk agrees, but wonders why it is that so few of us actually put the work into building community, and concludes that it is in part due to the fact that we are all working so hard, absurdly long hours for little gain, and have little enough time for ourselves and our families, never mind our communities. The rebuilding of communities, she argues, will only hapen when “many of us disengage from the workforce … establishing community needs time, the hardest single thing to claim”. Of course the current economic contraction is meaning that for many, this is not a conscious decision, many are losing their jobs and finding themselves time rich and income poor. This might be seen as not just a hardship, she argues, but as holding the seeds to the rebuilding of community so essential in this time. “Until someone goes home again, the hopes of our imagined communities are fairly faint”. I hope I have done justice to Greer and Astyk’s points before I go on to set out my own.
Their posts are very timely as they co-incide with some thinking I have been doing over recent weeks, which I offer here in a half-formed form. Yesterday I was sent a new film, called ‘The Turning Point: a return to community”, produced from footage made at the 2007 Positive Energy conference at Findhorn. It has Joanna Macy, Richard Heinberg, Megan Quinn Bachman and myself among others, as well as lots of footage from around the Findhorn community and related ‘powerdown’ projects such as local food gardens, farms etc. It is a very well made film offering a tantalising and inspiring take on what resilience might look like in practice. I watched it with my 16 year old son, who had attended the conference with me, and half way through he remarked ‘I haven’t heard anyone who is actually Scottish yet’.
His observation still applied by the time we reached the end of the film. This is not to criticise the film or Findhorn, who do a great deal of wonderful and vital work, but the use of the word ‘community’ in the film is very interesting. Findhorn, and many other intentional communities and eco-villages, with notable exceptions, are self-selecting communities. Virtually everyone who had come together to form the community at Findhorn has intentionally chosen to be there. I may be wrong, but I don’t imagine there are people living there because that’s where the Council allocated them housing. Mostly people are white, educated, middle class and given to spiritual activities. It is a community of course, and it is a vital learning centre, a laboratory, but it is not the kind of unintentional community most of us live in.
Greer notes in his piece that “one of the reasons I don’t dismiss the Transition Town movement, though I have serious doubts about some aspects of it, is precisely that many of the people involved in it have committed themselves to it in a meaningful sense, and the movement itself has succeeded in some places in building a critical mass of commitment and energy”. Greer is right, it has done that, in some places, and I want to reflect on some of that. First thing I want to say is that for me, relocalisation is not just about a political shift. It is predominantly a cultural and economic shift. It is a fine idea, speculated upon to death on websites like mine, but I am increasingly drawn to the observation that the people that are making it happen are not the thinkers, the bloggers, the philosophers, but the self-starters, the enrepreneurs, who get on with it and start projects.
I do feel that there is something faintly patronising about the idea that we need to ‘create community’. It is like a couple who move into a rural village and wonder why “nothing is happening here” and then alienate themselves by trying to start lots of things without just immersing themselves first and discovering what is already happening there. Community is already there in most cases. It is not the consensual, huggy, ‘let’s have a shared dinner’ kind of community that Findhorn specialises in. It is a more chaotic, far more diverse, stubborn and atomised kind of community. But it does exist. It is neither better, nor worse, just different.
On my street for example, I know about half of the people, and there have been attempts at community events. Many of them I have been too busy or tired to attend, but what becomes clear is that although they serve a purpose, actually the street, as any street, is an overlay of different webs of relationships. The person at No. 7 knows people at 8, 10, 4, 3, 15 and 18, the person at No. 8 knows the people at 7, 6, 12, 13, 20 and 2, and so on. I maybe know a whole different group of people again. If our expectation is that the entire street can only be classed as being a ‘community’ only when they have all held a street party or made compost together, we are going to wallow in disappointment for some considerable time. What happens though, is that certain projects emerge, usually driven by a few committed and passionate characters, around which that community can coalesce, and begin to take owenership of.
I have struggled to find an analogy for this. The best I can come up with is a ‘Grow Your Own Crystal’ kit I had as a child. You mixed a particular chemical solution, and then dangled a piece of string coated in another solution into it. After a while crystals started to form around the string. Without the string, all that potential crystalness would have just continued to float about. With the string, it had something to latch on to, and to realise its crystal potential, as it were. Not the best analogy I ever come up with, but hopefully it gets the point across, in that rather than feeling we have to ‘create community’ from scratch, perhaps we might look at it that actually we need to make interventions around which community can form.
A couple of examples from Totnes. The first Transition Together group in Totnes, which started from one person going around and knocking on doors and suggesting a group form to do the programme developed by TTT, has been an amazing success. All sorts of things are starting to happen, including a bulk buy of photovoltaics and a marked increase in the numbers of people gardening. In the snow, theirs was the one street that procured its own grit and came together to grit their own street. Whether there is any connection between that and the Transition Together influence would be speculation of course, but something has undoubtedly been galvanised.
In the focus groups I have been running as part of my PhD research, one of the things that has emerged as a key driver for change is the value of inspiring examples of ordinary people taking a lead. In one part of town, many people on a street now grow food due to the inspiration of one young couple who moved in and turned their front lawn into a food garden. The Transition Together group’s street mentioned about was picked up on by several people from different parts of the town, one woman noting that “they actually have got the wartime spirit, and they have street parties, like a little village”.
The second example is the Totnes Rickshaw Company. This is a project based in the town, not run by TTT but allied to it, where a local entrepreneur imported 3 Indian rickshaws, collects the chip fat from local chip shops, and uses the fuel to power the low impact (albeit slightly boneshaking) transport option (which you may have seen in the recent Al-Jazeera film about Totnes). This initiative was the work of one committed and passionate man who just got on with it, but now the rickshaws are viewed with pride, and some amusement, by most of the community. While Greer is right that much of change happens because groups form and they then become movements, we mustn’t also forget the people in there who also make things happen, the social entrepreneurs, the innovators. We leave them out of the story at our peril.
The accusation often levelled at Transition groups, although it could just as easily be levelled at the environmental movement as a whole, is that it is predominantly white and middle class. Although this is not uniformly the case, it is, in the main, a fair call at this early stage in its development. Transition Network interviews next week for a Diversity Coordinator to explore how this might be addressed practically, but I feel that in a world where, as Astyk observes, people are running faster than ever before (slavery excepted) just to stand still, and with Transition initiatives being unfunded and in need of volunteer time from those with some spare time to offer, it is inevitable that that demographic will come to predominate. However, my thinking is increasingly that the deeper engagement that successful energy descent will need, and which Greer and Astyk’s articles both long for, will come about most vigorously when people have a stake in it, a vested interest.
The social enterprise model is key here. As the chickens of last year’s economic turmoil come home to roost, purse strings tighten, both public and private, and grant dependent community initiatives will struggle. I am increasingly led to think that the social enterprise model offers the best of everything. We can create viable economic models that are free of grant dependency, building companies, food businesses, energy advice. My experience though is that these work best when they are the work of one or two key entrepreneurs. These people, if they form energy companies for example, dangle the string in the crystal juice that the community can rally around.
The Totnes Rickshaw company, for example, is the work on one or two driven and visionary people, who force these things along. My emerging sense is that Phase Two of Transition initiatives is to shift to promoting a culture of social enterprise and to support, train and enable it. This is where Totnes is starting to get to. Strictly speaking, in so far as the Transition model is set out in the Transition Handbook, we are nearly finished. Our Energy Descent Action Plan, Step 12 of the 12 Steps, is nearly ready to go. The truth is though, that really we are only just starting, and the question as to how to make it happen is key. Perhaps Step 13 is to promote social entrepreneurship. Nurture the ideas that emerge from the EDAP and start building the parallel public infrastructure that way.
What is distinct about the Transition approach though, it seems to me, is about context. Many projects like the rickshaws, local food production, local energy companies are all great, but Transition puts them in a context. It weaves a larger tapestry, tells the story about what could happen if they are all joined up, part of an historic push. While it is true that the Transition, the successful navigation of energy descent, will need community, it will also need its stubborn, visionary, determined and headstrong pioneers in order for it to start to crystallise around our metaphorical piece of string. While the work of ‘creating community’ is vital, we must also recognise that much more of it exists than we often give credit, even if it does look different to our idea of community. It is also essential to acknowledge that like our home-made crystals, or a rock on which lichens can grow, just a few people can start to put in place the bones of a Transition economy, and the support will come. They may prove to be one of our most precious natural resources.
15 Jan 6:50pm
There is a lot of focus, in Greer’s message and Sharon’s, and here, on voluntary community. Prisons, armies, organized crime and organized labor, and work places also form communities – often involuntary.
When looking to the past, I note that feudalism worked for a lot of cultures for a very long time. Feudalism, one person or institution holding the duty and needs of a population is certainly analogous to many empoyments, and loosely to many churches and democracies.
I would think you either have to motivate and sustain every member of a community, or impose a strong direction, to maintain any focus on a common goal. Otherwise, any individual at any time might realize a sense of disappointment – and look for a different answer or goal. And who is to say that a large portion of the community won’t disperse, or coalesce about this newly chosen direction?
Lemercier Pierre-Louis - Renewable Energy Centre - RSA
15 Jan 7:00pm
Indeed “social enterprise model offers the best of everything” as it copies the environment cycle, which is sustainable because, like in old communities output from one side become input for the other sides. .
But increasingly not any more in many communities, which became profoundly sick, increasingly rejecting collective responsibilities (like climate safeguard) .
Mainly I believe because of the oil, which “created millions of slave to work for us” (said Cambell) buffers us from the reality of Nature
and our dependence thereof.
We, now increasingly live in a virtual world where water has to come from the tap, electricity from the switch, milk from the fridge,vitamin from supplements, 24/7 entertainment …………and also rapid car/flights where from it is very difficult to “see” and understand the reality of nature ………but as well the reality of the poor.
A bit like looking as baobab trees with roots in the air, out of touch with the soil and the head in the ground. Extremely dangerous situation I believe.
It also appears that, without the framework and “teaching” from nature and its pace as well due to other factors such as extreme marginalization and related addictions…. almost “everything” becomes in some places “acceptable” such as lost of social texture, ethic, general and scientific knowledge, tolerance and responsibilities as
well as babies raped by children, gay marriages, green washes, denialism ………….
Besides, as Manbiot said: “Consumerism has changed all of us. Our challenge is now to fight a system we have internalised.”
How to come back to Nature while oil still buffers us from its reality/necessity ?
I am afraid that (as Copenhagen may have demonstrated) extreme necessities/catastrophes more than “social mobilization” will be able
to change this delusional world, especially because of the powerful grip of businesses on our life.
15 Jan 7:04pm
Agree, Social Enterprise is key! There will be pioneers and change will come.
15 Jan 7:44pm
‘Building Communities from the Inside Out: A Path Toward Finding and Mobilizing a Community’s Assets’ by John P. Kretzmann and John L. McKnight might be helpful.
15 Jan 8:08pm
Another inspired and brilliant bit of writing. I have always believed that many great things come about because of the vision and drive of one person. Examples might be Brunel and the Great Western empire, Tim Schmidt and the Eden Project. Such entrepreneurs are not trained but just are. They are self motivated and inspirational. If these character traits could be harvested and made into pill form, I’d be the first to buy a bottle.
15 Jan 8:13pm
Why the defensiveness when Transition Towns is accused of being a middle class movement?
Who was it that said the middle class is the revolutionary class? Whoever it was, I and many others agree. The middle class is the seedbed of innovation, change, and of democracy. The middle class can change society. This is totally old hat to politicians. Winning over the middle class is their main strategy in Western democracies!
Also, consider this. Saul Alinsky, the father of community organizing, came to believe exactly this after a lifetime of organizing working class communities.
In fact, he said in a 1972 Playboy interview that he believed that the ONLY way to get change was to organize the middle class. He believe that only an organized middle class could challenge the power of elites. His next project was to do exactly this, but he died shortly after the interview. You can read the interview here:
So I would say this, it’s not a problem that Transition Towns is middle class, it’s an effective strategy. It’s feature, not a bug!
Does this mean that we ignore those less fortunate than the middle class? No. What Alinsky was saying is that if you truly want to help the working class, you have to mobilize the middle class because their interests are largely aligned with working class interests – family, education, health, economic opportunity, and good government. And the middle class is a far more powerful voting block than the working class (at least in the US).
And then let’s just use our commons sense here. Does anybody criticize unions for being working class? No. So let’s get comfortable with the idea that some movements are middle class, and that this is perfectly OK. Each class has its own movements according the its needs and interests. Isn’t this is exactly what one would expect?
From one who respects people from all walks of life, including those from the middle class 😉
Publisher, Shareable Magazine
15 Jan 9:25pm
One of the problems with building community is that too many reject the communities within which they grew up.
Too many young adults, at the first chance leave for further education and on completion move away from their home towns and have to start afresh becoming part of a community.
Consequently generations become separated and communities increasingly lose the vitality they once held.
15 Jan 9:39pm
‘…and concludes that it is in part due to the fact that we are all working so hard, absurdly (sic) long hours for little gain, and have little enough time for ourselves and our families, never mind our communities…’
And that, in a nutshell, is the precise problem with capitalism in its present form. Greed means that tycoons are pushing their workers, and indeed themselves, ever harder in the name of profit, growth and “progress”. Don’t misinterpret me on this, as I am certainly no fan of communism (which is essentially state-capitalism anyway), but I do think that serious thought needs to be given to developing a new economic model that fits the very real constraints that we are facing.
Modern capitalism has no future, of that much I am sure.
15 Jan 9:52pm
If you read Tim Smit’s own account of the Eden project in the book by the same name, he studiously avoids taking any credit for its success; he continually points to the different and successive members of the team who shouldered responsibilities collectively, took huge risks, and made it happen. What Tim contributed was vision and creative thinking and a kind of playfulness–similar perhaps to Richard Branson. Tim also spent a huge amount of time going around to each and every local community and parish in St Austell and beyond to share his vision with people and help get them on board.
The Costs and Problems of Community (Updated) « Ukiah Blog Live
16 Jan 1:38am
[…] See also Why ‘Community’ Might Not Need ‘Organizing’ (Transition Culture)→ ~~ Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)What is Community? – Part 2 of […]
16 Jan 12:23pm
Having watched Kevin Mcloud’s “Slumming It” and been shown the incredible ‘community’ that exists in such appalling situations, I believe that for communities to evolve requires a mix of the environment it lives in and the will to survive against a common adversary.
The built environment of todays architecets and town planners seem to miss that special feature that allows neighbours to communicate in a casual manner without the need for contrived meetings at work or even at play when you only see people that share a common interest. The houses in Dharavi grew organically from the needs to shelter people in a confined space and altough it grew as the population grew, it couldn’t spread so became compacted. Like it or not all the inhabitants meet fellow community members while going about their business. The flimsy nature of the buildings means that they could all hear their neighbours. The new high rise ‘alternative’ isolates people in their ‘cells’. There’s no casual acknowledgement of neghbours when they are sealed in their concrete boxes with no outside space where they could communicate and share the time of day etc.
I used to live in the centre of a village where passing neighbours could stop and chat, but now living out in the countryside, I wouldn’t even recognise our two nearest ‘neighbours’ because they live fields away and just speed past in their cars. The loss of pubs and post offices has taken the heart out of many communities. Farmers will meets at markets, parents will meet at the school gates but there’ no cross polination from diverse backgrounds.
The second key facter is that common ‘enemy’. During any war that tends to be fairly obviuos but in Mumbai its poverty. Perhaps the worlds financial problems or climate change will be the common ‘enemy’ whose effects impact on us all and we jointly know what its like to be fighting for a common cause.
16 Jan 1:15pm
Very interesting. I too feel that within the concept of ‘an intentional community’ it is often forgotten that the majority of us are already part of – what has become – an unintentional community. The reality of the ragged sort of community which surrounds most people is the setting for the first steps of ‘community actions’ like those Rob has outlined – and the entrepeneur is key here.
I am a UK farmer, but not only. I am also active in Poland trying to help save the peasant farms against corporate and EU invaders. While away from the UK I cannot farm all my land and have therefore rented out sections to other similarly inclined farmers/growers who continue the organic farming traditions established in 1975.
But now I have noticed a great clamouring for land amongst people who feel a great need/desire to grow their own fruit and veg. I have much sympathy for this calling – and have now taken a 5 acre field aside on which some 30 local aspirants will start digging away this spring.
They will pay a small contribution towards water and shed costs and will have anually renewable licenses to raise ecologically managed crops on the land.
I am most intrigued to see how things develop. But it could be that a form of unitentional intentional community starts growing – as well as the seeds!
16 Jan 4:57pm
May East (of Findhorn, Scotland and Sao Paulo, Brazil) asserts that lack of solidarity is precisely what is missing in our communities in the developed nations of the northern hemisphere. Within Transition we glibly say that we need to “build community,” but solidarity identifies specifically that element which we are lacking.
Hear May East’s comments on solidarity in the session from Copenhagen https://www.transitionculture.org/2009/12/21/is-transition-relevant-to-the-global-south-a-discussion-at-the-klimaforum/ at approx 24:55 minute point in the video.
My comments about it here http://www.transitionus.org/blog/solidarity
16 Jan 7:26pm
Step 13 and beyond — sounds like the title of a future Hopkins book!
As a 39-yr veteran of intentional community I find myself in much agreement with all of this. The only area that makes me a little queasy is around the commercial ecology of entrepreneurianism.
Today we see a lot of youth come to The Farm who are enamored of the idea of doing well by doing good, not understanding that what they really want by that is separation (elevation) rather than union (leveling). I am increasingly drawn to Hugo Chavez’ observation in Copenhagen that capitalism is the problem underlying climate change (and peak everything); or more specifically (and more Evo Morales’ point)the idea of material wealth growth as dominant paradigm being the root of our dilemma.
So the new entrepreneurialism (what a Scrable score in that word!) has to be directed outwardly, away from, rather than towards, individual accrual of unequal wealth. And that, for me, is the essence of community values.
16 Jan 7:31pm
Having been part of a grassroots movement which was composed of non-white, non-middle class (poor) people, which is still thriving to this day, even though the founder is in prison forever (okay, you might call it a cult community) I have experienced the ‘anything is possible’ phenomenon. Community prospers when money is not the modus operandi. It suffers when money is the bottom line. In the community I lived in for many years, no individual was allowed individual money and we all worked 10+ hours, every day, 365 days of the year (think mother, housewife). The community eventually became dispersed as far as brick and mortar is concerned but remains viable through its many members. I don’t know if anybody now would consider taking that ‘vow of poverty’ that each and everyone of us took (though not verbally) when we entered and don’t think many would give up their independent lifestyle to live as we did formerly. Only those who have realized the personal suffering of serving two masters (money vs heart) will have the time, in fact, all the time necessary, to devote to building community. I have lots of time in fact I have all the time in this world to devote to building community, so who needs some help?
16 Jan 7:51pm
Looks like there is a summar of ‘Building Communities from the Inside Out: A Path Toward Finding and Mobilizing a Community’s Assets’ by John P. Kretzmann and John L. McKnight at
http://j.mp/8Fdwze . thanks for this, Chris!
16 Jan 10:00pm
I understand what you’re saying Rob, that we should value the community that exists and the entrepreneurs that, as you say, put in place the bones of the transition economy.
However, to say that you do not need to organize community is a whole different, and more extreme, argument. Here’s a couple thoughts related to this:
-Community organizing is essential to building power, and eventually TT will need political power to be fully realized. It seems that many of the TT initiatives begin somewhat outside of existing power structures, then begin to influence them. To have the full impact TT seeks, TT must become effective at influencing local government. This requires organizing. It doesn’t have to happen early in the TT initiative-forming process. In fact, it might be better if it doesn’t because political change is obviously incredibly difficult. Good organizing requires a series of wins that increases the capacity of the group to take on tougher challenges. It’s smart to begin organizing around things that have a nearly 100% chance of success. But later, when those transition companies and communities begin to thrive, they will want to advance what they’ve built and will enter the public arena to do so.
-Entrepreneurs have a role, but you can’t rely only on them for change because they always work within existing political arrangements. It’s too expensive for a startup to lobby. Entrepreneurs typically avoid opportunities that require any change in regulation to work. That’s because you can’t get investment for such ideas. Plus, entrepreneurs want to do, not plead.
-Rather than either or arguments, I’m mostly saying all these things have their place in the cycle of change, some early in the process, some later.
16 Jan 11:15pm
My local transition is a kind of transition hub which rather than supporting the setting up working groups or local community groups, our primary aim is to support the setting up and delivery of projects (i.e. entrepeneurial activity). To a certain extent we’ve noticed that this guarantees action and will hopefully build community where as setting up working and community groups builds community but doesn’t necessary lead to action.
17 Jan 7:53am
Two posts on this theme:
Spontaneous community 11:01:10
Organised community in Todmorden 02:12:2009
17 Jan 8:42pm
you are right on! We are starting all sorts of collective enterprises… here is an article about it.
18 Jan 3:37am
Joanne Poyourow, using the word “solidarity” bothers me. I, too, dug out my dictionary, “unity of interests” seems appropriate, and yet . .
In the story of the cookie, of the children sharing fragments of Scottish biscuits – almost certainly shortbread cookies, as they are called here in the US – I wonder if there isn’t another dynamic.
Steady state. Acceptance. Lack of cultural and social mobility.
That is, they are where they are now, have been for generations, and there is no effective ambition or mechanism for change operating on them.
We know, from anecdotal stories, that children growing up in poverty often don’t find out that their state is impoverished until they get older, and start interacting outside the home.
Thus, with May East’s cookies, the village leader gains little from conspicuous consumption, and little from indulgence – compared to bringing needed calories and samples of foreign flavors to his community. He may see this exotic gift as a way to nurture his community, or as a way to enhance his image of providing for the community.
I don’t care to belittle what was observed, but I am less accepting that the related social and cultural dynamics are as Ms. East describes.
I find it more probable that it is isolation at the individual level that is responsible for stability of the community. When the individual has contacts outside the community, and regularly relates to people and processes in the larger world, they feel themselves part of a different, unformed community.
I look at the brewing violence in Haiti, and it seems clear to me that some of the violence deliberately plays to a larger audience than those intimidated and threatened at ground zero. How else would a “community” protest relief aid being delivered too slow – by blocking the road with corpses? This is a community rife with awareness of class distinctions, of foreign (unearned) intervention and handouts, of “rich” tourists and appalling disregard for life, for community – while raising families and often living with values that you or I would recognize. Unlike the isolated village of the Southern Hemisphere, Haiti has had TV and radio for generations – electronic relationships to the people. I dare say they have been subjected to advertising, as well as government propaganda and know the feel and stench of corruption as well as any people on earth today.
I consider a community as an aggregate of families and extended families. The unit of culture is the family, the values, traditions, and rituals that the adults of the family embrace as their lifestyle. A family teaches their children that culture as an expression of respect and honor to their parent culture – their community and extended families. A family interacts with the community as a unit, seldom as an individual adult. Fathers and partnered men and women interact differently within their community than do single men or women. Children, by definition, interact with community as members of family.
It could well be that the core of building community is a consensus of elders, of the coming together of extended families and families. The community that serves it’s members fairly, and meets their needs, should flourish. But it takes the elders to guide, and respect of all to bind.
One thing today’s Politically Correct wariness of women’s rights and rights to sex as recreation rather than procreation, and the strictures of some religious teachings – and reactions against such teachings – must address, I think. And that is that a sustainable community requires the formation of deliberate families, the coming together of adults to form a cultural unit in honor and respect of their respective extended families and of their community. The process of selecting mates *must* take into account the suitability of the mate to form an acceptable cultural unit, to be reasonably competent at skills required to succeed in family roles, and when interacting with the community as a family.
If a community is to grow, there are two choices. Adoption and procreation. A community risks diluting and fragmenting their culture when newcomers are admitted. Children raised within the community bring their own risks, but cultural dilution and loss of community are much less likely. Certainly, religious teachings and institutions rely on the coupling of indoctrinating the child and instructing the newcomer – and demanding proof of true faith before full admission to membership.
Solidarity, I think is a goal and a metric, but it seems to be more of a development than a necessary component.
18 Jan 11:52am
This http://www.streetparty.org.uk is nice and practical, and popular too. A chance for neighbours to talk and do things together. Cheers!
18 Jan 2:00pm
To me this goes back to your post about the viral drum break: https://www.transitionculture.org/2008/06/20/the-fascinating-story-of-a-viral-drum-break/
If the aim is to build a community, then we have to ask is: “What is a community?”
The answer, I think, is the loose organisation of overlapping networks you describe. It certainly not a centrally-controlled and ‘Organised’ body.
So, if that is what we want to build, what would a Transition community look like in 10, 20, 30 years time? It is not (in the case of my town) 38,000 people all marching to the beat of some central ‘organising’ committee. It is, as I think you say, 38,000 people all living their lives in the ways they want to, but all having made some big changes to some key aspects of their lives: Food, Energy, Transport, Housing, Jobs being perhaps the top 5.
The ultimate aim is not to create or ‘Organise’ a ‘Community’. The ultimate aim is to enable people to transform their own lives, in the way(s) that make sense to each of them. Increased community might, or might not, arise as a result of that.
The role of Transition, in my view, is thus to begin with that end in mind, and start now being the way we want to be in 10, 20, 30 years time.
To me the way we achieve this is by:
1) raising people’s awareness of the changes that they might want to make (including potential “solutions” as well as potential “problems”), and
2) to act as a meeting place/networking point where people can meet other people who are interested in making the same changes as they are (so that they can do so better and faster).
Community might arise as a result of those changes. But that is for the people themselves to decide.
But whether it does or not, the successful changes (as you describe two examples) then act to reinforce raising the awareness of others (activity 1), and enable more people to join in (activity 2), and thus create a virtuous, self-reinforcing, positive feedback loop.
The reason the viral drum break is relevant, is that the way the virtuous, self-reinforcing, positive feedback loop emerges is (as you say) from a series of entrepreneurial innovations (in each of the priorities of Food, Energy, Transport, …). We cannot control (or organise) any of them. They emerge at different times in different places, and evolve (or die) in the same way as new businesses, television, records, CDs, MP3 files, viral drum beats, emerge, grow, die, evolve.
Transition becomes a ‘container’ for enabling, nurturing, transplanting and reproducing, all those innovations. Each on its own is a fragile seedling. Together they form a thriving new ecosystem.
Community is not the end-point, the goal, it is the side-effect.
Or, more accurately, community and projects (thought and actions) are intertwined, in the way that is described by John Croft’s Dragon Dreaming approach: https://www.transitionculture.org/2007/02/21/john-crofts-dragon-dreaming-presentations/
So, finally, the Quality of the community, and the Quality of its projects/actions are inter-related, in another feedback loop.
If we live in the (non-)community that most of us do now, then it is to be expected that our actions will trash our larger community (“the environment”), and the result will be global unsustainability.
But if we live in a community of the type foreseen by Transition, where the existence of (not-organised) community leads to community-positive actions, then the result is a self-reinforcing loop of global sustainability.
So Much Community, So Little Time « Thinking in Plain Sight
18 Jan 5:10pm
[…] Sharon Astyk’s “On the Problem of Community”, and Rob Hopkins’ “Why ‘Community’ Might Not Need ‘Organising’” — coupled with an exchange of comments in recent days on this blog and on Facebook over applying […]
18 Jan 6:03pm
” I am increasingly drawn to the observation that the people that are making it happen are not the thinkers, the bloggers, the philosophers, but the self-starters, the enrepreneurs, who get on with it and start projects.”
One of the weirdest things about you, Rob, is that you do both- you’re very much a doer- but you also spend an awful lot of time basically philosophizing.
Something very few “policy” types understand- though marketing wonks know it well- is that governments and businesses do NOT lead; they follow. Really.
And the Transition movement is a stellar example of exactly that.
jeez, sounds like I’m sucking up, huh? 🙂
@stuartgh - This post is about community
19 Jan 10:42am
[…] launching businesses and simply having fun? I certainly believe so. But also don’t forget the importance of key individuals, nor the positive way that communities currently exist in their heterogeneity, which need to be […]
19 Jan 11:14am
And here’s a link of a book which sounds relevant, but I haven’t read it myself:
The Social Entrepreneur: Making Communities Work
19 Jan 11:48am
It’s a great book Nick – Andrew Mawson initiated the wonderful Bow Health Centre. Very interesting on how various administrations tried to make political capital out of his ideas, without really understanding what made it all work – all comes down to power in the end.
19 Jan 12:04pm
“Community is not the end-point, the goal, it is the side-effect.”
If food security is a sack of flour in the larder, and energy security is a woodpile to fuel the oven, might community be a cake covered in icing, with jam in the middle, accompanied by a nice pot of tea?
19 Jan 9:09pm
New Community: the Self-Importance of Ernest
The earnest and polite “discussion” among a set of pale and privileged UCs* about the dearth of “community” in the industrialized urban and agrobizzy rural locales would be funny if it wasn’t so STOOPIT. Because the plain answer to why community dies is “patriarchy prevails.”
(*Ucs = Upper Crusties who go around saying ‘You see, surely you see, it’s this way–it’s MY way, don’t UC?’)
Wherever men rule, they employ their whole combined strength and purpose to disrupt, denounce, deny rights to and destroy women-built communities.
From the wars of male-favoring northern Aryan puritanism waged on the sexy southern Dravidians to the brassballed imposition of Europenis values on the indigenous peoples of America and Africa, patriarchy has been bustin’ up all over. Women build communities. Men break them. On purpose. For profit. And for fun.
Men build castles. They even call their “homes” castles–with themselves at the Head of course. Not what the floating boat naval fortresses call the head BTW, but having a similar stink.
Whenever men’s religions prevail, men wield their common stock of economic, emotional, educational and brutal physical power to isolate and control women’s bodies in “homes” –i.e. second class distributed workpits– whence they can, and do, systematically rob “their” women of labor, liberty, pleasure and even life.
Yet women continue to build communities in spite of men’s determined, vasopressin-motivated and unexamined urges to isolate and control them, a la the castlekeep-em-pregnant Fritzl phenomenon. Even white women in the I’ve Been Moved 1950s, though successfully dispersed and locked up in suburbia without buses, trains, or a second car, managed to secure some semblance of community via PTAs, Girl Scouts and church activities–not leadership positions, of course, but just “social”ones. Women build communities because they have the children, the elderly and the “home” to take care of by their own unpaid labor. To lessen labor is why women’s communities form.
Men form communities to consolidate and reinforce their own power and prosperity. The muscle power of women, children, animals and slaves is the pre-oil, post-Hellenic ‘solution’ to a sustainable male dominance culture. Unless post-oil is also post-patriarchy, women can “look forward” to going backwards. How many of these so-called “communities” are prepared to put up the funds to build, equip and COLLECTIVELY maintain a canning shed where women can come together in every season to share the labor of putting up produce and swapping pantry stores on the spot to vary the diet of their respective households without having to do every damn thing themselves?
You think your farming “communities”or urban co-ops will give a group of unwed mothers a 60-year loan to buy heavy duty washing machines and a rotating clothes line that uses the warm exhaust air of the next door icehouse and a rain-covered, screened-in, skylight-and-solar thermal-paneled pavilion to dry clothes in for a centrally located, women-owned laundry business where a group of women WITHOUT MEN can earn their own money relieving other women of a time-consuming and inefficient chore by the labor of their own strong backs, their own most loyal sons and daughters without the “protection” of some layabout husband to drink up all the profits and control the money in his own name? Naw!
If you mess up the Sacred Home by removing the millions of appliances sold, what man can get filthy rich on women’s dollars? If you let women gang up and help each other, so they don’t have to “keep house” there will be no end to the mischief the “girls” might get up to. They might have energy enough and the desire to have sex with OTHER MEN! That will NEVER do!
No, if post-oil forces us to give up our dishwashers, dryers and other devices specifically aimed at keeping millions of women isolated in dick-headed castles, we can just go back to making women do back-breaking labor 18 hours a day again. That way, between the absence of midwives and medical care for childbirth and erysipelas from dishpan hands, you can kill off your old wife and get a new, younger prettier one every ten years or so. Sweet!
You think that the “community” will finance the building of an efficiently designed, jointly stocked and roster-cleaned community kitchen where women can sign up to prepare just ONE of the four meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner or supper) a day for a cluster of seven households, ONCE PER WEEK and the rest of the time a WELL-PAID, PROFESSIONAL STAFF prepares simple nutritious meals and takes care of all cleanup chores? You think a jointly owned stock in any public building can be earned by women who contribute their incremental labor to community events will be part of any “community” where men and male values prevail? You think that any MEN will be on the volunteer cooking and cleaning roster? Yeah, go ahead, laugh.
Do you foresee a ‘community’ where the next time some kid or able-bodied adolescent whines “There’s nothing to EAT!” their mother can sit back in a reclining barber chair while getting a manicure and pedicure and say “Go to the CK and don’t bother the matrons with your noise,” and be free to think her own thoughts? And where the matrons’ combined glare emotionally reinforces the message to get the hell out and amuse yourself elsewhere kid? Then you have no idea what “community” means apart from your male master-nation fantasies.
You think your Ideal Villages and Prosperous Farms are going to plan and pay for a bathhouse, hair dresser’s and beauty spa where farmwives can go to get pampered with an oil massage twice a week, chat with other wives, maybe somebody might actually see the bruises left on Miz Hulkerhaver’s body from the last time her SOAGDD husband went on a spree and half kilt her? Hell no.
Do you think that interesting and colorful and child-safe compound houses for women with young children with a fenced in area and a common garden will be built to replace the soulless sterility and treeless deserts of male-conceived and executed suburban housing developments? What? Design for a world without MEN? Common dwellings made just for WOMEN and NOT MEN’S CASTLES? Outrageous! Whorehouses!
Do you suppose that similar cluster housing designed to serve the needs of mature and elderly women who want quiet and contemplation or who are ill and need attendance will be financed by “community” efforts. Pish. Tosh.
Let’s talk about textiles, shall we?
When machine-made cloth displaced cottage workers what was the response of the male “community”?
Here-I’ll make it easy on you frat boys and girls: multiple-choice.
A. To build their own or secure one or two spinning mules for a group of women to use locally and keep their independence.
B. To build a well-lit working barn, install a millrace or steam-powered loom for the whole village to use like the grinding mill.
C. To bring in teachers to train women how to get exotic silk brocades and tightly-woven linens for heir OWN use and their CHILDREN’s?
D. None of the above.
Was the men’s response to innovation the HELP the WOMEN and CREATE STRONGER COMMUNITIES? Fuck no. The response was to take the work out of independent (though ill-paid and exploited) spinsters’ and websters’ hands and undercut their trade to enrich the MEN at the women’s expense. Then they hired the women to do the work of the mills at half the men’s pay.
The men did not combine to protect “their” women by setting up a local textiles shop where women could work together with children underfoot and laugh and talk and gossip while they turned out “good enough” cloth for everyday and had classes on Sunday to learn how to improve their craft and better their techniques.
No, no, no, no! Because Sunday was given over to worshipping a Male God and listening to a Male Priest declare what sinful shits all women are and how they ought to humbly bow before men’s superiority every minute of every hour of their worthless and worm-addled lives. And the extra work that the worship of this Male God entailed on the Saturday before was a Noble Sacrifice and served to keep the women “in their ‘place’” by shaming them before their “community” of other equally cowed and bamboozled women if they failed to come up to scratch.
Any bar men set, women will hurdle and even raise. Even when if means breaking your feet into painful and suppurating folds or taking pride in having your clit cut off on a kitchen table with a butcher knife and your labia sewn up to serve the bizarre sexual obsessions of religious men.
So if men are SERIOUS about LEADERSHIP, they will ENCOURAGE WOMEN to GET OUT OF THE KITCHEN and OUT OF THE HOUSE and OUT FROM UNDER MEN”S VIOLENT SEXUAL OBSESSIONS.
When men are serious about creating COMMUNITY they will find ways to LESSEN WOMEN’S LABOR and PAY UP FRONT the FAIR VALUE of MENIAL CHORES just like they do for well-informed sex workers. Because if you do the fucking work first and then expect men to pay, you are SOOL and screwed twice over.
What’s more, community-minded men will WORK OVERTIME to set up places where women can live INDEPENDENTLY FROM MEN–-that’s right–work AGAINST your own castle mentality–and find every possible way to SUPPORT AND SHARE in the hard labor of child care and elder care.
To foster real community men will stop behaving like bloody-minded bulls and see to it that women can ALWAYS AND FOREVER CHOOSE who they themselves want to fuck and not BE FORCED into BEARING CHILDREN or being UNPAID SERVANTS to LAZY BEER GUZZLING MEN. Also, men will form at least a few communities where they fuck each other over instead of doing it to women all the time.
Because when women re-take into their hands the ancient queendom of textiles–when they turn their talent for weaving cloth into weaving new human relations, and find SEXUAL PLEASURE WHEREVER THEY CHOOSE without having to be BABY MACHINES and DRUDGES, then men will just have to lump being the second sex. And they might even learn to like it.
B for Bendetta » Real Communities are Self-Organizing
20 Jan 3:01am
[…] Michael Greer, Sharon Astyk and Rob Hopkins have made some interesting points on the topic of community, and I wish to join the fray. In all of […]
Real Communities are Self-organizing « Rob Can Help
20 Jan 9:11am
[…] Energy — admin @ 8:00 am Easy AdSense by UnrealJohn Michael Greer, Sharon Astyk and Rob Hopkins have made some interesting points on the topic of community, and I wish to join the fray. In all of […]
20 Jan 10:58am
wrh – we havent got time. Your Daley-esque radical feminist outrage is thirty years too late. The polar ice-caps are melting faster than previously predicted – so from one feminist to another, I urge you to get organising a transition initiative locally and channel that amazing energy positively.
20 Jan 1:18pm
Are there such a thing as female-owned and only communities. I want to go. As good as reading wrh rant felt, anger is not our friend. I love your ideas though. I’m with you there.
20 Jan 2:44pm
A couple of thoughts. One – men are raised by mothers, at least the first, most formative years, in nearly every culture. That is where the first changes need to come. As far as I can tell, Barbie is still popular, and seldom with boys. Girls still emulate their mothers – unless Mom works in the workplace, and the daughter (or son) don’t get enough time to learn a complete and functional home culture (rituals, traditions, and values), let alone community values.
Most men grow up with less personal world view to choose their role in the family and community. Like many women, they *know* (as opposed to yearn for) only the culture they were raised in. I understand the anger around constrained social and familial roles. But like the stricture to “hate the sin and love the sinner”, I think it horrendously important to be sure your anger at society doesn’t splash over onto any man or woman (you know, those women that keep raising men, generation after generation). Most haven’t chosen whether to reinforce or oppose specific cultural normatives.
At one point, I considered that a man takes a wife, and forms a family – as a luxury. No man needs, economically or individually, a wife or family to survive. Nor woman, neither. The industrial age introduced the concept of the “executive” wife, where the wife is caretaker of home and family, an expression of conspicuous consumption as in “See how wealthy and important I am, that I have a castle and wife and family and servants and bright shiny ornaments and doodads!”.
Now I have come to the conclusion that the family – partnered adults – is the unit of culture. This culture is formed by adopting rituals, traditions, and values to guide and nurture themselves. This family culture is formed from what each adult chooses from the family and community they were raised in, or consciously choose. The family interacts with extended family and community not as individual adults, but as a family, each adult acting within their perceived family role. A community perceives the family roles and interacts differently with parents than unpartnered adults.
What roles and responsibilities are appropriate to each gender? I don’t know. As far as I can tell, just about every variation has been tried, and met some success. I do recall reading that “no rebel is every truly happy.”
When the topic of sustainable community arises, the picture that most often occurs to me is the blacksmith. The blacksmith exists as a pure service to the community. There is no place or path for personal ambition, for one that makes and repairs needed iron fittings, shoe horses, tools, etc. A community is much poorer for the lack of a blacksmith, once the concept of China-built doodads filling the local hardware store fades from memory. Bound at once by the needs of others and the drudgery of her/his craft, is the blacksmith slave, servant, or treasured asset?
It is personal ambition, I think, that is the greatest destructor of community, and likely family, too.
The last time I read about women, well, actually, husbands and wives, coming together to put up vegetables, can fall produce – was a Mormon canning operation. The congregation owned a canning setup, and families scheduled days to share the work of preparing and canning food. This was last year, and I can think of few more patriarchal organizations than the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the Mormons.
In terms of a sustainable community I can think of few things *more* important, than making the raising of children – choosing mates and forming families – a fundamental aspect of the core community culture.
I think advertising and marketing act, strongly, to destroy an individual’s ability to think things through, and divert motivations toward self-aggrandizement and a need for conspicuous consumption. The result is an “I only win if you lose/if I have better stuff” mentality that you seem to abhor.
I cannot think of any cultural model that doesn’t abuse various members. Women I have known have been brutal, petty, unbalanced, spiteful, generous, thoughtful, and effective leaders (usually not the same person). What little I know of history tells me that matriarchal societies tend toward about the same frequency and degree of brutality and unfairness as others. I do not believe in utopia.
What I do believe is that respect for self and others, integrity and honesty, and honor – expressed in rational terms – can be the basis for most any sustainable relationship.
Addendum « Eros Philia Agape
20 Jan 5:47pm
[…] quick follow up on Monday’s post… another article has come to my attention: Why ‘Community’ Might Not Need ‘Organizing’ I have never run across Rob Hopkins before, although the “Transition Culture” seems vaguely […]
20 Jan 6:34pm
Rob, I very much like your “Grow Your Own Crystal” analogy, which reminds me of Rupert Sheldrake’s morphic field theory. I could go on about that at length, but I have decided to respond with a post that ties community organizing back to the basics of local land-use planning. Hope you’ll check it out and let me know what you think. I really do think that refinement and scale up of the Totnes food study methodology is essential, and I would like to be part of that work, if you see any value to my own methodology. Thanks for all you are doing!
Discussions on ‘Community’
21 Jan 11:33am
[…] Rob Hopkins (Transition Culture): Why community might not need organising […]
21 Jan 6:05pm
Replying to Rob’s article (haven’t had time to read all the replies yet)
From experience with Transition Cambridge, I completely agree that a few very motivated people who are willing to see their ideas through, no matter what and whether or not other people help very much, are the mainstay of a lot of our activities. I’ve also noticed that at least some of these ideas get catalysed at events where people get to talk to each other but without a specific agenda e.g. parties, meals etc (for example, a chance meeting at an event organised by a different organisation will hopefully be the start of our new topic group). On the other hand, repeated e-mails asking people to give us their ideas, to start up new groups or get involved with existing ones don’t get a huge response. We get a small and steady stream of newcomers and most of them have been on the low-carbon journey for a good while, and see Transition as a way of getting more engaged in actually doing something. For a while now we’ve been aware that what holds us back is having enough people who are willing to “lead”, by which I mean to do a lot of the hard work and spend the time organising etc (and we are lucky enough to have quite a few such people, which is why there’s quite a lot going on). There is no lack of people wanting to help/volunteer, but often we don’t really know what to ask them to do – we need people who’ve got an idea they want to see through, and just need a bit of support to make it happen.
24 Jan 1:05am
Raina; “Are there such a thing as female-owned and only communities. I want to go.”
Yes, there are. See:
And those are just the ones I’ve heard of.
24 Jan 6:36pm
In Ireland many Transition initiatives seem to be led by English blow-ins. Do you think it could be that the people attracted to the transition idea tend to not be inclined towards community activities in general?
29 Jan 12:39pm
there are a small number of towns like Totnes where very little community organising needs to happen.
The Transition Towns Totnes project happened because of Totnes community. Was built on years of experimentation, research, education and organising.
you might say the community organised TTT
in most places, organising is of a very different kind, its around television, supermarkets, cars, jobs, debt. Some of these communities harbour transiton types.
But, in most of the world, in most communities, peak debt is more important than peak oil. Wage slavery crushes lives.
Transition is a dream, Change We Can Believe In.
How can you be green when you are in the red ? If you are so indebted or so poor that you can barely survive, a voluntary powerdown isnt possible. You are already down.
have said this before, in the Global South, which I dont think Totnes really has – i.e. really, desperately poor – Transition means power ascent, and more consumption.
We need to reduce the overconsumption in the Global North i.e. the rich and increase the underconsumption of the Global South i.e the poor.
Raj Patels Stuffed and Starved
It used to be called equality
4 Feb 7:55am
I’m time rich, and cash poor. I know exactly what you mean. I’m a stay at home mom. I quit one of the best paying jobs to raise my boys, garden, and raise my own chickens at home. My husband works, he pays most of the bills, but it’s been quite an adjustment to live on a single income. But boy is it more efficient! I can cook every meal, I can compost, I can raise chickens, I can crochet, I can babysit for my CSA farmer for some extra cash, I can have time to garden, I can learn to can food, I can have the time to can the food. I’m thankful for my old job, because it allowed me to pay off all my credit cards. If I had not done this, my current life wouldn’t be possible. And it was scary to let go of that pay check, but it was worth it! Here’s to being Time Rich!!
4 Feb 9:33am
My two pence worth.
Most succesful, modern communities work partly because ‘members’ can drift in and out of them when it suits them. I’m a member of a few communities including family, tennis club, road I live in, residents’group, special interest groups and various academic/work Almer Maters.
When I had my own IT business my main community was all over the world. I had no contact with my local community as I was forever leaving it and returning to it in the dark.
Communities should facilitate free association. Our Saturday morning Farmer’s Market does just that.
People rally round a cause. People in my town rallied round when the Council wanted to trash our ancient cast-iron lampposts. An instant communty was formed to organise a campaign to save them – which after three years was wildly successfull. See SEAL page at http://www./westealingneighbours.org.uk
Transition is a huge cause and the growth of my local Transition community is both sensitively ‘stage managed’ and ‘organic’, and it’s impressive.
You can ‘force’ rhubarb but I don’t think you can ‘force’ communities.
The retired, professionally qualified and concerned Middle Class can be very effective individually, and in groups they can change the world. They are society’s best hope.
Planners, property developers and urban design types don’t seem too good at facilitating free association in public space – in fact the public space is rapidly becoming private, public space (See ‘Ground Control’ book by Anna Minton).
I have been retired now for over 5 years and my children have left home. I will stand as an independent Councillor in my town in May. If I’m successful I’ll no doubt discover what UK local government thinks about organising communities – never mind discovering what they make of Transition.
Some Thoughts on the Psychology of Community: Part II
20 Feb 8:33pm
[…] in common with except geography, requires a toleration of differences and emotional intelligence. Hopkins can refuse the dinner invitation of his neighbors because he’s too tired or too busy, as long as […]
4 Mar 10:34am
Great post Rob,
It exactly reflects our own thinking here in Trièves, France, as well as the way we intend to operate. In fact, we started the initiative because we knew the communaity was already here.