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Community: Tracing the Outlines of a Seductive Concept

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Agrawal, Arun
Conference: Colloquium at the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis
Location: Indiana University, Bloomington, IN
Conf. Date: September 30, 1996
Date: 1996
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10535/211
Sector: Social Organization
Subject(s): social change--theory
participatory development--theory
social organization--theory
Abstract: "The ghost of the traditional community may only have hovered over Comte's sociology; it has descended to occupy the center of the stage in current writings on development, environmental conservation,resource management,and democratization. Disillusionment with decades of intrusive resource management strategies and planned development have forced a recognition of the possibility that community may form a critical hinge in meeting desired social goals. No longer is community, then, the refuge within which tradition lurks to trip progressive social trends. Instead, vague and disputed as its referents are, community has become the focus of thinking on devolution of power, meaningful participation, and cultural autonomy. This paper traces the outlines of our current seduction by the concept of community. It seeks to further two arguments. One,I draw parallels among the normative assessments of community at different historical junctures. I specifically focus on scholarly views about community at the turn of the 19th century, in the middle of the 20th century,and today and point to what might account for our attraction and indifference to community. Second, this paper focuses on two different sets of characteristics that the notion of community evokes:community as shared understandings and action orientations; and community as a form of social organization. I use the disjunction in these meanings to examine the extent to which community can serve a productive task in furthering development, environmental conservation, and democratic consolidation."

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