Community refers to a group of three or more people that have something in common that makes them identify with each other. Such people may share ancestry, values, norms or geographical location. The relationship between such people is durable so it is not easy for a member of the community to easily dissociate themselves from the community. The social ties that constitute a community are a source of community strength and this confers to the community more power than an individual can have. The paper discusses community strength in relation to Australian Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities. Community strength between Australian Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal is similar and the paper explores how it influences the functioning of communities.
Many theorists have defined the concept of a community and although there is no single definition that can be said to be the most accurate there are some basic concepts that are reflected in the different definitions. One of the basic concepts that define a community is that it is composed of three or more people. These people have some things in common that make them identify themselves as part of the community. One criterion that can be used to define a community is territory. Usually, people who belong to the same community live in the same territory. However, with the advent of the Internet people from different geographical locations can form communities. In this case, these people have a sense of belonging because of some other characteristic such as common values and beliefs (Cohen, 2013).
An important characteristic of a community is that there are close and informal relationships in the community. The relationships result from mutuality in values, norms and beliefs. The mutuality gives members of a community a sense of belonging and this is the source of community strength. Community strength can be identified through the traits portrayed by members of the community. Some of the indicators of community strength include high levels of cooperation and coordination. Members of the community are motivated by the desire to achieve common goals. Members of the community act towards mutual benefit so the interests of the community as a whole supersede those of the individual (Cohen, 2013).
People belong to different communities such as work, education and culture. Depending on the community where one is acting one is expected to play different roles. Despite the diversity in the types of communities the local community where people live has significant influence on people’s lives. Research conducted in Australia reveals that there is a similarity between Australian aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities in their show of community strength. Both Aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities participate in local events and they band together when there is a crisis or disaster. Whether people are the natives of the land or not does not seem to be an important difference in determining how people relate to each other and their engagement in communal activities (Harris, 2013).
Surveys conducted regarding the indicators of community strength borrow heavily from the work of the Department for Victorian Communities (DVC). The DVC has provided the lead in the measurement of community strength across Australia and its findings have been important in guiding other bodies that are interested in measuring and evaluating community strength in Australia. Work by the DVC provides a different perspective from what is achieved from census, epidemiological or socio-economic data. Work by the DVC gives insight on relationships and views of the members of the community rather than giving generalized characteristics (Harris, 2013). Such information is important because it helps in understanding the link between the characteristics of the community and social outcomes such as the existence of strong connections or impoverished communities.
The DVC developed a comprehensive list of indicators to use in the measurement of community strength and the indicators were refined for Australia. The indicators fall under three major categories including community attitudes, social networks and community participation. There was no significant difference in community attitudes between aboriginal and non-aboriginal Australian communities. One of the indicators of community strength in Australia is that members of the community feel safe in the neighborhood. This is because of the deliberate effort by members of the community to protect their community. Because of the safety of local communities both aboriginal and non-aboriginal Australians like living in their local communities (Walsh, 2014).
There is evidence that both aboriginal and non-aboriginal Australians are dedicated to conservation of the environment. Members of the community do this by actively preventing pollution and planning for the use of the environment. Another indicator of community strength is people’s friendliness and their willingness to help other members of the community (Walsh, 2014). Australians are ready to help each other regardless of whether one is a native of the land or not.
The indication of community strength through social networks is also evident in both aboriginal and non-aboriginal Australian communities. Individuals solicit help from neighbors, family and friends and members of the community offer such help readily. This can be coordinated at the local community level or it can be done through the use of different technology such as social media. Social networks give individuals a sense of belonging so when members of the community are in need of help one feels obligated to offer their help and this helps build community strength (Walsh, 2014).
Community participation is an important indicator of community strength. Community participation takes different forms such as volunteering for different community activities (Taylor, Wilkinson & Cheers, 2008). When members of the community are called upon to offer their help in activities such as cleaning of the environment or voluntary healthcare services they readily offer their help. Besides volunteering, members of the community participate in organized sport and other community activities. Parental participation in schools is also an indicator of community strength. Parents are actively involved in their children’s education by attending meetings organized by schools and seeing to it that what is agreed upon is implemented.
The only noticeable difference between aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities is the cultural similarity. Although there is some cultural similarity between the two communities the similarity is more pronounced between aboriginal communities which creates more cohesion and community strength among these members of the community. However, Australians identify with each other at the national level so there community strength is built on the basis of national identity derived from being an Australian national (Cohen, 2013).
The development of community strength is highly dependent on leadership. Members of the community depend on their leaders for coordination for the accomplishment of community goals. Therefore increased community strength is a function of strong leadership. The fact that Australian Leadership, be it at the national or local level, does not promote differentiation on the grounds of being a native helps increase community strength. Disregard for differences between aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities helps increase cohesion among Australians (Harris, 2013).
Central to community strength is social capital. In social capital, social networks are important because it is through these networks that transactions that build cultural and economic capital take place. The defining characteristics of social capital include trust, cooperation and reciprocity. Members of the community do not act to benefit themselves but rather their actions are directed towards the common good of the community. The tenets of social capital provide for improved performance. For example, the cultural difference between aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities in Australia does not serve as an impediment to community strength. Through social capital strategic alliances are formed among members of the community and the alliances are designed to achieve common goals of the community (Harris, 2013).
Government efforts and approaches to community strength in Australia has been an important aspect in increasing cohesion among community members. The Australian government has made deliberate efforts to help the people preserve indigenous culture. The government’s intention is not to have people identify themselves as aboriginals or non-aboriginals, but rather to preserve the sense of identity of every individual. By having people embrace their diversity the government helps people appreciate their ancestry while at the same time acknowledging that other people’s culture is just as important as one’s own. It is through embracing the diversity between aboriginals and non-aboriginals that the country increases community strength at both the local and national level (Cohen, 2013).
In conclusion, an individual fits into different communities where they are expected to play different roles. There are several indicators of community strength and these indicators that help in the measurement of cohesion at both the local and national level. Community strength is important because it helps build a stable society. It is, for example, community strength that helps victims of a disaster or calamity deal with such an occurrence because they get aid from others. The strong sense of belonging that results from community strength causes the individual to surrender their will for the greater good of the community. Individuals are compelled to act for the benefit of the community and this is a driver for development in the community. In Australia, community strength is high despite the existence of different groups, that is, aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities. The diversity of these communities increases community strength because communities do not view their diversity as an impediment to cooperation but rather as an asset that increases the resources of the communities.
Cohen, A. P. (2013). Symbolic construction of community. London: Routledge.
Harris, A. (2013). Everyday multiculturalism in Australia. Peace and culture, 5(1), 31-37.
Taylor, J., Wilkinson, D., & Cheers, B. (2008). Working with communities in health and human services. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Walsh, J. P. (2014). The marketization of multiculturalism: Neoliberal restructuring and cultural difference in Australia. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 37(2), 280-301.