I never got to hear Adrian Franklin’s paper on loneliness because he could not make it toSydney. Luckily the workshop on the sociology of emotions was packed with interesting papers, but I was disappointed that the weather was a bit to bleak and wet to go to the beach for a swim. With my free time inSydneyI sped through Katherine Chen’s study of the organisation behind Burning Man and then luckily stumbled across a co-op book shop with remainder academic book stock.
One of my purchases from the book shop was Amit and Rapport’s (2002) The Trouble with Community: Anthropological reflections on movement, identity and collectivity. The book as a whole has quite a strong argument about individuals and the liberal nature of human rights, but of particular interest to me was Amit’s section. She says,
‘Community, one would have to assume, must still ‘mean’ something, that is to say it must still have substantive referents for a sufficient number of people or it wouldn’t continue to be enlisted for so many causes.’ (Amit 2002: 14)
Amit draws on a number of examples to demonstrate that people accept being part of different types of community with different degrees of saturation across domains of life and across time. People are both socialised into, and make choices about, different ways of doing community. For Amit, communities are not a taken for granted anchor that researchers can assume to be a starting point.
‘Pick up almost any reasonably competent ethnography and you are likely to find that it is replete with accounts of these processes of consociation, of personal amities, of people making places, institutions and association, at least for a time, into their own.’ (Amit 2002: 64)
As I have mentioned in earlier posts, I did not start this project with a firm definition of, or criteria for, ‘community’. This is lucky because I seem to be finding that very different understandings of community are mobilised by different people, or at least in different contexts. I wonder how people come to hold their understanding of what counts as valuable forms of community. Do you think it is direct experience or something else?
I can see why people are talking about how we build our physical environments when it comes to social and psychological concerns such as loneliness. However, I wonder in what ways our political, economic and cultural environment shape what we want from our relationships with others.
Amit, V. (2002). An anthropology without community. The trouble with community: Anthropological reflections on movement, identity and collectivity. V. Amit and N. Rapport. London & Sterling, Pluto Press: 13-70.