Ideas from the RSA debate, Part 1


A world run entirely by small voluntary groups would be a disaster. But so would one without any of them, or an understanding of what they can do. We need to do more to recognize the intrinsic value in small associations, as well as their limitations, and that they form an important element in our social ecology.

What keeps many of them going is a sense of membership. Those associated with them will often have a sense of who belongs to the group. That also implies knowing who does not belong. This is something that turns a lot of people off. For many of us, membership implies exclusion. That’s not always the case, but it’s worth acknowledging the fear of exclusion that plays such a dominant part in the way we think about small groups.

Communities of place and communities of interest are qualitatively different. They bring out fractionally different versions of identity, fellowship and belonging. This relates to a really valuable point made during the debate.

But it’s important to recognize that while a community of place is wonderful and to be encouraged, it’s extremely difficult to engineer this from above. If it doesn’t exist, then as an outsider you’re going to find it very hard to build it from scratch. Where you can’t find a community of place it’s probably time to start hunting down communities of interest.

p. s. though this doesn’t have much to do with the above, I’m now hooked on the RSAnimate series. Have a look if you haven’t already.

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