Notes on Community

Jack Krupansky
8 min readSep 7, 2023


These notes capture the author’s thoughts in preparation for a philosophical discussion of community and individual freedom. The author notes that there is a wide range of interpretation as to what exactly comprises the concept of community.

The intent is not for these notes to be fully comprehensive, but simply to capture my immediate thoughts.

Topics discussed in this paper:

  1. Background
  2. Related words
  3. Range of interpretations of community
  4. Examples of communities
  5. Examples of dysfunctional communities
  6. Examples of groups that may or may not be considered communities
  7. Essential features of a community


The need to clarify interpretations of the concept of community came up as I prepared to participate in a philosophy discussion of a philosophy discussion group, Cafe Philo, here in Washington, DC. The topic to be discussed was:

  • How much should we value community over individual freedom?

So this brought up the question of what exactly a community really is, at a reasonably high and abstract level.

Related words

  1. Community.
  2. Communitarianism.
  3. Communal.
  4. Commune.
  5. Common.
  6. Come.
  7. Come together.
  8. Communion.
  9. Collective.
  10. Collective action.
  11. Collectivism.
  12. Concert.
  13. Concerted.
  14. Concerted action.
  15. Colony.
  16. Tribe.
  17. Group.
  18. Neighborhood.
  19. Locale. Some unspecified geographic area, relatively local.
  20. Cooperate.
  21. Cooperation.
  22. Cooperative.
  23. Collaborate.
  24. Collaboration.
  25. Collaborative.
  26. Civil society.
  27. Community organizer.
  28. Ecosystem.

Range of interpretations of community

Oversimplifying, some of the common interpretations of the meaning of the concept of a community are:

  1. A geographic locale. Like a town or neighborhood of an urban area.
  2. A demographic group. A group of people or share demographic characteristics.
  3. A group with shared interests.
  4. A group with common ground.
  5. A group with shared goals or objectives.
  6. A group with shared values.
  7. A group of like-minded individuals.
  8. A group with shared life experiences.
  9. Collective action. Concerted action. Acting in concert. Any cooperative effort to achieve a common goal. May not have a formal organization per se. Just people working together to a shared, desired outcome.
  10. Collectivism. Emphasis on collective action and shared pursuits rather than on the efforts and pursuits of individuals on their own.

Examples of communities

  1. A relatively small town. Village. Hamlet. Settlement. Small colony.
  2. A primitive tribe. Indigenous people.
  3. A colony. A group of people in a relatively isolated locale, but linked to larger political entity, such as a country.) Also for animals, but no external association per se.
  4. Art colony. Artist colony. Close-knit group of similar-minded artists.
  5. Commune. For example, the proverbial hippie commune.
  6. A neighborhood. Residential housing and possibly retail establishments.
  7. A profession.
  8. A field of scientific research.
  9. The legal community.
  10. The scientific community.
  11. A hyphenated American community. Shared ethnicity or national origin.
  12. Users of a commercial product. Customers of a commercial product. Or service.
  13. Users of a government service.
  14. Ecosystems. Popular in technology. Collection of vendors whose products interoperate in some synergistic manner.
  15. Fans of a professional or collegiate sports team.
  16. Students, faculty, and staff of a college or university.
  17. Students, faculty, and staff of a particular school or college of a university.
  18. Community colleges. Focusing on the post-secondary educational needs of a locale or collection of locales.
  19. Community banks. Focusing on the banking and financial needs of a locale or collection of locales.
  20. Community hospitals. Focused on serving the medical needs of nearby communities or collection of locales.
  21. Religions. Or more specifically, religious communities, such as religious congregations.
  22. Religious-affiliated organizations. For example, the Knights of Columbus. Or charity groups.
  23. Associations. Either formal or informal. Alexis de Tocqueville’s “spirit of association”, and in fact the U.S. Constitutional First Amendment freedom of association (assembly, religion).
  24. Businesses. Generally some sense of community or even family within a single business.
  25. Businesses in a geographic area. Businesses in a field. Pursuing common, shared goals or interests. At the level of the businesses, not the employees within the businesses. Although employees, managers, or executives of a business might cooperate in a sense of community with their counterparts at the other businesses in the business-level community.
  26. Business districts. Special zoning, often in conjunction with special taxes and rules, and amenities.
  27. Commercial districts. Arbitrary area of relatively concentrated commercial activity. May be constrained by zoning.
  28. Cooperatives. Businesses or organizations which cooperate in a specific area (locale or field). Such as dairy cooperatives, or other farm cooperatives. NBER — the National Bureau of Economic Research — is a cooperative of academic economists and researchers who jointly and cooperatively author academic research papers and engage in other cooperative activities.
  29. A bowling league. And other informal sports, such as softball or volleyball.
  30. Feminists.
  31. Political parties.
  32. Liberals.
  33. Conservatives.
  34. Left-wing radicals.
  35. Right-wing reactionaries.
  36. Activists. Individuals pursuing change. When their tactics remain civil.
  37. Cause. Some goal or objective which individuals and activists — community organizers — rally around. Such as to stop a development project or to address some unmet social need. May be informal, or formalized as a civil society organization.
  38. Civil society organizations. Activists organized in pursuit of some cause. Such as NGOs. Charity groups. Foundations. Philanthropies.
  39. Support groups.
  40. Birds of a feather. Informal get-togethers based on any shared interest. May simply be for discussion, to share information, or to strategize to engage in collective action.
  41. Discussion groups.
  42. Meetups.
  43. Soldiers in a unit or on a base.
  44. Veterans who served together or were in the same branch of the military.
  45. Labor unions.
  46. Clubs.
  47. Country clubs.
  48. Social clubs.

Examples of dysfunctional communities

Communities are tools, and just as with fire, another tool, they can be used for good or can be misused and cause harm.

  1. Street gangs.
  2. Criminal enterprises. A car-theft ring. The Mafia. Drug labs. Drug cartels. Numbers rackets. Prostitution rings. Illegal gambling. Illicit alcohol or tobacco trade. Murder or arson for hire.
  3. Hacker collectives.
  4. Mobs.
  5. Incivility. General lack of civility in a community. Or neighborhood.
  6. Corruption. Corrupt officials — policies that enrich themselves, nepotism, bribery. Corrupt staff — soliciting bribes, either to show favoritism to a party, or to harm another party.
  7. Unexpected consequences despite best of intentions. As the old saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Urban renewal destroyed neighborhoods, and new projects rapidly fell into disrepair or even decay and crime.
  8. Left-wing radical extremists. Extra-legal activity.
  9. Right-wing reactionary extremists. Extra-legal activity.
  10. Racists.
  11. White nationalists.
  12. Activists. When their tactics are uncivil or extra-legal.
  13. Radicals. Extremists. Extreme activists. No attempt to remain legal.
  14. Conspiracy. Surreptitious collective action with the intention to break the law. Planning a surprise birthday party wouldn’t generally be considered a conspiracy.
  15. Conspiracy theories. No formal organization or knowledge of individual participants by other participants except maybe only on a personal or public basis, which is the opposite of a true conspiracy committed in private. Not uncommonly the participants in a conspiracy theory are advocating a belief in some underlying alleged but frequently nonexistent external conspiracy.
  16. Prisons. Jails.

Examples of groups that may or may not be considered communities

  1. Friends.
  2. Colleagues.
  3. Classmates.
  4. Relationships.
  5. Family.
  6. Extended family.
  7. Team. sports, work, etc.
  8. People on a bus, train, plane, boat, ferry, or ship.
  9. Passengers on a cruise ship.
  10. Patrons in a store, restaurant, or movie theater.
  11. Guests at a hotel or motel.
  12. Animal packs.
  13. G7.
  14. G20.
  15. United Nations.
  16. Countries.
  17. Continents.
  18. Entirety of a society. Of a country. Or a region.
  19. Governments.
  20. Community of Democracies (CoD). A global intergovernmental coalition.

Essential features of a community

  1. Degree of formality. Not a requirement, but a quality of each community. Can range from very informal with no true formal organization to a legal governmental structure. Can be anywhere in that spectrum.
  2. Members. People associated with the community. May be a closed or open community — may or may not be entry or approval requirements.
  3. Common ground. Common interests. Shared interests. Shared objectives.
  4. Shared values. Code of values. Ethos. Community values. Not necessarily all values, but a clearly identified intersection of values. Aspirations.
  5. Like-minded. Generally, there will be a significant degree of like-mindedness between the members of the community, at least in the areas which lie at the intersections of their common interests, objectives, and values.
  6. Community standards. Combination of values and prohibitions or guidance. For example, tolerance or prohibition of pornography.
  7. Virtues. The benefits to society of a community. What good it offers to society. Its good qualities. The actualities in contrast to the aspirations of values.
  8. Group identity. Shared identity. Each member has their own personal identity, but there are shared characteristics which constitute the group identity.
  9. Charter. The community may or may not have a formal charter and governance. Informally, the community’s charter would be their common interests and shared values, even if not even written down.
  10. Common good. Common goods and services. Common resources. Resources shared and protected within the community.
  11. Obligations. What members and leaders and staff of the community are obliged to perform or achieve.
  12. Responsibilities. What members and leaders and staff of the community are required to be responsible for.
  13. Social contract. An understanding and setting of expectations for what the community is all about, the relationships between the members, leaders, and staff of the community, and what everyone must put into the community and what everyone can expect to get out of the community. What is the real point of the community and how are the objectives of the community to be achieved.
  14. Manners and customs. How things tend to be done within the community. Best practices. Aspirations as well as the practical reality.
  15. Trust. Not as an obligation, but emergent from shared activities which create and reinforce trust.
  16. Vocabulary. Shared vocabulary. They talk the same language (concepts and terms). They have a shorthand or code (coded language) — may not even have to speak in complete sentences. No need to define or explain concepts and terms within a true community.
  17. Recognition and respect for other members. Like a family.
  18. Collective action. Concerted action. Acting in concert. Not necessarily all members involved in all actions, but all have an interest in public actions.
  19. Code of conduct. Laws. Regulations. Rules.
  20. Tolerance. To at least some degree. But there may be limits.
  21. Value tolerance. Beyond personal tolerance, the degree of tolerating the values of others when they conflict with the shared values of the community or the personal values of others in the community.
  22. Governance. Start with the charter of the community, if a formal charter even exists. Leaders. Authorities. Organizational structure. Officials or other functional roles. Some communities can be rather informal with negligible or even nonexistent sense of formal governance.
  23. Sanctions. Punishment for transgressions of code of conduct. Sanctions. Verbal. Written. Restrictions. Fines. Community service. Rehabilitation. Training. Education. Imprisonment. Execution. Shunning. Ostracizing.
  24. Community leaders. May be official and part of governance. May be informal, such as leaders of independent groups within the community.
  25. Cohesion. Tightness of integration of members. Both in their beliefs and their actions. Matter of degree. Each community has its own degree of cohesion, both its aspirations and its tolerance — or intolerance of any lack of cohesion by any member or group of members.
  26. Critical mass. Too few members and the group will not be able to survive or sustain a flourishing community. Survival and flourishing may have different thresholds.
  27. Tolerance of weak members. Degree to which the community can tolerate members who are not participating fully. Some communities may have zero tolerance of members not pulling their own weight. Some communities can tolerate less than full participation, especially if the mere presence of members adds bulk which enhances the power of the community.
  28. Harmony. The ties of common ground, common interests, shared objectives, shared values, and tolerance will generally lead to a significant degree of harmony in the community. Harmony is a good test of the coherence of the community. A harmonious community has a decent chance of staying together, thriving, and flourishing, while a lack of harmony will be a warning sign that the community is at risk of breaking apart and devolving into chaos.

For more of my writing: My Five Main Areas of Focus.