This Developmental Discussion project will first explore the meaning and significance of community, of our social capital, our civic associations, and civil society. How do they function, how are they working, and what are their essential features? Second, and importantly, this project will explore and develop different ideas about how we might create and sustain well functioning or healthy communities.
Martin Luther King famously envisioned the ideal of a “beloved community” as a place not only desegregated by law but one integrated in spirit, a place where people of all walks, all beliefs, and all races live and work peacefully side by side. Nearly sixty years hence, we seem more distant than ever from King’s idealized vision. In those intervening years, political scientist Robert Putnam has argued, controversially, that America’s civic and social capital has declined significantly and to the great detriment of our commonweal. Increasingly, we are not only bowling alone, we are discarding or tearing down the always inadequate and sometimes dysfunctional architecture of our civic and social associations that–under one view—nurture the necessary habits of the heart for democracy: public trust, tolerance, political engagement, equity, and civil discourse. Importantly, of course, there are other, far less benevolent views of how are communities or civil society actually functions. Communities are often exclusionary and have bred–and often continue to nurture–prejudice, bigotry, discrimination, and conflict rather than trust, tolerance, understanding, and peace. What are our ideals, if any, for our communities—beloved or otherwise? How distant are we from those ideals? And finally, what kinds of different communities or civil society, if any, might we envision for our future?
Somewhat more particularly, this project will ask and attempt to answer, in different ways, the following questions, among many others:
- How do we think our sense of community has been affected by growing income disparities, decline or decimation of the middle class, less free time, etc., racism, xenophobia, regionalism, partisanship, classism, tribalism, etc., changing technology and media, or other values— individualism, consumerism?
- What does a well functioning or healthy “community” or civil society mean to us, as individuals, as members of society, as citizens? What qualities, values, habits, features outcomes, etc., do we hope that our communities nurture and sustain?
- What are—or could be—the benefits for individuals, for society, and for our larger polity of healthy communities, denser networks of civic association?
I am currently recruiting participants for this project to commence discussions in the spring of 2020. Please contact me for more information if you might be interested shively[at]interactivityfoundation.org