Sense of community
Sense of community is a concept in community psychology
Community psychology
Community psychology deals with the relationships of the individual to communities and the wider society. Community psychologists seek to understand the quality of life of individuals, communities, and society...

 and social psychology, as well as in several other research disciplines, such as urban sociology
Urban sociology
Urban sociology is the sociological study of social life and human interaction in metropolitan areas. It is a normative discipline of sociology seeking to study the structures, processes, changes and problems of an urban area and by doing so providing inputs for planning and policy making. Like...

, which focuses on the experience of community rather than its structure, formation, setting, or other features. Sociologists, social psychologists, anthropologists, and others have theorized about and carried out empirical research
Empirical research
Empirical research is a way of gaining knowledge by means of direct and indirect observation or experience. Empirical evidence can be analyzed quantitatively or qualitatively...

 on community, but the psychological approach asks questions about the individual's perception
Perception is the process of attaining awareness or understanding of the environment by organizing and interpreting sensory information. All perception involves signals in the nervous system, which in turn result from physical stimulation of the sense organs...

, understanding
Understanding is a psychological process related to an abstract or physical object, such as a person, situation, or message whereby one is able to think about it and use concepts to deal adequately with that object....

, attitudes
Attitude (psychology)
An attitude is a hypothetical construct that represents an individual's degree of like or dislike for something. Attitudes are generally positive or negative views of a person, place, thing, or event— this is often referred to as the attitude object...

, feelings
Emotion is a complex psychophysiological experience of an individual's state of mind as interacting with biochemical and environmental influences. In humans, emotion fundamentally involves "physiological arousal, expressive behaviors, and conscious experience." Emotion is associated with mood,...

, etc. about community and his or her relationship to it and to others' participation—indeed to the complete, multifaceted community experience.

In his seminal 1974 book, psychologist Seymour B. Sarason proposed that psychological sense of community become the conceptual center for the psychology of community
The term community has two distinct meanings:*a group of interacting people, possibly living in close proximity, and often refers to a group that shares some common values, and is attributed with social cohesion within a shared geographical location, generally in social units larger than a household...

, asserting that it "is one of the major bases for self-definition." By 1986 it was regarded as a central overarching concept for community psychology (Sarason, 1986; Chavis & Pretty, 1999).

Among theories of sense of community proposed by psychologist
Psychologist is a professional or academic title used by individuals who are either:* Clinical professionals who work with patients in a variety of therapeutic contexts .* Scientists conducting psychological research or teaching psychology in a college...

s, McMillan & Chavis's (1986) is by far the most influential, and is the starting point for most of the recent research in the field. It is discussed in detail below.


For Sarason, psychological sense of community is "the perception
Perception is the process of attaining awareness or understanding of the environment by organizing and interpreting sensory information. All perception involves signals in the nervous system, which in turn result from physical stimulation of the sense organs...

 of similarity to others, an acknowledged interdependence
Interdependence is a relation between its members such that each is mutually dependent on the others. This concept differs from a simple dependence relation, which implies that one member of the relationship can function or survive apart from the other....

 with others, a willingness to maintain this interdependence by giving to or doing for others what one expects from them, and the feeling that one is part of a larger dependable and stable structure" (1974, p. 157).

McMillan & Chavis (1986) define sense of community as "a feeling that members have of belonging, a feeling that members matter to one another and to the group, and a shared faith that members' needs will be met through their commitment to be together."

Gusfield (1975) identified two dimensions of community: territorial and relational. The relational dimension of community has to do with the nature and quality of relationships in that community, and some communities may even have no discernible territorial demarcation, as in the case of a community of scholars working in a particular specialty, who have some kind of contact and quality of relationship, but may live and work in disparate locations, perhaps even throughout the world. Other communities may seem to be defined primarily according to territory, as in the case of neighborhoods, but even in such cases, proximity or shared territory cannot by itself constitute a community; the relational dimension is also essential.

Factor analysis
Factor analysis
Factor analysis is a statistical method used to describe variability among observed, correlated variables in terms of a potentially lower number of unobserved, uncorrelated variables called factors. In other words, it is possible, for example, that variations in three or four observed variables...

 of their urban neighborhoods questionnaire
A questionnaire is a research instrument consisting of a series of questions and other prompts for the purpose of gathering information from respondents. Although they are often designed for statistical analysis of the responses, this is not always the case...

 yielded two distinct factors which Riger and Lavrakas (1981) characterized as "social bonding" and "physical rootedness", very similar to the two dimensions proposed by Gusfield.

Beneficial antecedents found in early work

Early work on psychological sense of community was based on neighborhoods as the referent, and found a relationship between psychological sense of community and greater participation (Hunter, 1975; Wandersman & Giamartino, 1980), perceived safety (Doolittle & McDonald, 1978), ability to function competently in the community (Glynn, 1981), social bonding (Riger & Lavrakas, 1981), social fabric (strengths of interpersonal relationship
Interpersonal relationship
An interpersonal relationship is an association between two or more people that may range from fleeting to enduring. This association may be based on limerence, love, solidarity, regular business interactions, or some other type of social commitment. Interpersonal relationships are formed in the...

) (Ahlbrandt & Cunningham, 1979), greater sense of purpose and perceived control (Bachrach & Zautra, 1985), and greater civic contributions (charitable contribution
Charitable contribution
Charitable contribution deductions for United States Federal Income Tax purposes are defined in section 170 of the Internal Revenue Code as contributions to or for the use of certain nonprofit enterprises. See...

s and civic involvement) (Davidson & Cotter, 1986). These initial studies lacked a clearly articulated conceptual framework
Conceptual framework
A conceptual framework is used in research to outline possible courses of action or to present a preferred approach to an idea or thought. For example, the philosopher Isaiah Berlin used the "hedgehogs" versus "foxes" approach; a "hedgehog" might approach the world in terms of a single organizing...

, however, and none of the measures developed were based on a theoretical definition
Theoretical definition
A theoretical definition gives the meaning of a word in terms of the theories of a specific discipline. This type of definition assumes both knowledge and acceptance of the theories that it depends on. To theoretically define is to create a hypothetical construct...

 of psychological sense of community.

Primary theoretical foundation: McMillan and Chavis

McMillan & Chavis's (1986) theory (and instrument) are the most broadly validated and widely utilized in this area in the psychological literature. They prefer the abbreviated label "sense of community", and propose that sense of community is composed of four elements.

Four elements of sense of community

There are four elements of "sense of community" according to the McMillan & Chavis theory:


Membership includes five attributes:
  • boundaries
  • emotional safety
  • a sense of belonging and identification
  • personal investment
  • a common symbol system


Influence works both ways: members need to feel that they have some influence in the group, and some influence by the group on its members is needed for group cohesion.

Integration and fulfillment of needs

Members feel rewarded in some way for their participation in the community.

Shared emotional connection

The "definitive element for true community" (1986, p. 14), it includes shared history and shared participation (or at least identification with the history).

Dynamics within and between the elements

McMillan & Chavis (1986) give the following example to illustrate the dynamics within and between these four elements (p. 16):
Someone puts an announcement on the dormitory bulletin board about the formation of an intramural dormitory basketball team. People attend the organizational meeting as strangers out of their individual needs (integration and fulfillment of needs). The team is bound by place of residence (membership boundaries are set) and spends time together in practice (the contact hypothesis). They play a game and win (successful shared valent event). While playing, members exert energy on behalf of the team (personal investment in the group). As the team continues to win, team members become recognized and congratulated (gaining honor and status for being members). Someone suggests that they all buy matching shirts and shoes (common symbols) and they do so (influence).

Empirical assessment

Chavis et al.'s Sense of Community Index (SCI) (see Chipuer & Pretty, 1999; Long & Perkins, 2003), originally designed primarily in reference to neighborhoods, can be adapted to study other communities as well, including the workplace, school
A school is an institution designed for the teaching of students under the direction of teachers. Most countries have systems of formal education, which is commonly compulsory. In these systems, students progress through a series of schools...

s, religious communities, communities of interest, etc.

See also

  • Anomie
    Anomie is a term meaning "without Law" to describe a lack of social norms; "normlessness". It describes the breakdown of social bonds between an individual and their community ties, with fragmentation of social identity and rejection of self-regulatory values. It was popularized by French...

    , (The Division of Labor in Society, Émile Durkheim
    Émile Durkheim
    David Émile Durkheim was a French sociologist. He formally established the academic discipline and, with Karl Marx and Max Weber, is commonly cited as the principal architect of modern social science and father of sociology.Much of Durkheim's work was concerned with how societies could maintain...

  • Communitarianism
    Communitarianism is an ideology that emphasizes the connection between the individual and the community. That community may be the family unit, but it can also be understood in a far wider sense of personal interaction, of geographical location, or of shared history.-Terminology:Though the term...

    , (The Spirit of Community, Amitai Etzioni
    Amitai Etzioni
    Amitai Etzioni is a German-Israeli-American sociologist.-Biography:In 1933, Amitai Etzioni was only four years old when the Nazis rose to power in Germany. He was separated from his family but reunited with them by the year 1947...

  • Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft
    Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft
    Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft are sociological categories introduced by the German sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies for two normal types of human association...

     (Community and Society, Ferdinand Tönnies
    Ferdinand Tönnies
    Ferdinand Tönnies was a German sociologist. He was a major contributor to sociological theory and field studies, best known for his distinction between two types of social groups, Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft...

  • Imagined communities
    Imagined communities
    Imagined communities are a concept coined by Benedict Anderson. He believes that a nation is a community socially constructed, imagined by the people who perceive themselves as part of that group...

  • Interest network
  • Online participation
    Online participation
    Several motivations lead people to contribute to virtual communities. Various online media , are becoming ever greater knowledge-sharing resources. Many of these communities are highly cooperative and establish their own unique culture...

  • Social solidarity

External links

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