The Emergence of Rhizomatous Community: Toward an Ontological Turn in Community Studies

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 14:45
Location: Hörsaal 21 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Cheng-Heng CHANG, National Taiwan University, Taiwan
This paper aims to propose a new theoretical concept of community based on an empirical study. By applying the idea of social ontology to community studies, I argue that it is necessary to discard the conventional concepts of community formed in the dualist understanding of the social. On the one hand, contemporary politics of locality production under global capitalism urges new formations of social relationship and connectedness in the local context. On the other hand, a community is not only about a group of persons who live together or share the same believes. Rather, community is also about the social co-evolution of human and nature, or terroir and fûdo.

I collected the empirical data of this paper through a long-term fieldwork on a community-making project called the BVP in a rural town of Japan. This project aims to recruit retired urbanites to settle in their depopulated town to practice pesticide-free farming. Through the research, I found that the implementation of the BVP has created a new form of communal life, which I term, a “rhizomatous community.” At the end, the BVP grows into a discursive community that does not physically exist but that is substantially constituted by face-to-face contact, seasonal events, gift exchange, and various interactions with nature. In this respect, the BVP can be imagined as an assembled network that is composed of heterogeneous actors and things.

The social ontological view contributes to community studies by challenging the understandings of community in classical and contemporary theories. A rhizomatous community is neither an interpersonal network existing in a socio-geographic vacuum, nor a traditional neighborhood situated in a spatially bounded place. Rather, it is a heterogeneous assemblage discursively constituted through the process of producing locality. It is liberated from while remaining associated with traditional bonds such as family, kinship, and neighborhood.