Uncovering Community: How to Deal with a Misleading Concept?

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 09:00
Oral Presentation
Alexandra TITZ, Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen Nürnberg (FAU), Institute of Geography, Germany
Fred KRÜGER, Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU), Institute of Geography, Germany
Terry CANNON, Institute of Development Studies (IDS), University of Sussex, United Kingdom
Since the 1990s, the notion of community has enjoyed an upswing in development planning and disaster risk reduction (DRR). Participatory bottom-up approaches at the local level have come increasingly into vogue both in academic and practical circles. Today, governmental as well as non-governmental organizations, donor agencies and researchers are working with local communities and households to mitigate disaster impacts, promote climate change adaptation and improve livelihoods.

‘Community-based’ has become a cover term for several approaches that stem from different scientific and practical traditions. However, the intense debates about notions of ‘community’ in sociology, anthropology, human geography, and development studies are barely acknowledged in DRR and CCA practice. The meaning of ‘community’ has been blurred to the point where the term has been rendered quite useless – there is often no reflection on its meaning and implications, and it has therefore taken on a life of its own. Referring to ‘the local’, ‘place based’ or ‘with the people’, many organizations and agencies display a rather one-dimensional, static and simplistic understanding of community which ignores social dynamics, hidden inequalities, power relations and the multiple, sometimes conflicting, layers of meaning that are embedded in ‘community’ as a complex set of (often contested) narratives and everyday practices. Continuing to do ‘community’-related research and action without acknowledging tensions and inequalities may even contribute to a perpetuation of such injustices, and actually worsen the livelihood (and environmental) situation rather than improving it.

This paper addresses the challenges of the ‘community’ concept, and raises questions about the extent to which the predominant idea of ‘community’ is still viable or adequate as a basis of DDR intervention and CCA action. The paper assesses the way the concept is put to practice, and argues for a more meaningful form of ‘community’-related analysis and action.