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The idea of community, social policy and self 1 edition

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The idea of community, social policy and self
Kevin Loughran.

Published 2003 by APJ in Belfast .
Written in English.

About the Book


The persistence of the idea of community – but is there such a thing as community?

Few of us do not acknowledge the idea of community in some way or another, although often we acknowledge it by turning to the word ‘community’ as a habit of expression. For example, community is attached as a prefix to many titles of jobs or activities or institutions: community nurse, community social worker, community pharmacist, community policing, community workshops, community enterprises, community health centres; and so on.
The use of the word community carries assumptions, especially about relationships. To attach community to a job title is to imply that the workers who bear that title have different roles, and therefore different relationships with the people with whom they are working than other workers do who do not have community in their job titles. To attach community to the title of an institution, such as a school or a workshop or a health centre, is to imply that the staff who work in or administer the institution have different relationships with people who come to the institution to use it than staff who work elsewhere. Often when we use the word community we are making assumptions about the reality of community in people’s lives. The community is real. Communities are there. People belong to communities – irrespective of the actual state of their relationships. Even such an advocate for individualism as Robert Nozick – who in Anarchy, State and Utopia (1974) insisted that there were only different individual people leading their own individual lives – referred repeatedly to community and communities, and assumed that we live in particular communities. Community is a much older word and concept than is often recognised. The Oxford English Dictionary recognises seven different definitions or uses of the word. The most recent is traced to 1844; five are traced to the 17th century or earlier; and the oldest use is traced to 1375. The dictionary traces the definition of community as a body of people organised into a political, municipal or social unity and living in the same locality back to 1600. This variety of meanings helps to explain why community is such a persistent idea despite the problems of definition. It refers to our social experience: our relationships with each other in groups in all their complexity. And, as the Dictionary recognises, through most of its historical career community has been taken to refer both to a quality or state of existence and also to a body of individuals. Its use may express beliefs about the forms of association in which we engage with each other, about what is: and also aspirations about what ought to be.

FROM CHAPTER 11: Community, Belonging and Self. pp.163-166

The self: unique awareness and unique existence
So we may return to the theme that there is some element of discontinuity between each person and his/her background: an inescapable distinction between the individual person and other people; an inescapable distinction, therefore, between the individual person and the community.
Individuality, personal identity, a sense of self cannot be explained simply in terms of environment or culture or social existence. Nor can they be explained simply in terms of particular genes or the genetic structure of each person. The limitations of such explanations, the questions which they do not answer, suggest that there is for each person a very personal, almost private existence. Sometimes there may be a dimension of unique existence. Unique existence does not mean separate existence, as Robert Nozick (1974) described it when he insisted on “... the fact of our separate existences.” However existence is described, each person’s existence consists of many facts, some to do with that person by himself/herself, some to do with that person’s connection to/interaction with other people (see Chapter 4). The facts of a person’s existence can be considered as the facts of existence which are specific to that person. Unique existence refers both to facts of existence which are unique to a particular person and also to that person’s awareness of their uniqueness. Unique existence can be seen in the sometimes solitary adventure of scientific enquiry. The poet William Wordsworth painted a vivid picture of this dimension of unique existence with his words on Isaac Newton, after contemplating a marble bust of the great scientist:

The marble index of a mind
Forever voyaging through strange seas of thought

A scientist can accept and may indeed welcome this particular solitude of enquiry and discovery without being a recluse. Richard Feynman was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1965 for his work on quantum electrodynamics. Between 1943 and 1945 when he was in his mid-twenties he worked at Los Alamos on the Manhattan Project – the design and construction of the first atomic bombs. He was described then by Robert Oppenheimer as “the most brilliant young physicist here.” From 1945 to 1950 he was Professor of Physics at Cornell University and from 1950 until his death in 1988 he was Professor of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. In the 1980’s he became a public figure through television programmes and the publishing of two volumes of anecdotes and observations about his life and science. In 1986 he accepted an invitation to chair the U.S. presidential commission investigating the Challenger space shuttle disaster.
Richard Feynman was one of the outstanding intellects in his field. Roger Penrose (1998) – himself a leading physicist – considered him to be one of the twentieth century’s outstanding theoretical physicists. John Gribbin and Mary Gribbin (1998) considered him to be “the greatest physicist of his generation.” Richard Feynman was not a reclusive academic who struggled to communicate with people outside his own field. He demonstrated a rare talent for communication, firstly as a celebrated lecturer and storyteller and eventually through television programmes and popular books. Freeman Dyson (1998) wrote that he never saw him (Feynman) give a lecture that did not make people laugh. Roger Penrose (1998) considered that Feynman enjoyed being centre-stage and was undoubtedly a showman. He referred to him as “this streetwise New Yorker.” Yet Richard Feynman could discuss the experience of scientific enquiry by referring to the “wonderful loneliness of discovery.” A person may travel, in thought or to other places, to achieve this solitude. But it may also be a natural dimension of everyday existence. A friend said to me once that there were things about her which everybody knew and things about her which only some people knew and things about her which no one else would ever know. Could this statement be true about some other people, or true about people in general? It is a statement which cannot be proven, in relation to any person making it, by established means of observation and recording. Each person will know whether or not this statement applies to himself/herself. But he/she cannot prove for other people that this statement represents a truth about himself/herself. Each person can only affirm that it is true: by definition, anyone making such a statement is referring to things about himself/herself that he/she does not choose to make known to anyone else. So not only may there be facts of a person’s existence which are unique to that person: there may be also an awareness of those facts which is unique to that person because it is not shared by anyone else. Either you deny unique existence and justify that denial; or you accept unique existence and seek to explain it. And if there is unique existence, then there is for particular, individual persons a dimension of existence and an awareness of existence which is not and cannot be included within the boundaries of the groups or associations – or ‘communities’ – to which those persons are attached or with which they are involved ...

Edition Notes

Includes bibliographical references and index.

Other Titles
Idea of community, social policy & self


Library of Congress
HM756 .L68 2003

The Physical Object

xii, 214 p. ;
Number of pages

ID Numbers

Open Library
LC Control Number

History Created December 10, 2009 · 3 revisions
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December 5, 2010 Edited by Open Library Bot Added subjects from MARC records.
April 28, 2010 Edited by Open Library Bot Linked existing covers to the work.
December 10, 2009 Created by WorkBot add works page