What do we mean by community?
November 19, 2020
I saw a tweet by @erinisaway (quoted here) this week and then I went down a rabbit hole thinking about what community means.
just a thought but you don’t have to be friends with or even like every single person you’re in community with but your ideology & actions should still reflect making sure they are taken care of and safe. solidarity should extend beyond friendship.
A couple years ago, I was working on a project in London co-designing market furniture with “the community” of Somers Town. On a particularly frantic day of building, I was somewhere between finding more sandpaper, recording a voiceover for a video about the project, and talking to people who passed by the space where we were working.
One of these guests approached my frantic self and asked, so what’s the about? I quickly said something to the effect of, we’re a group of students working with the local community and Camden Council to design… This person simply responded, don’t you mean communities?
I think about this interaction so often that I actually feel bummed out that I’ll never be able to thank this person. Of course I meant communities. Of course, Somers Town is made up of many individuals who move in and out of groups, gathering around situations or experiences or sometimes just the fact that you’d like to see some useful furniture at your local market.
We talk about ‘the community’ a lot. What do we mean?
Christopher Le Dantec’s Designing Publics is kind of a 101 when it comes to participatory design. It’s a short read but if you take as many notes as I did it might take you a while to get through. Le Dantec explores design in community contexts, focusing on collective action through design and how design can bring people together (creating ‘publics’) around an issue.
Establishing the 'we' of community inevitably generates a corresponding 'they' or 'other.'
Alicia Kennedy writes a lengthy, amazing newsletter where she explores different topics each week. This piece on community is kind of groundbreaking. She touches on the origin of the word and delves into a valid take on ‘community fridges.’ I already quoted her once (above) and I think she’s probably subconsciously helped me write the title of this issue, basically it’s worth reading.
I recently found this guide by Chicago Beyond which just hits the nail right on the head. In their words, this guide was created “to help shift the power dynamic and the way community organizations, researchers, and funders uncover knowledge together.” Who’s the community? Who’s the author? I can’t wait to explore this guide more.
As Alicia Kennedy said:
But I would argue that the lack of clarity on the word 'community' has allowed it to be used to justify anything, including white savior responses to crisis.
This was originally published on my newsletter, Design With. It was archived in 2023.