Essay on Individual Vs Community

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Merges academic definitions of a community to conclude its description as, “A group of people living in the same defined area or sharing the same basic values, organization or interests. An informally organized social entity that is characterized by a sense of identity. Traditionally, the definitions of a community can be categorized into three extensive explanations. Geographical communities: based on geographical location such as neighborhood, village, city, or country. The community as a social network: when citizens living in the same area establish inter-relations, and finally, a community as a relationship or communion: this can be described as a shared sense of identity among individuals, regardless of geographical location and inter-relations (Cree, 2010).

In analyzing these definitions, it can be concluded that communities are likely to overlap, so individuals can belong to a vast number of different communities. Therefore, everyone's interpretation of what a community is, what it means to them, and their experience differs. In some communities, you are a member by default however, in some you join by choice. An example of this is homelessness and the Grassmarket community project which will be discussed in detail in the following paragraphs. Individuals find themselves homeless by default but their circumstances may influence them to join certain communities.

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Regardless of the community, you are a part of, every community has resources to fulfill its needs. These resources are known as community assets. Community assets include positive activities, facilities, and services which are beneficial to the members. Referring to the example of the Grassmarket, some of the assets available to them are the cafe, tartan workshop, and woodwork workshop. It is beneficial to have a large variety of assists in your community, however, just as important as the number of assets, is how they work together to serve the community. F

The Grassmarket community project located in Edinburgh, which I was blessed to visit, is an excellent example of why a community is important in people's lives. The Grassmarket strives to create a community supporting and including the typically excluded and most vulnerable members of our society. A safe environment is provided where choice is advocated and stigma eradicated. Traditionally, the project was aimed at and developed for the homeless, however, the wider definition of community has been acknowledged and therefore support is provided for those with additional support needs. Through mentoring, social enterprise, and guiding and educating members in a caring atmosphere, skills are created and enhanced enabling participants to maximize their potential. As well as operating a community café and woodwork and tartan social enterprises, the Grassmarket Community Project offers a range of social integration and educational activities for members aimed at enhancing life skills and developing confidence (, n.d.). Social Enterprise is core to sustainability and necessary funding, alongside grants, is generated through the onsite cafe and woodwork/tartan workshops. Through the social integration and educational programs offered, not only is capital generated, but life-enhancing skills are taught. This consequently boosts confidence and moral evolving positive identities providing a strong sense of belonging, where hopefully one day, individuals can be integrated into the community again.

There are several reasons why communities are important in people's lives. From an ecological perspective, individuals are situated in a place and time and what happens to individuals is influenced deeply by community and society. Communities offer practical support demonstrated after the Haiti disaster where several communities came together to support a minor community in need. However, they also offer emotional support in the form of companionship consequently providing a sense of identity and belonging.

Identity can be defined as, “the human capacity – rooted in language – to know ‘who’s who’ (and hence ‘what’s what’). This involves knowing who we are, knowing who others are, them knowing who we are, us knowing who they think we are, and so on . . . It is a process – identification- not a ‘thing’. It is not something that one can have, or not; it is something that one does” (Jenkins 2008, p. 5).

The Social identity theory (Tajfel and Turner, 1979) proposed that identities are split into two distinct parts. The personal/self-identity: is encompassed by our personality traits and the things that are special to us, forming who we are as individuals, and, our social identity: the groups that we fall into and associate ourselves with. We interact with many communities and these groups can be split into two categories - in-group and out-group. In-groups consist of people who are in a similar situation to ourselves and so we identify most with them.

We identify within groups through the three steps proposed in the social identity theory: social categorization, social identification, and social comparison. The categorization is the first step on a subconscious level. For example, those who are homeless and are at the Grassmarket with the common aspiration of improving his or her current situation. With identification, you begin to adapt to the social norms of this group. An example of this is within the Grassmarket facilities, you accept the rules of not abusing substances. Identification is where we begin to find a sense of pride in self-esteem from the groups that we associate ourselves with. This is key when evaluating why we tend to favor in-groups as opposed to out-groups, which brings us to the final stage of the theory, the comparison. In the 1970s and 80s, Tajfel and Turner did experiments where social comparison was exposed (Tajfel, 1979). The experiment was conducted by splitting British schoolboys into two groups based on their preference for artists (this was done on purpose as the test subject was something arbitrary and meaningless). As both groups were able to issue points, and typically the groups awarded the most points to their groups, the results concluded, the most minimal conditions were enough to make us look at our in-groups more favorably.

We tend to exaggerate the similarities in our in-groups and exaggerate differences with the out-groups proving the idea of in-group favouritism. In-group favoritism is where you look at your in-group more favorably and more positively than your out-group.

So why is identity considered important in a community? Individuals are influenced deeply by society, therefore, your identity is evolving as you become integrated into a community. As discussed individuals may possess several social identities all of which are influenced by communities (Reed et al, 1997). How we position ourselves within these various communities affects the way we perceive ourselves and others. As social workers, we must appreciate the interplay between the individual and the collective spheres, and its impact on identity formation, to enhance human well-being.

Another reason why a community is significantly important in people's lives is, that once integrated into a community, it provides a real sense of belongingness. To belong to a community, or not to belong, can be dependent on one's identity, their choices, or the choices of others. As discussed, there are several different definitions of communities and everyone's interpretation is different resulting from personal interests and choices. Not everyone has the same interests explaining why not everyone belongs to the same community. As humans, we crave belonging in a community. Needing to belong means needing to give but also welcoming attention to, and from, others.

Belonging was a basic human need first asserted by Abraham Maslow who suggested belonging was a major source of motivation. He established belonging as one of five fundamental needs in his hierarchy of needs. The others were physiological needs, safety, self-esteem, and self-actualization (Maslow, 1943 and 1954).

Other theories acknowledge the requirement to belong as a necessary psychological motivation. According to Baumeister and Leary, human decisions are determined in the hopes of finding belongingness. (Baumeister and Leary, 1995) discuss that several of the individual needs, such as the desire for authority, affection, approval, success, and affiliation, are all motivated by the fundamental need to belong. As humans, we are compelled and conditioned by pressure to belong, and needing to belong and form social capital, is mundane amidst humans. Finally, Baumeister and Leary agree individuals require a certain minimum amount of frequent, gratifying social interactions. Failure to satisfy this need results in isolation, mental suffering, and a great passion for forming new relationships (Behrman et al, 2003).

Similar to communities, community social work has various definitions. However, it has similarities with three sub-categorised. Community assistance and planning: establishing community-based policies and services, community development: self-help and community participation, and finally, community action: battling with power structures to shape and strengthen policies. (Lavalette, 2011) (ref 13). Community social workers assist in community function. They may work at one with individuals, performing assessments, and making referrals to amenities within the community. Whereas others evaluate needs on a broader scale, resulting in strategizing and administering programs.

There are many benefits to community social work. It works preventively with members of communities addressing underlying problems. Pulling together community assets may identify additional needs that statutory services fail to identify. Therefore, it aims to identify vulnerable families early on and put services in place to prevent further issues from arising. Furthermore, community social work recognizes that community provides identity and belonging, and therefore individuals are easily attached to communities. Strengthening their community rectifies not only individual problems but also shared community issues.

Community social workers believe that individuals having an understanding of out-groups is paramount in enabling prosperous wider communities. This coincides with the social pedagogy theory (Hämäläinen, 2003). Individuals perhaps lack information but education encourages them to take a more active role. Social workers in a sense should be teachers, working together, educating, and helping service users develop skills useful in life. Collective and individual activity is recognized. In working together social capital is developed consequently avoiding marginalization.

Furthermore, collective activity is empowering for the individual as it holds politicians and policymakers accountable, and so is good for democracy. Social enterprise groups are good at encouraging service users to become politically active and to tackle the stigma resulting from the limitation that requires them to seek service providers initially. A community association is good for individual well-being, reducing stress and its consequences (Turbett, 2018) (ref 14).

Community social work Practice has shifted throughout three decades, and more specifically, in the last two. There has been a notable change in focus from Community Social Work to an assessment and case-management-based method, where the focus is momentarily on personal pathologies, statuses, and deviances (Houston, 2016) (ref 17). Three decades ago, when possible, the practice was orientated away from reliance on institutional support and towards relationships within the community. The focus was more towards citizenship, and far less individualistic reflected in current times. (Romeo, 2016) (ref 15)

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There are challenges to community social work in which we must acknowledge. Tom White, a children's officer from Coventry, who returned as a Labour councilor in 1996 quoted: 'The structure of community-based, locally accessible services – what I had striven so hard to create – had been judged too expensive and all the service provision was now provided from specialist teams based in the center of the city.” (Holman, 2013)(ref 12)

The financial challenges prohibiting community social work were again made clear during my EAL group visit to the Serenity cafe based in Edinburgh. Cat, the senior social worker, was extremely overworked. The cafe providing the service does appear to be very dependent on members of staff going above and beyond. Cat's caseload was hectic and long-term this is not sustainable as it inevitably will result in burnout. This was a great concern for my group as we felt the future of the cafe was uncertain. It became clear for community social work to work effectively, more funding must be provided enabling the required staff and relevant facilities can be obtained.

Despite the challenges of community social work, we must understand its potential benefits and appreciate its importance. Throughout it has been shown that there are clear advantages to being included within a community. I will progress to looking at the consequences of exclusion from communities, and why community social work is vital here.

A community is created by exclusion and separateness as much as by shared identity and culture - they involve struggling as much as they signify belonging. In striving to produce community solidarity, it is necessary to understand the exaggerated distinctions which separate ‘us’ and ‘them’ is what strengthen our sense of ‘us’. When individuals are excluded from communities, it is typically community social work organizations, such as the Grassmarket that provide a sense of belonging.

People can become excluded from communities for several reasons, and this is what leads to the sense of 'us' and 'them'. Stigma signifies labeling usually in a negative way. The source of stigma may not be necessarily visible but is often associated with several ‘out-groups’. Individuals tend to make assumptions about individuals differing from themselves. Those typically affected by stigma are those with disabilities, affected by mental health, misuse of drugs and alcohol, and individuals affected by homelessness. (Goffman, 1963)(ref 19) Identified those who suffered from stigma as a disgraced person with a spoiled identity. As a result of stigmatization, individuals are identified as different and devalued, and consequently excluded from communities.

The Grassmarket community is an example of community social work providing members with a sense of belonging, challenging labels, and working to integrate members back into the community with newly formed positive identities. Through anti-oppressive practice, advocacy, and empowerment, life skills are taught or enhanced allowing members to maximize their potential. Most importantly, there is a real sense of community which eradicates power dynamics. The liberation of both the social worker and the service user should be the ultimate goal of social work practice (Hopkins, 1986 Pinderhughes, 1989). (ref 20) (ref 21) It was clear members experience a sense of self-identity and belonging which was powerful as it is key to well-being.

The Care Act 2014 (ref 18) stresses the significance of well-being in community social work. For social workers, it has placed a great imperative to work with service users, supporting them to have a good life. To achieve this, we must work with individuals, families, neighborhoods, and communities to produce opportunities for greater well-being. As a result of the Care Act, it is now the hope to make community social a notable method of practice again (Romeo, 2016). (ref 15)

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