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Princeton University Press
Community: Pursuing the Dream, Living the Reality

Community: Pursuing the Dream, Living the Reality


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Community: Pursuing the Dream, Living the Reality

This book tells the story of how a human community comes to be and how aspirations for the good life confront the dilemmas and detours of real life. Suzanne Keller combines penetrating analysis of classic ideas about community with a remarkable and unprecedented thirty-year case study of one of the first "planned unit developments" in America and the first in New Jersey. Twin Rivers, this pioneering venture, featured townhouses and shared spaces for children's play and adult work and play in a society that stresses individual over collective goals and private over public concerns. Hence the timeless questions asked over millennia: How does an aggregate of strangers create an identity of place, shared goals, viable institutions, and a spirit of mutuality and reciprocity? What obstacles stand in the way and how are these overcome? And how does design generate (or deter) community spirit?

Inspired by the legacy of Plato, Rousseau, de Tocqueville, and Tönnies, Keller traces the difficult birth and the rich unfolding of Twin Rivers from a former potato field into a vibrant contemporary community. Most community studies remain at a highly descriptive level. This book has both broader and deeper aims, endeavoring to develop principles of the common life as we enter the age of cyberspace.

Keller reveals the community of Twin Rivers through a multidimensional social microscope, having monitored the community from the day it opened by participant observation, attitude surveys, the study of collective records, and nearly 1,000 in-depth interviews with homeowners. She offers fascinating insight into how residents maintain privacy, relate to neighbors, cope with social conflict, and develop ideas about the common good. She shows that Twin Rivers residents remain hopeful about the possibility of community despite variable success in achieving their desires. Indeed, she argues that the hard-won experience, more than the utopian ideal, is the true measure of community.

Keller concludes that, despite the homogenizing effects of mass communication and globalization, local communities will continue to proliferate in the foreseeable future—due to changing lifestyles and the continuing quest for roots. This important and engaging book will be appreciated by social scientists, architects, physical planners, developers and lenders, and community leaders as well as by the general reader interested in creating a bridge between individualism and community.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780691095646
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: 01/06/2003
Series: Princeton Studies in Cultural Sociology Series
Pages: 352
Product dimensions: 6.54(w) x 9.66(h) x 1.08(d)

About the Author

Suzanne Keller is Professor of Sociology Emeritus at Princeton University. She was the first woman in the history of Princeton to receive tenure. Her many writings include The Urban Neighborhood and Beyond the Ruling Class (both Random House), the pioneering textbook Sociology (McGraw-Hill), and hundreds of articles on a wide range of subjects.

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Pursuing the Dream, Living the Reality
By Suzanne Keller

Princeton University Press

Suzanne Keller
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0691095647

Chapter One


When I asked the undergraduates in my Princeton University seminars on ideal communities what, if anything, they would want to change about their Princeton experience, their answers startled me. Most of the hundred or so students wished there were more of a sense of community. But why? I probed. The number of undergraduates is small, the university merits its reputation for its commitment that students be amply supplied with a great variety of activities and opportunities for social contacts and a social life beyond the classroom, and privacy when desired. What more could one possibly want? The replies of the students varied, of course, but the underlying themes were almost unanimous.

They mentioned the fragmentation and the lack of a unifying principle that would help to bridge distances across departments and help them integrate the exciting intellectual fare offered. This unifying principle would assist them in sorting out relevant from irrelevant, essential from trivial, information. They wanted to locate some basis for choosing one subject over another, other than the expansion of intellectual horizons, a star professor, or delight in learning, important as these obviously were.

They acknowledged alsofeelings of isolation amid all the lavish resources and sought to overcome these in various ways: Some turned to religion, others threw themselves into social life, volunteer work, or more intensive studies, while others sought romantic partners to cling to. Choosing a major resolved the smaller question of focus and identity but left hanging the larger question of purpose and meaning-what to work toward.

The accelerated tempo of their lives was another recurrent theme. Their packed days and evenings left little time for reflection.

Some also suggested that the lack of community may have helped lead to the unintended-and often deplored-segregation of students by race, regional origins, wealth, or religious affiliation. Instead of informal social contacts across groups, black students ate at one table, Hispanics at another, Asians at a third. Other tables were separated by prep school or major-engineering, for example. Some of this may be desirable for bonding, but much of it is antithetical to pluralism-a defensive banding together for solace through group affiliation.

As I listened to these young, bright students privileged in the opportunities offered by a great university, I was struck by how their concerns reflected the often-cited complaints about modernity: specialization, a sense of aimlessness, loneliness amid multitudes, the lack of a center and a grounded self. In a word, the missing community.

This must come as a surprise to those who consider community as superfluous for the most modern sectors of contemporary societies-the young, highly educated, technologically sophisticated, success-bent-which these students obviously are.

Of course, community is a chameleon term that is used in many, often contradictory, ways. It might be helpful to begin this inquiry with two prevalent perspectives.

One is that community is akin to an organism where the whole is more important than individual members. This organic model is historically the oldest. It is also all-embracing, hence less well suited to modern circumstances, though it continues to prevail as a nostalgic fantasy of a lost Eden.

A more recent model, which developed in the West in response to revolutionary political and economic developments in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the "atomistic/contractarian" model, is based on the idea of a social contract that binds "free persons" who have consented to live together.

Both models are present in the world today but to differing degrees. Sir Henry Maine (1864) saw a historic evolution from the organic to the contractarian model or, in his words, from status to contract, as in the technologically developed societies. On a world scale, however, the majority of people continue to live in relatively bounded communities that function as organisms rooted in tradition and precedent. Each conception has strengths and weaknesses. The organic conception gives too much power to the community and threatens to leave too little room for individual freedom, though this need not be so. Wylie's portrait of the Vaucluse (1974) or Colette's of Saint-Saveur en Puisaye (1953) portray communities where people were rich in individuality and tolerant of diversity, yet mindful of their interdependence and their need for one another.

The social contract model of community, most forcefully articulated by John Locke and Adam Smith, following, yet sharply divergent from Hobbes, stresses self-determination and autonomy, delimited government, and the self-regulating market. But the freedom and opportunities it exalts are double-edged, favoring those with personal and social resources and neglecting the economically and socially disadvantaged for whom freedom may mean poverty and social inferiority.

Each model also accords a different place to the common good and collective requirements. The organic model defines and structures the common good via divine or secular authorities. The contract model leaves it to the invisible hand or ignores it altogether unless prompted by an enlightened public or protesting minorities.

When Plato wrote The Republic he did not question the idea of community but assumed its indispensability, if only for lack of meaningful alternatives. What he wrestled with was how to obtain and preserve the just community within which humanity could live productively and peacefully imbued with a strong sense of interdependence and empathy.

In the several hundred years of the modem era, however, the questions have shifted and community has become problematic. A threatened species whose demise some welcome and others deplore, it is alternately longed for or ignored as passé, as people struggle with Camus's question "Where can I feel at home?" It is a question that surfaces not only for the wanderers, the exiled, the homeless but also for their more settled confreres in cities and suburbs at the top of the survival chain. One way this question resonates now is in the search for community-how to find it, nurture it, and keep it.

Given the profusion of definitions of community, one is often at a loss as to how to separate the essential from the superfluous, especially since there are always exceptions to the general rule. For example, most scholars define community as rooted in territorial/spatial and generational togetherness. But for the Christian Gnostics, the root of community rested on the emancipation of human beings from earth, blood ties, and place, and linked by universal aspirations.

In short, the term "community" is an all-encompassing one. The territorial connotation of community is surely the most familiar and, in my view, the most basic. But there is also community considered rhetorically, as in reference to the academic community, the sailing community, or the bohemian community. Hence there is the danger of attaching the term "community" somewhat indiscriminately to all human aggregates.

Community may be used in a philosophical sense, as a reference to a moral or spiritual entity, engendering communion with one's fellows and a fate that is shared, or as a term to designate distinct units of territorial and social organization, such as hamlets, villages, towns-all the typical places in which people maintain their homes, raise families, and establish roots.

Despite this profusion of emphases, some basic agreements do exist, and the following themes recur repeatedly.

Community as Place, Turf, Territor y

The idea of a bounded, identifiable territory is taken for granted by virtually every serious commentator until we get to cyberspace in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century, which we shall discuss later.

Community is the antithesis of Gertrude Stein's description of Los Angeles: "There's no there, there." With few exceptions, community always denotes a there. The territory that encloses a community offers a proximity and density conducive to other kinds of closeness. No matter in which container-village, town, suburb-community as captured, delimited space shapes the scale of collective life and the patterns of life created therein.

Community as Shared Ideals and Expectations

The focus here is on a life in common, resulting in shared emotional stakes and strong sentimental attachments toward those who share one's life space. These are the "habits of the heart" in de Tocqueville's memorable phrase; they are states of mind that generate reciprocity, a sense of duty, and the moral sentiments that forge collective coherence and endurance.

Community as a Network of Social Ties and Allegiances

Of the ninety-four definitions of community identified by Hillery (1955), social bonds and social interaction were cited in two-thirds of them. But social interaction does not operate alone. It reflects and reinforces additional dimensions-a given scale, shared goals and sentiments that bind people to their common enterprise.

When directed toward common goals-let us say, support for schools or recreational programs-social interaction can become a source of unity. And unity is a central component of the word "community," which is a combination of two Latin terms with opposite meanings: com, with or together; and unus, the number one. Hence community is a union of many elements.

Community as a Collective Framework

Here community defines, names, encloses, organizes aggregate activities and projects, and encompasses the institutions and rules that guide the collectivity, including:

  • Legitimate governance, authority, and leadership during emergencies and crises
  • Ideologies that justify collective arrangements and goals and
  • Values that sustain social solidarity and commitments

Collective frameworks interpenetrate with the physical shell and the cultural mold to create unique community configurations.

What Community Is Not

To arrive at a definitional shorthand for community, it may be useful to pause for a moment to consider what community is not.

Interpersonal intimacy is often considered antithetical to community. Gossiping across a fence, sharing secrets, joining to do battle for a common cause do not by themselves suffice for community. Such closeness needs structural, cultural, and sentimental supports as well as an altruistic outreach of affection and empathy to bind a totality.

The same might be argued for formal organizational membership. If organizations are joined to pursue personal interests, they are too limited for community: "With such egoism, there is no love of others for their sakes, no identification of their good as one's own . . . no tie that binds" (Mary Rousseau 1991, p. 52). For community to exist, individuals must not only be close to one another but moving toward collective goals as well.

Nor are group affiliation or social categorization on the basis of race, class, gender, nationality, or generation automatically insignias of community. These have community potential only if individuals consider them significant bases for a shared identity. To qualify for community, social categorization must be translated into a consciousness of kind, a sense of belonging, and a shared destiny, past or future.

Then there is communitarianism, often confused with community. Beyond their linguistic kinship, the two terms are only tangentially related. Community is concrete and rooted in place. Communitarianism is abstract, emphasizing a set of moral and philosophical principles-social justice, civic responsibility, cooperation-for citizens to strive for wherever they reside. Communitarians, as represented in key works by Pocock (1975), MacIntyre (1980), Sandel (1982), Walzer (1983), Sullivan (1982), Gutmann (1985), and Etzioni (1993), oppose the impersonality of bureaucracies and advocate decentralization and a human scale infused with traditional human values.

But while communitarians do not deal with actual communities, they have been a critical force for drawing attention to the idea of community in the public dialogue. In essence, their message is that the culture of individualism, the laissez-faire market society of consumerism, and self-advancement have been carried too far. A return to the basics-civic commitment, social solidarity, public participation, and devotion to the common good-is urgently called for. Nothing less than human survival is at stake.

Their impressive body of work notwithstanding, there is one question that communitarians do not raise and therefore cannot answer, namely, how their high ideals can be realized. How can one move from moral exhortation to being just, cooperative, responsive, and responsible to the living test and concrete texture of community?

That question is at the heart of this book, which seeks to separate the term "community" from all-encompassing generalizations, grasp its significant dimensions, and study its evolution over time. The course of this evolution remains largely uncharted, since most studies, mired in static description, focus on a single moment in time, thus missing the long-range view. This is where the study of a new community is crucial. Unlike established communities that have grown in unplanned, piece-meal fashion, the secret of their births well hidden from view, a community in the making permits one to monitor its often tortuous gestation. This can tell us much about how a community comes to life, who makes it happen, the high and low points of this development, and at what point the "newborn" can look forward to a long and productive life.

These issues and others are explored in this book using the genesis of Twin Rivers, the first planned unit development in the state of New Jersey. This longitudinal excursion over several decades reveals the deeper forces that build up and tear down the tissue of community. It also provides a context for addressing questions about the possibility of community that have preoccupied thinkers for thousands of years.

So far, then, we can say that community is both archetype and elusive ideal. Even in our time, when communities are being envisaged for outer space as well as for cyberspace, there are always two recurrent questions: How can self be linked to community and how can community be linked to society?

De Tocqueville was one of many to underscore that linkage, especially in his volumes on nineteenth-century America (1990, vols. 1, 2). He saw collective responsibility, civic concern, and a morally sound private life as parts of a whole. The investment of one's energies and passions in the community gave shape and direction to one's personal life, which in turn fed back into community.


Excerpted from Community by Suzanne Keller Excerpted by permission.
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Table of Contents

List of Tablesix
Part ICommunity as Image and Ideal1
1Community: The Passionate Quest3
2Historic Models of Community16
3Key Theories and Concepts37
Part IIA Community Is Launched49
Twin Rivers Time Line 1970-200051
ACreating Roots49
4Twin Rivers: The First Planned Unit Development in New Jersey53
5The Residents Appraise Their Environs75
6Securing the Vox Populi: The Struggle for Self-Government87
BCreating a Collective Self109
7Joiners and Organizers: Community Participation111
8Sociability in a New Community123
CBuilding the Foundations147
9Space, Place, and Design149
10Private and Public: Whose Rights, Whose Responsibilities?168
11Go Fight City Hall: The First Lawsuit190
12Leaders as Lightning Rods202
13Unity and Division, Conflict and Consensus216
Summary of Key Findings233
Part IIIOld Imperatives, New Directions245
14The Continuing Salience of the Local Community247
15Concluding Reflections265
Epilogue: Is There Community in Cyberspace?291

What People are Saying About This

Albert Hunter

Community continues to be a central concept in sociology and every decade one or two noteworthy books come along that address it. This is such a book. Suzanne Keller nicely combines classical theory, a unique long-term case study, and informed reflections.
Albert Hunter, Northwestern University, author of "Symbolic Communities"

Daniel Bell

Suzanne Keller's Community is sociology at its best, in the tradition of Robert K. Merton, Robert S. Lynd, and Herbert Gans. . . . [A] lucid and fascinating study.
Daniel Bell, Henry Ford II Professor of Social Sciences, Emeritus, Harvard University

Robert Wuthnow

Keller's book is masterful. It surveys the main arguments that have been advanced about the relationships between modernity and community and with sparse, easily absorbed prose sets forth an understanding of what community is and what it is not.
Robert Wuthnow, Princeton University, author of "Poor Richard's Principle"

Edward M. Kennedy

Suzanne Keller's thoughtful insights and analysis are especially valuable in these rapidly changing times of both great promise and great danger, as we strive to improve our own communities and develop a genuine world community at peace and with opportunity for all. This fascinating and well-written book is a timely contribution to our understanding of what it takes to create a successful community, and it deserves to be widely read.

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