Book Report: “Community: The Structure of Belonging”

Photo: Survival International via Fox News

Photo: Survival International via Fox News

Peter Block understands what constitutes community and what satisfies the human need for connectedness.

The best-selling author and consultant penned Community: The Structure of Belonging. In that book, he looks at how people want to be part of something larger than their own small circle of influence and join others in exchange of comment, the engagement of ideas, the melding of goals, and the vision of an interconnected and enlivened community.

While Block writes in terms of literal communities, his concepts are rock-solid for the kind that form and engage virtually. The ideas conveyed regarding neighborhoods, schools, civic organizations, workplaces, and governmental entities are just as valid when applied to the workings of and motivations of online communities, in my view.

Humans are hard-wired to want to interface in meaningful ways.

Oneida Community members via NY Times

Oneida Community members via NY Times

Block says we have a “need to create a structure of belonging,” emanating from “the isolated nature of our lives, our institutions, and our communities.

He cites the ways of American society as creating “gaps” that fuel a desire for connectedness. Today’s American life, with its western culture and individualistic nature; and the tendency of organizations and professionals to be more inward-looking in their perspectives these days, adds to that distancing.

With our neighborhoods, businesses, schools, social service organizations, churches, and government entities all operating in their own worlds, preoccupied with individual pursuits rather than collective ones, even “parallel effort added together does not make a community,” Block notes.

  • He laments that such separateness diminishes the talents of individuals as well as those of whole communities.
  • The resulting dearth of abilities and talents makes for situations where “there are too many people in our communities whose gifts remain on the margin,”Block says.
  • It is a situation that is as true for those who remain in their home communities in a disconnected state, as it is for groups who have been forced from their homes to live out their lives in displacement.
  • The lack of interface and fragmentation of communities, Block suggests, can create the lack of enthusiasm and action that is exhibited in issues communities face such as “low voter turnout, the struggle to retain volunteerism, and the large portion of the population who remain disengaged,” Block contends.

I can identify. 

Seattle Skyline/

Seattle Skyline/

Years ago, I moved cross country to a place where my husband and I knew no one else at all, and I experienced firsthand the feeling of displacement and the longing for connectedness and human need for engagement with my new community.

As humans, the state of a connected community comes naturally, it seems to me. Humans lived as tribal groups all over the world, and many peoples still do. We formed communities of our own to engage in like-mindedness and unified visions.

Photo: Alicia Moura/via CNN Money

Photo: Alicia Moura/via CNN Money

Even until recent generations, families lived together in multiple-generation households, providing an automatic sort of engagement and enlivenment to everyday living. (It’s a trend that may be experiencing a resurgence due to current economic times.)

It’s all about forming engagement and sustaining conversations.

While the first half of Block’s book dealt with identifying and characterizing the issue of disengaged communities, the second part is a playbook for how to remedy that. The author offers a selection of insights and tactics that can be used to re-engage community members and  restore and transform communities, as well as a wide selection of “doers” and resources who’ve been successful at that task.

@rhappes - Twitter

@rhappe – Twitter

“Connector” and founder of Community Roundtable Rachel Happe (@rachelhappe) put it well when she tweeted recently to CMGRClass guest expert author and blogger Olivier Blanchard (@thebrandbuilder):

“I don’t think real communities exist around products,

they exist around shared needs, locally or virtually #sbs2013.”

 So, I’d like to hear what you think about the ideas Block presents.

  • Is the rise of individual organizational pursuit diminishing our ability to collectively problem-solve for our communities?
  • Are online communities, and the resulting potential of community activism that can take place from those engagements, a solution to re-engaging and transforming our living styles today?


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