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What is sense of community?

Psychologist Seymour B. Sarason coined the term and foundational theory for sense of community. He was a man referred to as a “dour optimist.” And that is a fitting label for someone who started out by describing what is now held as one of the most positive aspects of community in terms of loneliness and alienation.

Sarason noted that although many of his beliefs were questioned during conversations exploring sense of community, he “could always count on an outpouring of feelings about loneliness, alienation, impotence in regard to social forces, the desire to belong, and to be mutually dependent” (Sarason, 1974, p. 192). His conclusion was that sense of community is everywhere, and lack of sense of community contributes to human misery.

Psychological research since Sarason’s outline of sense of community concentrates on the strength of sense of community in specific communities and the linked benefits to members such as increased physical and psychological health. This is in line with community psychology’s strength-based focus aimed at understanding what works with the hope of being able to generate positive change.

After Sarason’s early theoretical explorations of sense of community, the biggest influence on the meaning of sense of community came with the development of 4 theoretical factors. These factors define sense of community and have since been used as the foundation for the majority of qualitative and quantitative research. Based on a review of social cohesion theory and empirical research on sense of community, the four-factor model includes Shared Emotional Connection, Membership, Influence, and Integration and Fulfillment of Needs (McMillan & Chavis, 1986).

You can read more about identifying concepts that build sense of community from my research notes.

McMillan, David W., & Chavis, David M. (1986). Sense of community: A definition and theory. Journal of Community Psychology, 14, 6-23. Retrieved July 8, 2008, from Google Scholar.

Sarason, Seymour B. (1974). The psychological sense of community: Prospects for a community psychology. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, Inc., Publishers.