Building community

Hello, gentle readers! I’m Chally, and I’m the newest blogger around these parts. I’m a university student and freelance writer based in Sydney who is very fond of Doctor Who (well, of course), theatre, baking, literature, guinea pigs, and all that sort of thing. My home on the Internet is Zero at the Bone, and, since I took over from Lauredhel last year, I’ve been running the Down Under Feminists Carnival. You may recall me from such Internettings as Feministe and FWD/Forward, and I’ve guest posted here a couple of times in the past.

I am really happy to be a Hoyden as this has always felt like the place on the Internet I figuratively go to kick back with a bunch of friends and a coffee. And now, as I’m going to be a part of authoring that community, I am having a think. How much of gaining community is about finding it, and how much building it yourself?

Lots of the ways in which we’re expected to build community in our lives don’t really hold, I find. Lots of people have tense or non-existent family situations. Less people, in Australia, anyway, are identifying with religious communities, so it’s not so much about the church fete as a rule anymore. We’re not necessarily living where we grew up, so those intergenerational and lifelong ties don’t necessarily last (unless you’re like my family and keep up ties across multiple countries for a good century or more, because we’re hardcore).

So, how do you build community when you haven’t got an established community drawing you in, or if you decide to leave it? Well, I’m finding that it’s valuable to build up ties in all sorts of ways. I moved house a few months ago, and it’s been lovely building a new community based around my new geography. It feels grounding to recognise and smile at people in my new neighbourhood. I’ve got community, more germane here, that isn’t much based in geography at all: those friends I carry around in my computer! The great thing about the Internet, as we all know, is that you aren’t limited in making friends by where you are. You can build community around the sort of people you want to meet, and that’s not something with which the barriers of offline community tension and disintegration will necessarily interfere. I’m learning to build community in all kinds of ways, a fusion of who I seek and those amazing ties built up by my international family network of amazingness.

How do you build community? I’m looking forward to building this one up with you in new ways.



Categories: Life, relationships

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18 replies

  1. I was having a discussion with a friend of mine last night about our disabilities activism and how a lot of our work in disabilities is about building a community of people and building shared experience rather than just discovering pre-existing shared experiences. It really got us thinking about how positive a socially constructed identity can really be, especially when a lot of what we tend to study and think about in terms of social construction can tend to focus on the negative. I think the idea of community building is becoming increasingly central to my activist work, since it allows us to skip the kinds of presumptions about universal experiences of queerness or disability or womanhood that tend to marginalise people within those groups.
    On a more specifically personal note I’ve recently found some of the student communities I participate in increasingly alienating and dominated by abled cis gay men, and I’ve really found having the internet as a resource to work with queer people who I’m geographically distant from important in being able to keep accessing queer communities that support rather than exhaust me.

  2. Yay! More Chally!

    Oh, you wanted actual thoughtfulness? Hah.

  3. I was thinking about the issue of community recently in relation to the London riots. Commentary from all over the place (left/right, progressive/conservative) was fixating on lack of community. The thing that always gets to me though is, I think any community is defined as much by the people who are excluded from it as much as by the people who are included.
    There can be good reasons and bad reasons for excluding people (and indeed, neutral reasons), but ultimately it’s difficult to define these in clear-cut ways, and good reasons get mixed up with bad ones so very easily. Obviously, one way of avoiding many of the pitfalls associated with this is to have multiple communities that overlap in various ways (a big messy venn diagram), but even then… hierarchies and hegemonies will emerge.
    I do think community is an important and valuable thing, but at the same time, I spent a lot of time while I was growing up having it made abundantly clear to me that I wasn’t welcome in communites that I wanted access to, and I think as a result of that, as an adult, I often feel deeply uncomfortable about some of the mechanisms for exclusion that I see operating in many communities.

  4. Chally! Welcome! It’s wonderful to have you on board with us.
    Community… I think that communities can work in all sorts of ways, including internet ones. One thing I’m a little side-eyeish on is the (increasingly?) popular deprecation of internet communities which are identity-related but not specifically focused on “RL activism” (whatever that is).
    My crip-friendship communities have been fantastic in making me comfortable identifying as disabled, in helping me find friends who are there for me night and day, who support me in the darker moments, and who share their experiences of disability and inaccessibility and fighting for accommodations. And all of this has been a vital underpinning to my feeling like I can fight for my own accommodations, instead of rolling over and accepting society as it is – to stopping me from just accepting that the locus of wrongness is within myself. And now I’m working on paying that forward. What’s not useful about all that? Heck, what’s not “RL activism” about that? Is making my disabled life better not an effect in “RL”? Is my fighting for improvement in the accessibility of my micro-environment not useful to other crips in any way?

  5. Thinking about offline for the purposes of my comment: something I am not doing very well at is creating community for my child. At least, not if the expectation is that I will go out and make friends with families with similar aged children for his benefit, because I haven’t done so. (He also has no cousins or second cousins yet so we need to go quite far out in the family to have relatives near his age. I know how to get in touch with many of my own second cousins, but am not actually in touch with them.) Existing participation in local community would be good for that, but I’ve traded it for largely remaining in touch with my university friends who don’t have children yet.

  6. How much of gaining community is about finding it, and how much building it yourself?

    This is a question I’ve found myself asking a lot of late. For me it tends to be both, at least in real life; I am too lazy to begin things from scratch, true, but I also feel like it is my duty to contribute to a community by building it up, and working to make it better.
    Also, Mary, I also struggle with creating community for my children. This is admittedly more due to my being picky about the grown-ups with whom I’ll socialize than the availability of parents with kids the same age as mine, though, so I try to make up for it by bringing them to play spaces frequented by other kids (playgrounds, the zoo, etc.).

  7. Thanks for your comments, all. I found that I didn’t have access to a lot of communities I wanted to join growing up, like Beppie, which is one of the reasons why it is so important for me to have control over that now.

  8. Chally, welcome!

    Sorry that I have nothing more thoughtful to add on this Friday evening.

  9. Hey, you’re not obliged to Add Things – you neither, Jay – I appreciate the sentiment very much!
    Speaking of Friday evenings, I am going to be wandering in and out, mostly out, this weekend, so please excuse me if I take a long while to respond to comments.

  10. I’ve thought about this a bit in terms of internet community, and its intersection with physical community. I first started finding my way amongst Australian feminist blogs when we knew that we were going to be moving to Australia. For me, it was a way of engaging with my new country.
    I’ve also often thought about how hard it was in the past, pre the internet, to find people of like mind. I could have joined various women’s groups, and I was involved with some, but given my basic introvert setting, I always found them hard going. My internet community suits me very well, and the community of like minds works for me. I can share ideas and joys and sorrows, at a time and pace that works for me, knowing that I won’t be intruding on other people, because they can pick up and read and respond to my words when they are ready to, or not at all, if that’s what suits them right at that time.
    With respect to building community for children… they build their own soon enough, when they go to school.
    Chally, I’m so pleased that you are writing here now.

  11. I’m so glad that this online community at HaT has brought me into mainly online, contact with so many wonderful people. It really has enriched my life.

  12. Deborah: I think part of the thing for me is that I was an outsider at school, and at times a deeply unhappy one. It’s true that my parents couldn’t easily ameliorate that, certainly not simply by providing a glut of similarly-aged children to hang out with, but with hindsight there are things they could have done. So “it’ll work itself out when he’s school age” isn’t a process I’m prepared to rely on. It might not. He might spend 18 or more years of his life feeling like he’s the only one of his kind in the world. I did, give or take. (And of course in many ways I didn’t have it as hard as I could have, because for example I’m straight.)
    FWIW, what would have helped me would have been better access to activities disproportionately full of geeks. In the rural city I grew up in this mostly meant music and theatre, in a metropolis there’s also some science geek kind of stuff for teenagers at least. I don’t blame my parents for this in any way, I should add: it’s non-obvious, and also I think they were pretty socially isolated as kids and teens themselves, which means two generations of having no idea how to help kids find their people. My mother used to tell me “it’s a lot better at university” and it was, but that’s not a lot of consolation to a thirteen year old.

  13. Sometimes I feel like no matter how hard I try I’ll never be one of the cool kids. Sometimes I think I need to grow up and get over myself too.

  14. I found that community building for the Tiny Tyrant has gotten easier as he has gotten older FWIW, Mary; after 2 there began to be INTERESTING (for me) activities for his age group, rather than the ubiquitous MOPS/Church-based playgroup setting, which I found dull to the point of toes almost dropping off. But now we do Montessori playgroup, circus, he goes to family daycare 1 day a week and we have dabbled in music class, preschooler book sessions at the library and G.D.Craft activities (sometimes even hosting).
    Montessori and circus are great because they almost automatically whittle down the selection to people more likely to share interests with us (left of centre, artsy, spiritual or humanist as opposed to ‘religious’, concerned with feminism, social justice and not likely to have indoctrinated their children into the Cult of Consumer at 6 months via a baptism of Mickey Mouse & Dora wardrobe).
    Mostly I have no idea how to build community, though. My connections always feel so tenuous, and the relationships I generally invest in are not reciprocated in any measure close to my efforts. And then, I’m sporadic with socialising, as with many things in my life. Bellydancing class seems to have been my best social resource, and even there I’ve only retained one or two people seriously long-term, during breaks from dance class.

  15. Yay Chally! Yay network of amazingness (and so many fun stories.)
    As to the communities, I really don’t know. The ones I’ve gotten the most out of, I’ve help build. There are others, like this one, that to some degree or another serve as a safe haven (from thoughtlessness, if nothing else!).

  16. On children, I think a lot of the burden of community building often falls on parents without much consideration of how inaccessible a lot of communities actually are to children and parents. I have friends down in Melbourne who struggle to get their kids access to feminist and queer communities because so many events or conferences just don’t have any provision for childcare or children’s activities. One of the really amazing things that happened at Camp Betty in Sydney this year was the fact that there was a kid’s space run throughout the conference weekend. So I’m increasingly finding it important to push for childcare and, more than that, some kind of social space for kids to actually happen in the communities I’m part of when they’re needed. And it’s really crucial for kids to have access to feminist and queer communities, not just because their parents are part of them but because those communities can be really positive and affirming for them.
    I don’t know how this relates to online communities, but maybe there’s also room for development there?

  17. Aphie, those all sound fun! I’ll be more limited, since we use long day care 4 days a week. But maybe one or two… My toddler loves dancing and music, so that’s a guide to what might be fun for him.
    It will probably also help to move from our current Outer Suburbs Locale to Inner Suburbs Nice Work If You Can Afford It Locale, which we’re hoping to do early next year.

  18. Yesterday was spent up in the mountains helping my parents with their garage sale, because they are downsizing and moving to the Central Coast (where the youngest grandchild currently resides).
    It became very clear, as people came and went, who was just somebody who lived nearby checking it out, and who was part of Mum and Dad’s community there. There were people dropping by looking specifically for bushwalking gear and records and books that they knew would not all be making the move, or wanting to check out Dad’s massive collection of timber-that-might-be-useful-for-some-project-some-day because they knew that it had finally been moved from out the back to ’round the front, or just seeing whether they might be able to help shift something heavy to a more inviting-to-passersby position.
    They are fortunate that where they are moving to they have old friendships from 30 years ago that are still in place, ready to shift from occasional-as-now-gatherings to more frequent neighbourliness again, so they won’t be starting totally from scratch in building new community there (and they’ll be close to a nice village-type area of local shops, library, pool, park, RSL etc, which will also enhance neighbourliness).

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