Community in Participation

In discussions of community participation it is important to identify the appropriate definition of community. When involving the community it is essential to recognize that communities are not homogeneous but in fact heterogeneous (Mompati and Prinsen 2000)[1] . Cleaver (1999:603)[2] identified common myths of community.

‘Community in participatory approaches to development is often conceptualized as some kind of natural, desirable social entity imbued with all sorts of desirable values and the simple manifestation of this in organizational form’.

Three aspects of community are most important to those who advocate a positive role for communities in resource management: community as a small spatial unit; as a homogenous social structure; and as shared norms (Agrawal and Gibson 1999)[3] . Boundaries of community are usually based on people or places so the distinction between interest communities (people centered) and territorial communities (place centered) is often made (Kelly 2001)[4] . Boundaries are often culturally and socially determined making them unclear and defining them will depend on the perspective of the individual. The concept of community is linked to thinkers such as Tonnies, Durkheim, Cooley and Weber (Colombo, Mosso et al. 2001)[5] . Agrawal and Gibson (1999) identified that it is more important and realistic to view community as having multiple interests and actors with a focus on how these actors influence decision-making, and on the internal and external institutions that shape the decision-making process.


  1. Mompati T, Prinsen G (2000) Ethnicity and participatory development methods in Botswana: some participants are to be seen and not heard. Development in Practice 10, 625-638. ^
  2. Cleaver F (1999) Paradoxes of participation: questioning participatory approaches to development. Journal of International Development 11, 597-612. ^
  3. Agrawal A, Gibson CC (1999) Enchantment and Disenchantment: The Role of Community in Natural Resource Conservation. World Development 27, 629-649. ^
  4. Kelly D (2001) ‘Community participation in rangeland management : a report for the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation.’ (RIRDC: Barton ACT) ^
  5. Colombo M, Mosso C, De Piccoli N (2001) Sense of community and participation in urban contexts. Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology 11, 457-464. ^

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