Community, organization, membership, social capital, participatory competence


The purpose of this research is to form an overarching definition of community membership that encompasses all community contexts. Utilizing qualitative interviews with 102 members of five known community contexts (communities of action, circumstance, interest, place, and practice), the authors use cross-case analysis to explore common, transcendent themes of membership. Three takeaways emerge: first, that individuals identify with communities to address personal needs but come to see social benefits; second, that individuals join communities to deepen existing relationships, but develop new ones; and third, that through engagement, individuals strengthen a sense of self that is unique to community context. Through these takeaways, we define community as a reciprocal and emergent system of interactions through which individuals seek to address personal and shared physiological, social, and self-actualizing needs.

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