Local community has been an essential part of everyday life for most of human beings. Everyone belongs to a certain local community, and the community provides her/him with necessary basis for survival, production, re-production, and identity. Considering the essential importance of communities, there have been many development projects implemented with a title of “community-based”. Those projects ask community people to participate in and to take initiatives for sustainable actions.
However, as modernization prevails everywhere in the world, many development planners or practitioners who are expected to facilitate community-based projects, have been losing the strong ties with their original communities. Most of them now live in cities, and day by day, they become busy for leading “modernized” life that has nothing to do with local traditional communities. As a result, those development planners or practitioners are losing knowledge and perspectives regarding traditional local communities.
Moreover, traditional communities themselves are now rapidly changing because of influence by modernization. Although local communities are still core of their lives, and many development projects aim at strengthening or utilizing resources in the community, it is not easy for many local communities to maintain traditional norms, regulations, and relations among them.
Therefore, it is highly important for all the development practitioners or planners who try to facilitate or mediate community-based development actions through their projects to understand meanings and functions of community for human beings, to realize threats to traditional communities, and to think about how important those communities are for the future of all the people. In this article, it is expected to provide you with some perspectives on local communities based on the history and present situation of Japanese communities.
Three functions of community
1) Between Human and Nature
From the very beginning, human beings have been utilizing natural resources for their survival. All kinds of food materials come from natural resources, such as forests, grass lands, agriculture fields, rivers, and the sea. Water, an essential material for both human lives and agriculture production, is also a product of nature. Besides foodstuff, people also need natural resources for their clothes and shelters. In other words, human beings require natural resources for their livelihood and production.
One of the important functions of community for human beings is managing these natural resources collectively in a sustainable way. If any kind of natural resources is over-exploited beyond the carrying capacity of the nature, that resource will be exhausted, and the livelihood of the people depending on that natural resource will be threatened as a result. In order to avoid such situation, and to be able to utilize natural resources sustainably, people constructed systems of natural resource management. This is one of the important functions of local community.
1) Consensus by all
All important decisions have to be made unanimously. If any household opposes a plan, it will be cancelled or tabled.
2) Common property for the people living in a community
Only those who live in the community have iriai rights. In other words, once a person leaves the community, he/she looses his/her right.
3) Equal access, equal responsibility
Every household in a community, rich or poor, has iriai rights; equal access to use and equal management responsibility.
Based on this iriai system described above, many community people in
2) Between Human and Human
It can not be denied that every human being requires other’s help for his/her daily life. Usually, it is your family members who provide necessary help for you. However, it is not enough to have assistance from family members if it is beyond the capacity of your family members, such as repairing roof materials, planting rice in a short period, or at a time of marriage or funeral ceremonies.
There is another practice of mutual help in traditional communities of
By observing such practices of mutual help in the traditional communities of
3) Between Human and God(s)
Apart from materialistic point of view, communities are important for human beings because they provide mental or psychological security for us. Sense of belongings, or feeling of “being at home” is important for most of us to maintain own identities. Of course, there are various groups or organizations that provide sense of belongings such as working place (companies or offices), schools, social organizations, or NPOs (Non Profit Organizations). However, for most of the people especially living in the developing countries, local communities where they were born or live for long are the core of identities. Even the people living in the cities feel that they belong to original local communities where they are from, and in long holidays, we observe that millions of city dwellers rush to their home villages or towns in many countries.
Why do the people feel communities as the sense of belongings, or the source of identity? It might be tradition, culture and history commonly shared among the community members. And such tradition or culture makes community people feel that they are not alone, connected with not only each others, but with super-natural, spirits, or god(s).
Rules and regulations shared and followed
Those three functions of community described above require specific rules and regulations that are commonly accepted and followed by the community members. In the case of Iriai forests in
When community members discuss about any decision regarding rules or regulations of the community, there should be specific decision making system for each community. In
The above described functions of communities might be specific characteristic of
Decline of local community
In many countries including
1) Nation State to become absolute power to manage resources
Modern state is characterized to have centralized government that holds absolute power to control over resources within its territory. In
Nation states also created “citizens” who hold identity to the nation. In order to integrate all the areas within the territory at early times, and then to compete with other nation states especially at the era of imperialism, it requires its citizens to feel strong identity to the nation. Later on, when democracy became common value for the nation states, the governments (both central and local) have become entities that hold sole responsibilities to protect their citizens and to provide necessary services to them.
All those things above have influenced functions of local communities. They lost rights to manage various natural resources originally owned and controlled by the communities, and as a result, collective actions in the communities based on own decision making system have also declined. Creation of national citizens also influenced sense of belongings of the community people who now feel more identity to broader entities such as nation, ethnicity, or even “global citizens”. And finally, introduction of “welfare state” that provides necessary services to its citizens has weakened functions of mutual help in the local communities.
2) Market Economy to generate “individuals based on economic value”
Another driving force of modernization, market economy, has also given crucial influence on the functions of local communities. It requires a system of “absolute right of property” that enables free economic interaction among the individuals. Communal lands were converted into private individual properties so that people can easily sell and buy in order to gain economic benefit. Again, control over common property resources by local communities was demolished and people became more individualistic to pursue economic gain. Community people who sought cash income migrated into the cities and became labor force for industries, and as a result, community ties and the system of mutual help were destroyed.
In addition to those physical impacts on community functions, penetration of market economy gave deep influence on the values of traditional local communities. In the world of market economy, everything is measured by economic rationality. It does not give value on voluntary actions if they do not produce immediate economic benefit. Mutual help, or reciprocity relations among community members are considered not to be economically rational. People have become much busy in pursuing individual economic benefit rather than giving time for “un-productive” or “non-profitable” activities of local communities.
Yet, we need something similar to communities
Thus, as nation state and market economy are the two key driving forces for modern world, we have to admit that the decline of local community is inevitable. However, is there nothing remains for local communities to play any role or function in the modern or post-modern world of globalization?
The answer will be “no”, if you look into the present situation of Japanese society. There revealed hundred thousands of the cases of “Ijime” (physical or mental violence by friends especially at schools) throughout
On the other hand, as the portion of aged persons is continuously rising, number of “dokkyo-rojin” (aged person living alone) increases rapidly, and incidents of “kodoku-shi” (dying alone without being found for long time) frequently happen in many cities and towns. People in
In general, it becomes obvious that the government of
Yes, other than nation state and market economy, we need something similar to the traditional local communities that are able to manage common property resources, to facilitate mutual help, and to give us sense of belongings. It can be a revival or re-construction of local communities, or it can also be a new types of communities, such as NPOs now being much active in