chapter  5
24 Pages

The Sense and Nonsense of ‘Community’: A Consideration of Contemporary Debates about Community and Culture by a Scholar of Religion

ByKim Knott

A fraud, yet something we lust after? What riddle is this? Categorically different intentions lie behind the use of the term ‘community’ by these two commentators on the 1990s. Michael Ignatieff was referring to the use of the term in public discourse in relation to ethnic minorities at the time of The Satanic Verses controversy. But he was also signalling the capacity of the term to be taken up and used to mask real social relations. His comment suggests, first, that those groups identified as ‘communities’ may not, in fact, be so, and, secondly, that the term may be used falsely to infer coherence and unity. Ignatieff points to the problematic nature of the term. The quotation from Zygmunt Bauman’s Intimations of Postmodernity does not refer to the use of the term but to what the word promises in an age of reflexive contingency, to the hopes and expectations caught up in ‘community’. To Bauman, and a number of other social theorists, the principal characteristic of the postmodern or late-modern condition is the drive for community, in all its ambiguity, for ‘contingency with roots, freedom with certainty’ (ibid, p. 135).2 Our time, as Michel Maffesoli (1996) has claimed, is ‘the time of the tribes’.3