Loss of Community

Cultural preservation, social inclusiveness, and community based solutions to local problems are particularly relevant in light of the perceived loss of community in many locales. It is aLso important to consider how this perceived loss contributes to a lack of action and power among locals (Brennan & Israel, 2008). Such conditions can aLso serve as the basis for extra local exploitation (Gaventa, 1980).

Perhaps most identifiable in voicing concern over the eclipse and disappearance of community was Roland Warren in The Community in America (1978). Central to this work was his notion of the “Great Change.” He defines this change as one in which connections among various local institutions (horizontal ties) give way to ties with state, regional, or national counterparts (vertical ties) (Warren, 1978). In this, he and others stressed the belief that as communities became increasingly dependent on extralocal forces, such as government and outside development interests, they became less able to control their own destinies (Lulo et al., 2002; Stein, 1960; Warren, 1978). This lack of local level decision-making ability and control would, in his opinion, lead to decay in local solidarity and social cohesion. Earlier, Stein (1960) saw more complex societies threatening the close personal relationships seen in communities. Losses in close personal relationships are often accompanied with growth in transitory weak ties (Warren, 1978).

Warren (1978) associated several conditions with the Great Change that he saw as transforming community life. Included were the division of labor, differentiation of interests and association, increasing systemic relationships to the larger society, and bureaucratization and impersonalization. Also included were the transfer of functions to profit enterprise and government, urbanization and suburbanization, and changing values. According to Warren, these have been constant factors of change during the past 100 years and have reshaped rural communities and cultures (Warren, 1978). Such conditions are certainly present throughout Appalachia. The end result of such conditions is a loss not of community, but of community capacity, agency, and the ability of local communities to act.

The debate over the loss of community has raised numerous issues and has highlighted the need for a better understanding of the community development process (Lulo et al., 2002). While conceptions of community and society have changed under modern conditions, these changes have not signaled the loss or eclipse of community. With changes in social structures and lifestyles, it is likely that the frequency and types of interaction have changed. With decreased or less purposive interaction, community may be a far less frequent thing than in the past. However, it is not something that has been eclipsed or lost forever. The need for local action and other forms of interaction is therefore vital in contributing to the emergence of community and to maintaining channels of communication and interaction.

"Traditional" Cultures and Community

At the center of our analysis is what can be regarded as “traditional” cultural practices that, in the lives of many people, formed a central part of their everyday worlds. “Tradition,” like identity or memory, is a somewhat contentious and open concept. We accept tradition as a symbolic construction of the present (Handler & Linnekin, 1984), but take tradition to mean that which forms enduring features in the “sociobiographical memory” of a place and its people (Olick & Robbins, 1998, p. 123). Tradition requires the creation of collective meaning and in the process, both participation and reification are necessary (Brennan et al., 2009; Thomas, 2001). While the former requires actors to actively engage with others, the latter refers to “the process of giving form to our experiences by producing objects that congeal this experience into ‘thingness’” (Wenger, 1998, p. 58, cited in Thomas, 2001, p. 174). Such objects create points of focus, whether they exist in the form of melody, dance, story, or craft. The social contexts and settings of activities and objects that can claim to be traditional have changed but for something from the past to continue as tradition requires contemporary interpretation and performance. As Handler and Linnekin propose “[GJenuine cultures provide individuals both with a rich corpus of pre- established (traditional) forms and with the opportunity to ‘swing free’ ... in creative endeavors that inevitably transform those forms” (1984, p. 287).

While traditions, such as music, are in many contexts intimately connected with place and place-making (Hudson, 2006), people must in certain ways become aligned to or “electively belong” (Savage et al., 2005) to traditions, much in the same way they may do to places (Thomas, 2001). In cases such as musical and craft traditions, there is a definitive need for the “handing down” or “passing on” of distinct idioms or skills, which are of course then subject to individual interpretation, creativity, and meaning. Without “generativity,” Erikson’s developmental term, “expressed through teaching, leading, and nurturing the next generation” (Piercy & Cheek, 2004, p. 20), tradition becomes more museum-piece than cultural continuity and creativity.

In general terms, we see culture (and such practices termed traditional cultures) as a motivating factor in the creation of social identity with considerable potential for creating cohesion and solidarity among community members (Phillips, 2004). The problem, as we see it, however, is that contemporary living patterns, such as privatized lives, new technologies, smaller and single families, and increased rural outmigration, can threaten to rupture the connection between people, place, and identity; thereby undermining “tradition as a process that involves continual re-creation” (Handler & Linnekin, 1984, p. 287). Without channels of communication, interaction, and agents to interpret the creativities and customs of people within place, then tradition becomes fractured, and as this occurs, the nature of well-being can be adversely affected. Without continuity and reinterpretation, communities are at risk of losing vital assets and resources.

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