Academic journal article Rural Society

Recreation, Arts, Events and Festivals: Their Contribution to a Sense of Community in the Colac-Otway Shire of Country Victoria

Academic journal article Rural Society

Recreation, Arts, Events and Festivals: Their Contribution to a Sense of Community in the Colac-Otway Shire of Country Victoria

Article excerpt


A sense of community is an experientially based concept that focuses on the interrelationship and interdependence of individuals in a specific setting. The most common type of 'community' is based on geographic location, but may also include membership in a group, or individuals who share similar beliefs, behaviours, characteristics and/or values. Sense of community is difficult to pinpoint as it is an intangible concept, but it can often be interpreted in terms of other measurable terms.

The purpose of this article is to determine what breadth of recreation, arts, events, and cultural programming is desirable to develop an optimal sense of community in a rural setting. The research conducted to answer this question focused on determining whether sense of community is unique to each individual community within a rural society, or representative of the offerings of the central administrative structure of the region. For this article, a community is defined as a group of individuals living in the same area, such as within the confines of a rural society. A rural society is defined as social life takingplace outside of a major metropolitan area/urban centre where the major population and economic activities are widespread over a significant distance, but the major population size ranges from 5,000-25,000 residents. These population figures were derived from two sources: (1) levels 4 and 5 of the Rural, Remote and Metropolitan Classifications (RRMA) (Australian Government 2007; Victoria Metropolitan Alliance 2007); and (2) the Australian Bureau of Statistics' (ABS) (2007) population estimates for Statistical Local Areas (SLA's).

Community studies: A review of the literature

There is a long history of community studies rooted in the extensive history of traditional sociology and the social sciences. One of the earliest recognised and most influential studies was the Chicago School. Emerging from the University of Chicago, the body of work was two-fold. In the initial study during the 1920s and 1930s, researchers investigated urban sociology in terms of the urban environment by combining traditional sociological theory with ethnographic fieldwork. The second study, which took place after World War II, focused on utilising field research combined with symbolic interactionism. The researchers' overall goal was gauge social relations in the city of Chicago by using the city as a social laboratory (Pfohl, Van Wagenen, Arend, Brooks & Leckenby 2006).

Another significant investigation was the Middletown Studies of the 1920s through to the Great Depression. This was an in-depth series of three field studies that focused on the city of Middletown, Indiana as representative of a typical, small, urban centre. The goal of the studies was to discover the most significant cultural norms, and hence better understand social change. The studies focused on the major aspects of social life including work, home and family, leisure time, government and community, and religion (Hoover 1989; Lynd & Lynd 1937; Lynd & Lynd 1956).

While the two previous studies formed the histoncal framework for community studies, there have been many other studies and theories developed over the years that have focused on various aspects of community life. One of the more significant areas is the concept of 'sense of community'. Many of the early studies into the concept of sense of community were focused on Sarason's definition of psychological sense of community - 'the perception of similarity to others, an acknowledged interdependence with others, a willingness to maintain this interdependence by giving to or doing for others what one expects from them, and the feeling that one is part of a larger dependable and stable structure' (1974: 157). Shortly thereafter, Gusfield (1975) emerged with the two dimensions of community: territorial and relational. Territorial focused on the physical location of the community whereas relational focused on the nature and quality of relationships. …

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