Academic journal article Making Connections

Has "Sense of Community" Become Obsolete? Why Community Service Work Activities Remain Relevant in a Technologically Dominant Society

Academic journal article Making Connections

Has "Sense of Community" Become Obsolete? Why Community Service Work Activities Remain Relevant in a Technologically Dominant Society

Article excerpt

Has "Sense of Community" Become Obsolete? Why Community Service Work Activities Remain Relevant in a Technologically Dominant Society

In the classic 1954 "Robber's Cave" experiment, Muzafer Sherif attempted to demonstrate how two highly competitive and polarized groups of boys could transform their antagonism into a cooperative and productive relationship. The groups ("The Rattlers" and "The Eagles") shared a summer camp and were intentionally exposed to a series of competitive situations and activities as a means of dividing the groups and eliciting competitive and aggressive behaviors in daily life. Prizes were awarded to the winning teams in what is now described as a "zero-sum" game situation that often resulted in conflicts between the groups. In-group versus out-group hostility attitudes were intentionally cultivated through these highly competitive activities, and were exacerbated via symbols representing group superiority (each group had its own flag, which was displayed at the competitive events).

The purpose of the original (Sherif 1) study was to examine how interpersonal relationships among a population of young boys may become positively influenced through collaborative group work and interdependency. While some research argues that the development of community engagement and volunteer services may be more of a dispositional (i.e., innate) characteristic (see for example Penner and Finkelstein 525), I argue that the development and participation of CSW activities is more environmentally- or situationrelated to opportunities that may exist within the community itself. The purpose of this study is to examine how CSW activities may provide a positive influence on interethnic relationships and improve communication among ethnically diverse communities.

Before the groups of boys became too aggressive, Sherif (1) and his colleagues were able to defuse the competitive environment through a series of activities (the "integration phase") that promoted cooperation and interdependency. A series of artificial "problems" was presented to the groups of boys that required them to work collaboratively in order to receive rewards that were offered to them. Sherif and colleagues noted a remarkable transition in the boy's attitudes and behaviors toward one another. When the boys were presented with a series of opportunities to work cooperatively, they soon realized that they were in fact all part of one group and that in order to solve the problems, they all needed to work together. The boys also discovered that before any of them could enjoy the more desirable activities scheduled at the camp (e.g., picnics, swimming) they would need to first work together and pool their diverse skills to overcome the obstacles presented to them. This cohesion and interdependency remains critical if diverse community members are to work together to improve their quality of living.

How does the Sherif study compare with adult cooperative behaviors within the community? When groups of ethnicallydiverse adults are provided opportunities to collaborate, their relationships significantly improve and ethnocentrism decreases (Hoffman 418). Sheriffwas able to demonstrate over fifty years ago that groups of people tend to work more cooperatively when they share perceived mutually beneficial goals and are able to identify strengths and skills within each group member.

More current research (Dovidio, Gaertner, and Esses 143) has demonstrated that conflict between groups may be reduced through positive intergroup interaction and interdependency, and that individual volunteer services benefit society on a broader basis (Ellemers and Boezeman 245). CSW activities provide excellent opportunities for community members from different socioeconomic, religious, and ethnic backgrounds to discover each other's strengths, skills and similarities. The relationship between group cohesion, interdependence, and evolutionary history has been well documented (Kim 3066; Trivers 35) in situations where humans were required to work cooperatively in order to maximize benefits to group members- as well as individual survival. …

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