Defining Community

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Defining Community

What makes a community? To get a better handle on this question, it may be useful to analyze a specific encounter between the individual and his community(s). Let's take, for example, the much-publicized soccer match between Mexico and the U.S. in the summer of 1996. This game received a great deal of media attention because, even though the match was held in Los Angeles, on U.S. soil, the vast majority of fans were cheering for the Mexican team. The U.S. team members, on the other hand, were greeted with a chorus of boos and were pelted with various objects on the field. This trend in urban areas of largely Hispanic support for the teams of other countries was hardly new for U.S. soccer; the players and coaches had been complaining for a long while about the lack of support they received in their home country. And this match against Mexico was one of the most extreme instances of support for non-U.S. teams by U.S. citizens, which, as a result, generated much debate in op-ed sections around the country.

Some lamented Americans' lack of patriotism and suggested that those who supported the Mexican team didn't take their oath of citizenship seriously enough. Others argued that the game didn't signify too much because, hey, it's just a game. People can root for whichever side they want without committing any acts of national treason. Divided loyalties are a fact of life because we all belong to different communities simultaneously. However, many of these same it's-just-a-game people added that, had the choice between countries had any higher stakes, it would have been a different matter altogether. For example, if war broke out between the U.S. and Mexico, and some U.S. citizens chose to support or even t...

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... type because of the risk that our individuality will become nil?

I would like to suggest, in response to the original question, "What makes a community?" that we become a community by virtue of asking the question rather than by any particular answer to it we give. Our community-by-collective-self-interrogation depends on setting almost nothing beyond the bounds of conversation. Through public debate, like the editorials following the soccer match and like our forum here today, we are continually questioning and re-defining what our community is based upon. And this re-definition is inevitably transgressive, as the changed foundations of our community are antagonistic to older foundations.


1 Emile Durkheim, The Division of Labor in Society, in Readings from Emile Durkheim, Edited by Kenneth Thompson (London: Tavistock Publications, 1985), 47.
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