This article argues the position that the symbolic sense of community is a product of action by associations and larger community-based organizations. It draws on a theory from urban sociology called “the community of limited liability.” In the past this theory, first articulated by Morris Janowitz, has mostly been used to argue that residents living in a local neighborhood feel a sense of identification with that area to the extent that the symbolism of that neighborhood has been developed. This article extends Janowitz’s theory to apply to local associations and their efforts to create activities, movements, and products that encourage residents to expand their sense of symbolic attachment to a place. We argue that this organizational method has long been used by local associations but it has not been recognized as an organizational theory. Because associations have used this approach over time, communities have a historical legacy of organizing and symbol creating efforts by many local associations. Over time they have competed, collaborated, and together developed a collective vision of place. They also have created a local interorganizational field and this field of interacting associations and organizations is dense with what we call associational social capital. Not all communities have this history of associational activity and associational social capital. Where it does exist, the field becomes an institutionalized feature of the community. This is what we mean by an institutional theory of community.
Carl Milofsky, PhD, University of California at Berkeley, is currently Professor of Sociology at Bucknell University. He has authored three books and edited three others focusing on associations, community organizations, and small nonprofit agencies. He was Editor-in-Chief of the
Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly and is currently an Editor of the
Voluntary Sector Review.
Toward an Institutional Theory of Community and Community Associations: a Review Carl Milofsky
Abstract Keywords Editor’s Introduction: the Importance of Community Context in Understanding Local Associations and Their Activities
2 Community and Association
3 Community Conflict
4 Community Politics
5 Associations and the Institutional Theory of Community
Bibliography Author Biography
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