“Man is by nature a social animal.”
– Aristotle, 384–322 B.C.E.
More than 2 millennia later, this laconic yet profound statement encapsulates the timeless view on the essence of human existence, our sociability, which throughout history has helped us adapt and evolve to form groups for achieving our goals, promoting our well-being, and meeting our needs, while it also provides a foundation for understanding the significance of community in our lives; an idea that is as old as the dawn of humanity.
What is a community?
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, community is defined as “a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common. It refers to a feeling of fellowship with others as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals”. This definition signifies the sense of belonging, shared values, and mutual interdependence among individuals as core characteristics of a community.
From another perspective, the late 19th-century prominent sociologist Emile Durkheim further expands on the concept of community, stating that it represents “a moral fact that exists independently of the particular individuals who compose it”. Durkheim highlights the collective consciousness and social bonds that tie individuals together in a community, emphasizing its enduring nature, distinctiveness, and culture-creating character.
Drawing upon these definitions, we can discern the deep-rooted human need for social connection, the establishment of culture through shared norms and values, and the sense of belonging that communities provide.
From the first human communities that existed thousands of years ago to contemporary communities, the very concept has evolved greatly, yet its importance remains untouched and ever more relevant. But, how did all of this start? How did we evolve from closed and tribal communities to global online communities?
To better understand the very concept of community and follow its trajectory over the course of time, we shall first look at its evolutionary origins and proto-context, elaborate on sociological and governance-related aspects, and examine its convergence with contemporary technology.
ORIGIN & FORMATION OF COMMUNITIES
Scientists have long studied the ways in which communities form, function, and change over time, shedding light on the complex social dynamics that underpin our species. From small, intimate groups of hunter-gatherers to sprawling, interconnected nations, communities have played a central role in the development of human culture and civilization.
Social interactions and cooperation essential for our survival and success as a species.
At its core, community refers to a group of people who share a common interest or objective and interact with each other to achieve a common goal. As the renowned linguist and philosopher, Noam Chomsky has argued, the human brain is wired for language and communication, making social interactions and cooperation essential for our survival and success as a species. More specifically, he suggests that our capacity for language allowed us to create complex social structures and cultures, and combined with our innate desire for social connection, communities started sprouting .
According to Yuval Noah Harari’s book “Sapiens,” the first human communities emerged around 70,000 years ago in East Africa and were kinship-based, with small groups of people living together and sharing resources, and were characterized by a division of labour, with members specializing in tasks such as hunting, gathering, and childcare.
The inherent need for protection and support facilitated the formation of groups that provided not only a sense of belonging, social cohesion, and security but also economic benefits, such as shared resources and collective decision-making, which can lead to increased productivity and prosperity.
Interestingly, Harari’s research highlights the importance of storytelling and shared beliefs in the formation of communities. In fact, humans are unique in their ability to create and believe in shared myths and fiction, such as religious and cultural beliefs, that bind us together as a group. In turn, these shared myths and fiction give rise to cultural norms, values, and social structures that define our communities.
Under these premises, the once-tribal communities grew in size and complexity, leading to the emergence of villages, towns, states, and international alliances.
THE IMPORTANCE OF GOVERNANCE
As communities grew, the development of more complex social structures, such as social hierarchies and specialized roles, emerged, and so, governance got crucially established as the sticking glue holding communities together and allowing them to collectively grow and prosper.
What exactly is governance?
In principle, governance refers to the rules, norms, and practices that govern the behaviour of individuals within a community. Effective governance is essential for the stability and sustainability of a community, and it can manifest itself in various forms.
Historically, governance within communities has been based on informal systems of social control, such as reputation, shame, and punishment. However, as communities have grown larger and more sophisticated, formal and more advanced systems of governance have emerged, in the likes of elected leaders, constitutions, and legal systems.
According to Cormac Russel, a community development expert, governance within communities is not merely a bureaucratic exercise but a fundamental aspect that contributes to their overall well-being and resilience through building relationships and trust among members .
Moreover, he emphasizes that effective governance enables communities to make collective decisions, establish shared values, and take ownership of their own development processes. It empowers community members to actively participate in shaping their shared future and ensures that decisions are made in a fair, inclusive, and transparent manner. In this sense, governance serves as a mechanism for promoting democracy, social justice, and equity within communities.
Furthermore, Russell’s view highlights the significance of local governance in fostering community cohesion and social capital. Local governance structures, such as community councils or assemblies, provide platforms for community members to come together, discuss common concerns, and collaboratively address local challenges.
These structures facilitate the building of trust, mutual support, and solidarity among community members, which are crucial for the sustainability and vitality of communities.
Pointing out the importance of bottom-up governance approaches, where decision-making power is decentralized and shared among community members, Russell recognizes the expertise and wisdom that exists within the community itself and encourages active participation from all members, regardless of their social status or background.
By involving diverse voices and perspectives, communities can harness their collective intelligence and creativity, leading to more innovative solutions and inclusive development.
Lastly, it is important to note that effective governance goes beyond formal structures and processes. It involves nurturing a culture of collaboration, respect, and reciprocity within the community.
Communities that have a clear governance structure and shared values tend to be more successful and productive.
This culture of governance encourages individuals to take responsibility for their collective well-being and encourages them to contribute their skills, knowledge, and resources for the benefit of the community as a whole. Driven by the needs and aspirations of their members, rather than by external forces such as governments or corporations, communities that have a clear governance structure and shared values tend to be more successful and productive.
THE ROLE OF TECHNOLOGY
Besides the hardwired human need for and the sociological aspects of communities, environmental stimuli and societal circumstances are also factors that influence community formation.
Already after the second industrial Revolution, technological advancements brought up tools that contributed to the well-being and survival of our communities, yet the post-Internet era of the last three decades has arguably been the most game-changing as it has offered a new paradigm in communications, governance, and exchange of information.
Communities are no longer limited by physical boundaries and can be formed around shared interests or values, regardless of geographic location.
With the emergence of the global Internet, we are now witnessing the creation of a new kind of community culture, where communities are no longer limited by physical boundaries and can be formed around shared interests or values, regardless of geographic location. In this new digital landscape, we have the potential to expand to more decentralized, purely digital-based, even fully-immersed communities that are more diverse, dynamic, and inclusive than ever before, in the likes of DAOs, NFT communities, and metaverse-based virtual worlds.
Along these lines, community governance has become ever more important as digital communities may face unique challenges pertaining to the navigation of complex digital tools and the management of online interactions, such as anonymity, misinformation, online harassment, data exploitation, and, even, loss of funds, thus, requiring innovative solutions and alternative forms of structure.
Nevertheless, they offer new opportunities for connection, collaboration, and innovation, as well as new forms of governance that promote personal autonomy and group security.
The bottom line is that communities are an essential component of human society and civilization.
As we have seen, communities have been critical to our evolutionary success and reflect innate needs which rely on effective community governance based on clear communication, shared goals, and the co-creation of culture.
The rise of the global Internet and deep tech, such as virtual reality and distributed ledger technology, has made it possible for people to connect with others from all over the world, form communities around shared interests, beliefs, and values, and actively contribute to the proliferation of a new type of community culture; the digital culture.
As we are swiftly going through the 2020s, we aim to merge the physical with the digital and explore the evolution of community and its governance while it’s evolving into a more global consciousness. What are the current demands, challenges, needs, and objectives of communities today? How has the very concept of community evolved nowadays and how do we view this? Why is this important and what shall we do about it?
In this 10-article series, we want to share educational information that aspires to inform, influence, and shape the future of community culture. Through our lens, we want to lay the foundational background information around the concept of community, approaching it as a biologically-driven behaviour that is dynamic and transcending, exploring its evolution from tribal to online, and highlighting the ongoing creation of a new community culture, the Web3 community.
Over the course of this series, we will touch upon the evolution of governance, examine different types of online communities and their impact, delve deeper on the available contemporary technological tools, and zoom in on Web3 communities elaborating on niche concepts such as community security, activation, and the difference between building and growing communities providing battle-tested insights from our expertise with Defiants.
Let’s get into this!
 The Division of Labor in Society (1893), Emile Durkheim
 Language and Mind (1968), Noam Chomsky
 Rekindling Democracy (2020), Cormac Russell