Communication Community Attachment
by
Lee Shaker
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 September 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0136

Introduction

Community attachment may be thought of as the extent to which residents of a place possess cognitive or affective ties to each other and to that place. Interest in the concept can be traced to the rise of urbanization and industrialization in the 19th century. As new immigrants flooded into rapidly developing cities, the social, economic, and political systems under which agrarian societies and their communities had long been organized were disrupted. How would these new cities, and the residents that had left their families and homes behind, fare? In 1887, pioneering sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies theorized about this transition in Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft, catalyzing a generation of scholarly concern about the rootlessness of new urban residents. In the mid-20th century, Morris Janowitz brought the interests in cities and communication shown at the School of Sociology at the University of Chicago (Chicago School) to a study of the community press. The modern study of the relationship between community attachment and mass media stems from this work. When Janowitz published his seminal study, the population of American cities had stabilized, but it was dominated by enclaves with ethnic roots. If the study of community attachment was driven initially by concern about the integration of immigrants into cities, interest in the interplay between these enclaves and the larger community spurred post–World War II studies of community attachment. As the 20th century progressed, the decline of American cities, the rise of suburbs, and the increasing mobility of the workforce prompted a renewed focus on community attachment as places of residence grew less fixed. What prompts residents of a community to stay, to engage civically and politically within that community, and to feel a sense of connection and responsibility to that community? Today, as individuals turn from geographically proximate mass media toward interest-based niche information sources, the question of community attachment remains a salient one.

Core Texts

Within the discipline of communication, studies of community attachment typically focus on its relationship with mass media rather than interpersonal interactions. In Janowitz 1967 the major functions of community newspapers in Chicago are explicated. Edelstein and Larsen 1960 replicates many of Janowitz’s key empirical findings related to community newspaper readership. Between the two studies, early support was given to the notion that readership of the community press is associated with affect toward local communities. In the 1980s, works such as Jeffres, et al. 1987 developed increasingly refined empirical models that depicted the relationship between media use and community attachment. But, as Stamm 1985 explains, this research is plagued by an inability to depict the causal ordering of the relationship between media use and community attachment. Recently, Hoffman and Eveland 2010 used a time-series panel design to address this shortcoming—though the authors’ results were inconclusive. For those interested in communication and community attachment, an examination of these texts should provide a clear introduction to the related research.

  • Edelstein, Alex S., and Otto N. Larsen. 1960. The weekly press’ contribution to a sense of urban community. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly 37:489–498.

    DOI: 10.1177/107769906003700401E-mail Citation »

    Study set in Seattle replicates the core quantitative results offered in Janowitz 1967. By virtue of its brevity, this article makes a good starting point for understanding the roots of more recent quantitative studies of community attachment.

  • Hoffman, Lindsay H., and William P. Eveland. 2010. Assessing causality in the relationship between community attachment and local news media use. Mass Communication and Society 13:174–195.

    DOI: 10.1080/15205430903012144E-mail Citation »

    The article examines the relationship between local media use and community attachment with a national four-wave panel survey. This design offers the authors leverage on both causality and generalizability challenges that limit many other community attachment studies. In addition, the article includes an excellent review of the literature.

  • Janowitz, Morris. 1967. The community press in an urban setting: The social elements of urbanism. 2d ed. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

    E-mail Citation »

    An in-depth investigation of the roles of community newspapers in Chicago in the mid-20th century. Evidence includes rich qualitative detail from interviews as well as early quantitative assessments of survey questions about the relationship between community newspaper readership and affect toward the community.

  • Jeffres, Leo W., Jean Dobos, and Mary Sweeney. 1987. Communication and commitment to community. Communication Research 14:619–643.

    DOI: 10.1177/009365087014006001E-mail Citation »

    A thorough analysis of cross-sectional survey data that explicates the relationships between a host of related variables: not only community commitment and newspaper readership, but also (interestingly) interpersonal communication. Using path analysis, the authors suggest that newspapers may be more influential than interpersonal interactions in shaping the attitudes of citizens about their communities.

  • Stamm, Keith R. 1985. Newspaper use and community ties: Toward a dynamic theory. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

    E-mail Citation »

    The single most in-depth consideration of the relationship between communication and community ties or attachment. Stamm carefully identifies and defines many relevant concepts, discusses their measurement, and considers their causal relationships. Includes a wealth of empirical evidence as well.

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