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Harmony for science and humanities within the 'community'

By Mark Randell - posted Tuesday, 22 February 2005

The subject of the rapprochement of science and the humanities - in the service of a “creative economy” - has again raised its head with a speech from the Australian Academy for the Humanities to the National Press Club, carried on the ABC on February 2, 2005. It was suggested in that speech that more multi-disciplinary teams are needed in the research arena.

Indeed. And what those teams need is a decent subject to research.

May I suggest - quietly - that there is a “singleton” discipline that could make a major contribution to the creative economy if some of its research problems could be focused upon and worked upon: That discipline is community development.


Communities are places where the sciences and the humanities meet naturally; and “creative communities” are the stuff of economic booms. Becoming a creative community is a license to print money for the community, entails an intertwining of the scientific with the artistic, and presumably is good for the GDP.

There is, however, a fly in the ointment. We fumble for how to “develop” any community, let alone a creative one.

The notion of community development - at its simplest, and in its new, non-paternalistic form - is that of establishing networks within communities that facilitate communication, engender trust, and allow transactions to take place which increase the capacity of the community financially, materially and socially. The result ought to be a “resilient” community.

So far, so good. Yet is it that simple?

Research question one: How are networks best established in a community? When are they fully established?

Research question two: What is the best means of “facilitating communications”? Are new technologies (mobile phone, SMS), better than the “chat over the garden fence”?


Research question three: Which transactions “increase social capital”? What linkages make the community as a whole more resilient? More creative?

May I suggest - again, quietly - that there are things that lie at the heart of community that can help with each of these research questions, that involve both the arts and the sciences, and that can, and should, be studied in a multi-disciplinary manner. Those things are stories. Stories are at the very heart of communities. Stories are the means by which we exchange information. Stories carry community knowledge.

Research question four: How do we define “community knowledge”? How do we measure its sum total? How do we track its flow? What is a given community’s “knowledge capacity”?

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About the Author

Mark Randell is the Principal of Human Sciences, a community development consultancy based in Fremantle, WA. He has worked in the commercial, government and academic sectors.

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