Institutions are organizations or businesses that shape the help organize social, economic, and political relations. (North, 1991) Banks, libraries, schools; these are all institutions. They are organized by groups or people or individuals and adhere to a specific set of rules and policies to ensure the health and well-being of the institution. They are governed: policed, if you will. If you, as an individual, have needs that don’t align with the institution, the expectation is that you need to adapt and not that the institution will change, although if enough members of the public complain about rules and policies of an institution, those rules or policies can be amended.
Communities are a set of relationships among people but also a feeling that we can observe when we participate in collective living with people with whom we trust and feel safe. Community is a sense of belonging. (Chavis and Lee, 2015) If you have needs as an individual, you can share your needs with the community with the intent of those needs being met. Communities inherently have room for fluidity baked into their nature.
Communities can form institutions. Institutions can foster a sense of community. But when I think about what kind of experience I want for my children growing up, it is the communities that I after, not the institutions. I want their “education” (I use scare quote because I don’t mean formal education) to be human-centred, not policy-centred.
Since we’ve moved, I’ve been searching for community – for that sense of belonging built on trust and shared experience. Recently, I’ve been looking towards institutions to fill the gap in community and have been disappointed more than once because institutions often need to prioritize profitability and efficiency over people’s feelings.
I know you’re sick of me always pointing at capitalism, but it’s role in this institution versus community analysis is critical. Capitalism seeks to turn community into institution, to package it, sell it, profit off it, commodify it. Online social media platforms sell us the community that we’re lacking in real life to the point where we can no longer disconnect as it feels like we’re abandoning our friends. Capitalism turns social media into institutions: a meager replacement for the real life community that we don’t have time or energy to find, exhausted from trying to make ends meet.
Capitalist institutions are trying to replace community and it’s working. But remember, these institutions are built on rules, policies, and profit-based principles. Communities are focus on human-centred connection and fluid to meet the needs of it’s individuals.