Book Review – Community: The Structure of Belonging by Peter Block

by Mark Votava


This is a wonderful book about community, belonging and the possibilities of creating the future together.  Peter Block leads us on the path of cultivating the social fabric of community.  This is so essential today to pay attention to as our individualistic narratives we live by are separating us from one another in everyday life.  The focus on local ways of life on a small scale that happen slowly, organically and at a grassroots level is refreshing and encouraging to me.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in a communal, interdependent, relational way of life in the world.  We are really communal beings who long for connection with others, but it seems we are terrified of this possibility too.  Knowing others and being known is not something that we have practiced much of so we tend to be afraid of it.  But it is a truly liberating way to live that makes us much more human, authentic and compassionate.

Citizenship, restoration, belonging, transformation, context, listening and hospitality are all important themes in this well written book.  The focus on the gifts of individuals instead of deficiencies is highlighted throughout every page.  When we work together through our gifts and assets that are present, this is a much more productive way to create something beautiful in our world together.  I find this to be so true to my own experience of life.

  • The social fabric of community

“The social fabric of community is formed from an expanding shared sense of belonging.  It is shaped by the idea that only when we are connected and care for the well-being of the whole that a civic and democratic society is created…”

  • Locally on a small scale

“…sustainable changes in community occur locally on a small scale, happen slowly, and are initiated at a grassroots level.”

  • Deficiencies, interests, and entitlement

“Our current context is a long way from one of gifts, generosity, and accountability.  The dominant context we now hold is one of deficiencies, interests, and entitlement.  Out of this context grows the belief that the suffering of communities is a set of problems to be solved.”

  • In an individualistic culture

“In an individualistic culture, the social capital, the fabric of community, does not get built.”

  • A declaration of the future we chose to live into

“Restoration begins when we think of community as a possibility, a declaration of the future that we chose to live into.  This idea of a communal possibility is distinct from what we commonly call an individual possibility.  Community is something more than a collection of individual longings, desires, or possibilities.  The communal possibility has its own landscape, and its own dynamics, requirements, and points of leverage…”

  • What can we create together?

“The communal possibility rotates on the question, ‘What can we create together?’…  This question of what we can create together is at the intersections of possibility and accountability…”

  • Stop labeling others for their deficiencies and focus on their gifts

“Communal transformation, taking back our collective projections, occurs when people get connected to those who were previously strangers, and when we invite people into conversations that ask them to act as creators or owners of community.  It occurs when we become related in a new way to those we are intending to help.  This means we stop labeling others for their deficiencies and focus on their gifts.”

  • Citizenship is a state of being

“Citizenship is a state of being.  It is a choice for activism and care…”

  • A future formed by our own hands

“If our intention is to create the possibility of an alternative future, then we need a future formed by our own hands.  A handcrafted future.”

  • The shift toward citizenship

“The shift towards citizenship is to take the stance that we are the creators of our world as well as the products of it.  Free will trumps genetics, culture, and parental upbringing.”

  • Emotional and relational essence of community

“Unconditional commitment with no thought to ‘What’s in it for me?’ is the emotional and relational essence of community…”

  • Creating a structure of belonging

“…the challenge for every community is not so much to have a vision of what it wants to become, or a plan, or specific timetables.  The real challenge is to discover and create the means for engaging citizens that brings a new possibility into being.  To state it more precisely, what gives power to communal possibility is the imagination and authorship of citizens led through a process of engagement.  This is an organic and relational process.  This is what creates a structure of belonging…”

  • Something new to emerge

“Questions create the space for something new to emerge…”

  • The author of our own experience

“Ownership is the decision to become the author of our own experience…  It is the stance that each of us is creating the world, even the one we have inherited.”

  • Listening creates a restorative community

“Listening is the action step that replaces defending ourselves.  Listening, understanding a deeper level than is being expressed, is the action that creates a restorative community…”

  • Addicted to the illusion of safety

“We are addicted to accepting the illusion of safety that we get from allowing large systems to name the game and define the conversation…”

  • My gifts and capacities

“I am not what I am not able to do.  I am what I am able to do – my gifts and capacities.”

Have you ever thought about the idea of creating the future together?