Redefining community based on place attachment in a connected world

Dr Georgina Gurney1

1ARC Centre Of Excellence For Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University, Townsville, Australia


The concept of community is often used in environmental policy to foster environmental stewardship and public participation, crucial prerequisites of effective management. However, prevailing conceptualizations of community based on residential location or resource use are limited with respect to their utility as surrogates for communities of shared environment-related interests, and because of the localist perspective they entail. Thus, addressing contemporary sustainability challenges, which tend to involve transnational social and environmental interactions, urgently requires additional approaches to conceptualizing community that are compatible with current globalization. We propose a framing for redefining community based on place attachment (i.e., the bonds people form with places) in the context of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, a World Heritage Area threatened by drivers requiring management and political action at scales beyond the local. Using data on place attachment from 5,403 respondents residing locally, nationally, and internationally, we identified four communities that each shared a type of attachment to the reef and that spanned conventional location and use communities. We suggest that as human–environment interactions change with increasing mobility (both corporeal and that mediated by communication and information technology), new types of people–place relations that transcend geographic and social boundaries and do not require ongoing direct experience to form are emerging. We propose that adopting a place attachment framing to community provides a means to capture the neglected nonmaterial bonds people form with the environment, and could be leveraged to foster transnational environmental stewardship, critical to advancing global sustainability in our increasingly connected world.


Georgina is an Environmental Social Science Research Fellow at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University. Her research focuses broadly on understanding the socioeconomic conditions that influence opportunities for collaborative management of marine common-pool natural resources, and the multiple socioeconomic and environmental outcomes of such initiatives. Georgina takes a transdisciplinary approach to her research, drawing on theories and methods from a range of disciplines including political science, social psychology, and human geography. She has undertaken most of her research in the context of coral reef management in the Asia-Pacific region, where she is working closely with resource managers.