Voici quelques propositions (n’hésitez pas à commenter!) :

Déf. 1 : il convient avant toute chose de distinguer la Communauté (singulier et majuscule), comme aspiration universelle non actualisée et donc encore en partie imaginaire, des communautés (pluriel et minuscules), actualisations dans le réel et nécessaire racornissement de l’aspiration plus large à la Communauté.

Déf. 2 : la Communauté est le sentiment de ce que l’on est en commun comme suite et conséquence de la sensation de ce que l’on a en commun

Déf. 3 : le sentiment de la Communauté est le sentiment d’appartenir au même groupe parce qu’on a quelque chose en commun avec d’autres (donc d’« être » parce qu’on « a », mais aussi et surtout parce qu’on partage cette qualité et cette propriété, cette qualité de « l’être » et cette propriété de l’« avoir ») —avec d’autres qu’on ne connaît pas (ce qui distingue le sentiment de la Communauté des simples sentiments familiaux ou de parenté).

(tiré de R.Astruc, Nous? L’aspiration à la communauté et les arts, Versailles, RKI Press, 2016)


What etymology tells us

There is a profound equivocity in the thought of community: it is at the same time that to which I belong before being a subject, and what expropriates me of myself in the common, in the being-in-common.

If we go back to Antiquity, the Greek κοινός and the Latin communitas share a common etymology: both words contain the idea of togetherness, or “with-ness”, which is what we hear in cum in Latin, or in the prefixes con-, com-, co-. The word communitas is composed of a prefix and the radical mūnus. Benveniste writes: “En effet, mūnus a le sens de ‘devoir, charge officielle’. Il a formé des dérivés adjectifs: mūnis, immūnis, commūnis. Ce dernier a un parallèle en gothique: ga-mains ‘gemein’. (“In fact mūnus has the sense of ‘duty, a public office.’ From it are derived several adjectives: mūnis, immūnis, communis. The last has a parallel in Gothic: ga-mains, German gemein‘common’.”) According to Benveniste, the original commūnis, the community, signifies “qui a en commun desmūnia” (“he who has munia in common”). The community is understood as a group unified in a bond of reciprocity, a reciprocity constituted by giving and receiving. Here we could continue by analysing a form close to the mūnus of the community: it is the mūtuus, a family of words that gave what is mutual. And, that would lead us to what is common but also to what is borrowed and what is lent.

If a community is generally understood as a sharing of one or more attributes, what are the types of attribute constitutive of a community? Without trying to conceive a logical typology, here are some examples.

  1. A national attribute, and specifically when the members of this nation are a subgroup.
  2. Sexual orientation, or more precisely the exception in sexual orientation (because there is a gay community, but we never encounter the expression heterosexual community).
  3. A colour of the skin or a ‘race’.
  4. A community linked to an activity. For instance, the “gamers’ community”. In French, the same expression exists: la “communauté des gamers”. Here we have a “culture” linked to this community (culture in its weaker meaning: a dress code, perhaps a way of speaking, a common hobby, an age group or often a gender, etc.).
  5. A religion, of course, since the common is fundamentally shared in a religion practice that tends to celebrate in common the presence of what transcends the simple fact of being-here. Or transcends, in the constant impulse of being, the simple transcendental fact of the hic et nunc, the here and the now.

Th. T.

Notes on the translation of the Greek word κοινωνία into “community”

— Philippe Theophanidis, 2013

Historically, the translation of the Greek word κοινωνία into “community” has been and remains problematic. Conversely, the translation of Jean-Luc Nancy’s prominent concept of “communauté” from the French to the Greek is equally problematic. The same goes for the translation of the English word “community” since both French and English languages use the same Latin root. Here are a few observations relevant to this particular problem.

• The word “community” today is loaded with historical values. On one hand, it comes with a positive connotation when it is used to evoke a sort of bond which is richer and more authentic than the bond experienced in a society. This nostalgic understanding finds its contemporary representation in Ferdinand Tönnies’ famous study Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft (1887). On the other hand, the word “community” has come, in recent years, to be associated with the failure of various communist projects and, by extension, with totalitarianisms from both sides of the political spectrum. For that reason, it can also carry a negative connotation, depending of the context where it is used. Those historical values are mostly foreign both to the meaning we find in Aristotle’s texts and to Jean-Luc Nancy’s own specific use the word communauté and commun (although he clearly acknowledges and even analyses those historical values: See Jean-Luc Nancy. TheInoperative Community, tr. Peter Connor, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, [1986] 1991, 1–2, as well as “The Confronted Community”, tr. by Amanda Macdonald, Postcolonial Studies, 6, no. 1, [2001]2003, 27–28).

• In both languages, attempts to reduce the word’s significance either to a positive or negative value overlook its ambiguous meaning (both in Greek and Latin). For example, in Mark 7: 15, 18, the verb κοινοω is used (κοινωσαι) to signify “to make common” but in the sense of “to render vulgar, improper” which is usually translated in English by “to defile” (in French “souiller”). The same ambiguity applies of course in English: “common” is used both to signify that which is shared, but also that which is vulgar. Therefore, the very idea of “sharing” –making common what is proper– is not something inherently good nor is it inherently bad: it is first and foremost a problem as it always comes with the risk of contamination (i.e. of becoming improper), but also with the promise of a possible relational gain.

• In Aristotle, who was one of the first to use the word κοινωνία in a more systematic and more reflexive way (i.e. with the intent to define how it is used), it has many meanings. In contemporary times, the number of meaning has not diminished, on the contrary: a 1955 sociological study was able to classify 94 distinct definitions of community (see George A. Hillery. “Definition of Community: Areas of Agreement”, Rural Sociology, 20, no. 2, 1955, 111). This alone should give an indication as to the level of difficulty one is likely to face when trying to argue that κοινωνία and “community” are equivalent concepts: what each of them means and how are they used in the first place is still open for discussion.

• Again, in Aristotle, κοινωνία is sometimes used to signify the participation in something (it is followed by an objective genitive) and sometimes as the result of this participation: in other words, it is both a process and the product of this process. This double meaning is likely to get lost in the substantive “community” which is often understood less as an active process than as a given product (a “thing” already constituted). As a result, English translators of Aristotle’s texts have used many different words and expressions to render Aristotle’s various uses of the word κοινωνία (see M. V. Sakellariou. The polis-state: definition and origin. Research Centre for Greek and Roman Antiquity, National Hellenic Research Foundation, 1989, 215–219).

• Finally, there’s one more important point to consider. The Latin word “communitas” gets part of its meaning from a complicated legal concept developed during the Roman Empire. It is formed from com + munus where the latter is a notion which could be quickly associated –for the need of brevity– with ideas of obligation (or debt) and exchange (see Émile Benveniste. Le vocabulaire des institutions indo-européennes, Paris: Éditions de Minuit, 1969, 96–101). The whole idea of an association or a coexistence of beings founded on the sharing of reciprocal obligations could only be linked to the Greek κοινωνία by ways of an elaborate interpretation of classical texts: it certainly is not selfevident. All that being said, there is one advantage in translating communauté into κοινωνία: it preserves the etymological relationship with the root commun. In other words, κοινω is to κοινωνία what commun is to communauté. Greek readers should probably keep in mind those aspects whenever they come across the word κοινωνία used in relation with the work of Jean-Luc Nancy. One solution would be to keep, in the Greek translation, an indication of the French original form whenever quoting or using the word in the same way as Nancy, like so: “… η κοινωνία [la communauté]…”.

Une réflexion sur “Définitions

  1. Pingback: Définitions | CCC

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