What's in a title: Understanding meanings in community care
What's in a title: Understanding meanings in community care

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What's in a title: Understanding meanings in community care

1 What's in a title? An introduction

Because the words ‘care’, ‘welfare’ and ‘community’ are so much a part of everyday language and debate, there's perhaps an assumption that people agree about what they each mean. These are three words that mostly evoke warm and positive feelings. In Activity 1 you're asked to think about opposite points of view.

Activity 1: Contests of meaning

0 hours 10 minutes

For each of the three words ‘care’, ‘welfare’ and ‘community’ write down all the positive and negative associations that you can think of. Don't spend too much time on this, just jot down what comes into your head.


‘Care’, ‘welfare’ and ‘community’ are words which tend to resonate so positively that you might have thought this was an unlikely task. It all depends on your starting point. These lists include some of the words that people who tested the course came up with.


Care – compassion, concern, looking after, support, warmth, protection, empathy, attachment, rewarding, interest, facilitating, helping, love, protect, watch over.

Welfare – concern, happiness, prosperity, wellbeing, success, profit, support, safety-net, sharing, goodwill, benefit, provision.

Community – sharing, identity, warmth, closeness, sameness, solidarity, shelter, strength, inclusion, belonging, empowering, equality, nearness, looking out for, togetherness.


Care – burden, woe, worry, control, pressure, custody, managing, being in charge of, supervision, stress, pain, being inadequate, powerlessness, dependency, oppression, abuse, tiredness, thanklessness, hard work, demoralising.

Welfare – needy, failing, controlling, labelling, deserving, denying, official, not managing, stigma, shame, poverty, idleness, fecklessness, scrounging, hand-outs, charity, demeaning, benefits.

Community – control, pressure, authority, oppressive, exclusion, not belonging, rejection, rejecting, uniformity, duty, responsibility, fear, nuisance, disempowering, homogeneous, myth.

Your responses will depend on your own experience, of course. Maybe your experience of care is a monthly visit to your GP practice so that the nurse can give you the injection which helps you feel you can manage your life. Care then just becomes a matter of routine, something which isn't care at all, a controlling experience. On the other hand, care might mean that you've got your own front door for the first time in your life. Then your experience of care may be of something empowering which confers a welcome new identity. A word like ‘welfare’ means different things depending on where you live. Being ‘on welfare’ in some parts of the United Kingdom means being poor and dependent on help, a failure in some people's eyes. But welfare can also mean awareness of all that goes towards making life equitable and fair, compensating for disadvantage, ensuring that someone isn't denied the right to participate in society because of their income, health or particular circumstances.

Perhaps ‘community’ was the most difficult word to find negative meanings for. As Raymond Williams, the novelist and literary critic, points out:

Community can be the warmly persuasive word to describe an existing set of relationships, or the warmly persuasive word to describe an alternative set of relationships.

(1983, pp. 75–6)

He goes on to say that what distinguishes ‘community’ from other similar words, for example ‘state’, ‘society’ and ‘nation’, is that ‘it seems never to be used unfavourably and never to be given any positive opposing or distinguishing term’. The responses made to Activity 1 suggest that there are some contrasting meanings currently in use. In the next three sections each of these words is explored in more depth, beginning by carrying on with the discussion of ‘community’.


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