Listening to the Stories and Sharing the Cultural Capital of the Community

This week’s readings deal with the idea of knowledge and capital, or assets, in communities. What is knowledge, how do we obtain it, where does it come from, why is it valuable? Knowledge is a set of ideas based on observations made by people. But who gets to decide what is knowledge worth sharing? This is also true for capital, meaning what is identified as assets in a community is a result of what people think is important. Many of us think of capital as money, but what about other types of assets in a community? In sociology, capital is defined as anything that adds value to a community. But who decides what is considered as adding value? Too often, those who are in charge, who have a larger percentage of the resources, and who have power decide. This is a problem because all too often, the people who decide what is valuable knowledge and assets in a community are wealthy white people. This means the knowledge and assets of countless individuals, families, and even entire communities is not valued simply because those who are in charge tend to work to maintain the way things are as not to lose their position on the social ladder.

The community garden in Washington Park will highlight the social and cultural assets in the community. What we know, or our knowledge, is based on three parts: the one who knows, what is known, and how we know what we know. Washington Park community members are the knowers. They are the heartbeat of the community, the families that live, work, learn, and play here every day. What is known is their stories, their wants, desires, and dreams. As community partners with Washington Park, it is our job to learn those stories, wants, desires, and dreams so that we may better support the community’s wishes. The process of knowing is what we get to do! We get to meet community members and listen to their stories. We need to listen, really hear, what the people of the community want and need so that we can better understand how we can support their goals. It’s our responsibility to understand the stories from their perspective, and not as outsiders. The outsider’s point of view has been seen and heard enough already. It’s time to bring to life the rich history, generations of families and their stories, and the traditions that make Washington Park a community. By learning their stories, we also become better sociologists.

Questions for consideration:

  1. What do you consider to be your community’s biggest cultural asset?
  2. What could happen to our communities if we don’t listen to the perspective of the people who live in the communities?
  3. We’re using community based research for a community garden, what are some other projects that could benefit from getting local stories and input?


  • Arieanna Morris

    In response to question 2: If communities don’t listen to the perspective of the people in the community, there would be conflict and possibly get politics involved. If plans for the implementation of a law/code or the building of a certain site were protested by some members of the community, and the plans were followed through and completed anyways, there would be turmoil in the community and the dividing of people. By listening to everyone, some conflict can be avoided. There is no way to appease everyone, but listening helps. This question really helped me apply the readings to our project, thank you.

    • Amy Yates

      I agree completely, and for far too long smaller, less resourced communities have been told what they need rather than asked, I am proud to be part of a group that is changing that narrative.

    • Breanne

      I agree as well, I think we need to use our voices to amplify voices in communities that we are working with.

  • Nikolle

    I think there are many things that could benefit from getting local stories and input. I think a good way to get the ball rolling is by getting the word out to people who are interested and could be helpful. In the garden specifically, I know it’s important to get input from the people in the community who would be using the garden, that way the garden will be fulfilling a need for the community that the community is asking for. But I think the great thing is once something like the garden starts getting the attention you will attract more people with more ideas. The garden could grow into a farmer’s market and learning center depending on what the community needs. I think that would be really cool if this project grew into something greater.

    • Amy Yates

      I totally agree! I would love to see the garden grow and even inspire spin-off gardens in other local communities, East St. Louis, Centerville, Cahokia, ect. By utilizing social media the communities can share ideas and tips on what grows well, what works and what doesn’t. I can’t wait to see kids in the garden and being proud of what they grew!

      • Scott

        I just want to add to this because I also had the idea of spin-off gardens! What space that needs a little love can be transformed next? It’s exciting to think of all the possibilities that can grow out of one success.

  • Hayley Winker

    If we don’t listen to perspective of the people who live in the communities, we risk implementing programs and policies that either do not do what the community wants or ends up holding no actual value in the community. I think that a lot of programs that are youth based could benefit greatly from community-based research. Overall, I think that the Washington Park project does a good job of trying to hear the community perspective and we will only grow as we can get in greater contact with the community.

  • Rachel Green

    I think that other projects that wish to better any aspect of a community would benefit from this type of research. This is because they can get the input from the community of what its most important needs are and what the community thinks will make it better. Another benefit from this would be that you would be able to utilize the community members individual skills to bring the project together while engaging the community so they feel like it is theirs as well. I think this project would bring a sense of unity into the community and eventually, it could become apart of that communities history, which I think is really cool to think about.

  • Danielle Kulina

    “What could happen to our communities if we don’t listen to the perspective of the people who live in the communities?”

    I think if we don’t listen to those in our communities then the community will lose its purpose, its meaning really. A community is created and maintained from its members, if we choose to ignore those members then what’s the sense of the community at all? If someone outside of the community is making the choices, theres a large risk of breaking the community.

    “We’re using community based research for a community garden, what are some other projects that could benefit from getting local stories and input?”

    After reading both what Hayley and Rachel said in response to this question, I couldnt agree more with them. So many projects could benefit from getting local stories and input. As Rachel said, really any project aimed to better the community would work from this research type. Who better to tell us what they need in projects, non-profits, volunteerism, than those who are benefiting from it most.

  • Breanne

    In response to your first question, I know specifically in my community a cultural asset that most community members participate in is our Church Picnic. It’s an annual event and it allows for the community to get together and feel closer with one another. There are raffles, food, and drinks for everyone to enjoy, and it is considered social capital to volunteer for the Church Picnic as well. In response to your third question, I think that this project could inspire other communities to have a community garden as well, because of the ability to not only have fresh produce but for community as well.

  • Scott

    I think of my community as our little hub here at SIUE. I think this campus is rich in many assets, but our strongest is our empathy. This is beautiful to me as it allows us to act inwards towards our own community, but also outwards toward others. We are fortunate to have this as students and as sociologists. We have seen the damage that occurs when the goals of the community and goals of the institution don’t align. Our strong sense of empathy allows us to be more sensitive to theses challenges when we turn our focus towards our greater surrounding community. I would argue that local stories and narratives are important for any public or critically based sociology. How can good research happen without first consulting and understanding your subjects? How can we bring relief to a community without first understanding what they need?

  • Linda J. Aguirre

    Love the quote you choose! There is a huge difference between listening and hearing in which not many of us realize. Meaning, there is a reason why people choose other methods that may be considered as deviant like protests and rioting. All that just to get the attention of those outside of the community to listen about the issue happening and hoping of someone is willing to help come up with a solution.

    As for question number 3, (“We’re using community based research for a community garden, what are some other projects that could benefit from getting local stories and input?”)
    I believe the garden is a great way to start to better the community because its teaching kids at a young age that they are capable of coming up with ideas and projects to build a healthy environment. Other projects that could benefit from local publicity would be ones done at school and churches. Communities need to focus more on environments that help the kids build their confidence and expose them to more positive news. Kids need to know that there are more positive events/stories in their community.

  • Razan Mansour M Abulola

    I agree that the community garden will highlight the social and cultural asset of the community in Washington Park. Friends, neighbors, families will gather together and plant the crops they want, share stories, and celebrate their culture.

    From where I come from, Saudi Arabia, the biggest community asset is religion “Islam,” I would describe my community as conservative, traditional, religious, and family-centered. For example, one of the strongest ritual celebration people perform on is the holy pilgrimage (Hajj) to Mecca. Another example is Ramadan, where people fast a whole month from dawn until sunset. By fasting from food and water during the day, the faithful are reminded of those less fortunate.

  • Suprasanna Aryal

    “What could happen to our communities if we don’t listen to the perspective of the people who live in the communities?”

    No one can understand a community better than the people who live in the community. So if we fail to listen to the perspectives of the people belonging to our communities, we may lose important and unique values that have been existing for generations. However, listening to perspectives alone is not sufficient, we need individuals who can respect these perspectives but also challenge certain deep-rooted values if needed for the betterment of the communities and their members.