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Communities Reimagining Sharedness in Belief and Practice

Sarah Hillewaert and Chantal Tetreault


In this introduction, we bring together diverse anthropological considerations of community, belonging, and belief to argue for a reconsideration of the notion of ‘sharedness’ that often underlies these concepts. Scholars have long critiqued the use of ‘community’ for its broad application and vagueness, and most now recognize communities to be newly emerging rather than pre-existing. Despite this critical approach to scholarly uses of ‘community’, forms of unity often continue to be viewed as undergirded by a seemingly more self-evident idea of sharedness, in practice, belief or purpose. In this special section, we question this self-evidency to focus on how sharedness itself needs to be discursively and semiotically co-constructed and fostered by people who imagine themselves as belonging to communities of apparent mixed beliefs and practices. We propose that a focus on discourse and semiosis can provide insights into the innovative ways in which individuals negotiate, co-construct, and enact sharedness.

Open access

Discourses, Bodies, and Questions of Sharedness in Kenya's Wellness Communities

Sarah M. Hillewaert


This article contemplates the construction of sharedness that underlies the success of alternative lifestyle communities in Eastern Africa. In Kenya, a new tourism niche market that focuses on yoga, mindfulness, and alternative medicine is flourishing. Tourists travel to East Africa to practice yoga, but also to introduce local communities to ‘alternative lifestyles’. By considering Western and Kenyan practitioners’ discourses about the benefits of alternative healing, mindfulness, and yoga, I explore the significance of sharedness to the emergence of communities that are structured around not just physical practice, but also an envisioned joint purpose. I argue that discursively constructing shared purpose, in the face of seemingly evident differences, is central to Western expats’ validation and commercialization of these initiatives. I also demonstrate that local participants equally, although along different lines, feel compelled to construct a particular kind of sharedness to justify their yoga practice to themselves and their own communities.