Exploring the Role of Responsibility in a Local Community of Students, through the Lens of Systems Thinking

Senta Phyllis Altenburger & Henny Hagerup

Student thesis: Master thesis


As the quest for new forms of living is ever present and has become a concern for social entrepreneurs we take a closer look at the notion of community. In particular the existence and maintenance of a ‘sense of community’ among people who live together. We find that it is inseparable from the question of responsibility, which we define in terms of an attitude. We argue that community and responsibility as investigated through the lens of systems thinking gain new dimensions of insight, contributing to the conceptual understanding and the practical effort of ‘building community’ in an entrepreneurial as well as in a broader societal setting. Practically the focus of this study lies on how such a responsible attitude is adopted and cultivated in the day-today practice of a collegium.
The practical starting point for our research has a double bind. One the one hand, it is driven by the challenge faced by the Copenhagen-based company CPH:Containers whose founders are currently developing a student housing concept. One of their core issues is how to plant the seeds for a sense of community to take hold among the residents. We help them approach this challenge, particularly through shedding light on the role of responsibility. To this end we focus our field work on what could be a desired reality for the future or CPH:Containers: One of the most reputable local student residences (Studentergården), for its degree of self-governance and the social experience it offers.
Within systems thinking little attention has been given to the notion and practice of community, whereas it lends itself to the investigation of complex social scenarios, which communities often represent for the researcher. The theoretical foundations for this study provide us with an interdisciplinary lens which includes organizational as well as sociological perspectives. This helps us analyse the structure and interconnections of various elements of a collegium, while continuously keeping us accountable to a holistic perspective. It further sharpens our understanding of the intricacies of social systems and their design and provides a unique scientific and philosophical stance for the investigation and reflections on the topic of responsibility. In the analysis of the case of Studentergården we support our theoretical findings by applying them to empirical data in a complementary qualitative methodology. Finally, we discuss the challenges both in the immediate case of Studentergården and the future scenario of for the founders of CPH:Containers.

EducationsMSocSc in Organisational Innovation and Entrepreneurship , (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2016
Number of pages132
SupervisorsSilviya Svejenova