Belonging. Two hands holding a piece of string over a city landscape.

A healthy sense of belonging – why does this matter?

BILT Annual Conference Blog Series

Our first blog in the series looked at ‘Communities of Practice’, where we explored the different kinds of practice that can contribute to shaping community in a positive way. In the second of our conference blog series, we take a look at a recent article reviewing some of the conceptual aspects of belonging (Allen et al 2021). Belonging was defined as ‘the subjective feeling of deep connection with social groups, physical places, and individual and collective experiences’ (ibid). 

In their article, the authors provide a review of the literature around belonging, namely agreed as a fundamental human need, but also describe the lack of consensus in research literature around the nature of belonging and how belonging ‘should be measured’. These measurements are helpful in assisting those of us working to develop a sense of belonging in themselves as well as the organizations and groups in which they work and live. 

One particularly illuminating discussion centres on the distinctions between ‘states’ and ‘traits’ of belonging. State belonging may vary through the course of a single day by virtue of everyday experiences. On the other hand, traits of belonging are more long term and are more dependent on ‘multiple processes for a stable, trait-like sense of belonging to emerge and support well-being and other positive outcomes’ (90).  

The article helpfully discusses some of the correlates of belonging, and to cherry-pick two examples, outlines studies which show, amongst other things, that ‘undergraduates’ involvement in courses that use technology was found to be related to higher belonging levels (Long, 2016)’ and that ‘a sense of belonging has been positively related to persistence in course study (Akiva et al., 2013; Hausman et al., 2007; Moallem, 2013)’. 

In seeking to establish an integrative framework for considering belonging, the authors explore the dynamic elements which may affect an individual’s sense of belonging. These are presented in the following figure. 

A integrative framework for understanding, assessing and fostering belonging. Four interrelated components (competencies, opportunities, motivation and perceptions) dynamically interact and influence one another, shifting, evolving and adapting as an individual transverses temporal, social, and environmental contexts and experiences.

For each of the four components, the authors detail some of the features of each component. For example, when considering opportunities, it might be aspects of places, times and spaces, but also issues around, amongst other things, social networks, barriers and active membership of groups. 

The article continues with a discussion of some of the implications of this framework for research and practice. Whether this has direct application to current areas of research and practice, or is an area of future research interest, this article is a useful reminder of the importance and consideration needing to be given to belonging. After all, a huge part of what makes us human is the need for us to socially relate to others and, ultimately, belong. As discussed in the paper, just as having a healthy sense of belonging can lead to many positive things in life while feeling excluded is linked to not having a meaning or purpose in life, which can bring about mental or physical health problems. 

So, as part of the second instalment of our monthly blog series linked to the conference, we are inviting responses to the question – ‘What does belonging at the University of Bristol mean to you?’.   

The format of the response is entirely open. It could take the form of a photography, a piece of creative writing, a piece of writing, poetry, an artefact, a poster, or any other medium. We hope to share some of these responses at our conference. 

You can send your contributions to:  

Read all blogs in the series

Follow all the conference updates on Twitter using #BILTCon23

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.