Rod Purcell is Senior Lecturer and Director of Community Engagement at the University of Glasgow. His research interests include: visual sociology with emphasis on globalization and cultural shifts; urban social theory; psychogeography; community development and education methodologies; community development evaluation methodologies; and photography as a tool for personal and community development.
United Kingdom Occupational Standards for Community Development say: “Community development is a long-term value based process which aims to address imbalances in power and bring about change founded on social justice, equality, and inclusion” (as cited on 266). This process encourages individuals to collaborate and (1) identify their demands and hopes, (2) act to influence policies affecting them, (3) enhance their own lives, communities, and societies as a whole.
However, there are problems. For one, community development is locally based and yet part of national programming. For another, while community development worker’s rhetoric includes the topics of social change, power relation reconfiguration, social cohesion, and attenuation of exclusionary forces, a 2003 survey demonstrated these workers lacked the theoretical training that might encourage these anti-establishment, pro-radical practices. As such, says Purcell, community development is a “depoliticized activity of the state” (267).
Current theoretical perspectives espouse Antonio Gramsci’s and Paolo Freire’s respective contributions. The latter argues for the development of critical consciousness, and the abandonment of traditional “banking” teaching that separates the knowledge of the teacher and the learner. Gramsci’s view holds hegemony as an explanation for working class interest in both revolution and fascism. Class struggles are ideological as much as they are economic, and true changes come through human social activity. Like Freire, he believed in praxis and that all people had the capacity to be intellectuals: “true education is something that people do for themselves with the help of others, not something that is done to them by experts” (269). Unlike Freire, Gramsci is embedded in a Marxian Europe and cultural conflict. Freire’s post-structural developing world drives his interest in popular culture.
But, harking back to Lefebvre (1991), space matters for all of this. Writers about everyday life include Michel de Certeau (1984), Guy Debord (1983), Henri Lefebvre (1991, 2003, 2008), and Raoul Vaneigem (2006). Certeau’s everyday response to hegemonic power structures, “strategies” and “tactics,” aim to upend authority structures. They are spontaneous and often performative, even transgressive. And such activities include tagging, drug use…all tricky for community development workers.
What kinds of transgressions should community development workers support? Purcell likes the dérive, documenting the SI’s revision of Baudelaire’s and Benjamin’s flâneur, wherein participants take purposeless/purposive walks through the urban landscape.
The dérive is good for “producing literature…art, photography, video, street performance, sociological study, social history” (276) and is so a valuable tool in the community development worker’s and citizen’s kit.
The community development worker can ask a series of place- and power-based questions, much like the basic questions taught in media literacy courses. However, adapting these findings from dérives into policies and practices is a thornier task. Purcell says Freire is helpful here in that discussion with locals about the dérives‘ findings might result in strategic discourse that envisions a better life, perhaps methods towards it.