Shaw, M. (2011). Stuck in the middle? Community development, community engagement and the dangerous business of learning for democracy. _Community Development Journal_, 46(Supplement 2): ii128-ii146

Peter du Sautoy, the first editor of the Community Development Journal, called community development an “entering wedge” (1969, as cited on ii143). Shaw submits we must reinsert the wedge and confront the identified challenges if community development is to continue as a progressive and democratic process.

The challenge for community development: how can people become actively engaged participants in a political structure that regards them as “passive consumers, problematic objects of policy or resources for the diminishing welfare state” (ii128)? Shaw sees community development as agent and subject of modernization. The language natural to discourse around community development is pliable to both social radicalism and neoliberal agenda. Hodgson (2004) argues the processes linked to such discourse result in “the manufacture of consensus” (ii133), usually around economic, rather than democratic, objectives.

There is a new concern around “community,” as well, namely that that there are “communities of ‘problem’ people” (ii134) at the same time that economic forces/pressures assert the notion of “community as a moral space in which civic and social responsibility can be generated — an imagined community of ‘good’ people who are entrusted to deliver the services sub-contracted by the hollowed out welfare state” (ibid).

What do we call conditions in which participation is necessary and wanted, but the limits of cush engagement predetermined? What sort of real engagement can community members expenct when they answer to government — and increasingly private sector — stipulations? Shaw sees community development as placed at the juncture of policy, formal state institutions, and politics, the informal activities of people. Some critics see this as a dangerous time, wherein we observe “the deconstruction of welfare through the reconstruction of citizenship” (Martin, 2003, as cited on ii138). We must advocated for community development policies that both uphold and encourage authentic community engagement and assure the continued (if not improved) provision of social services.

Finally, Shaw calls community development “stuck in the middle” and proposes a new paradigm that accounts for sociohistorical contexts and explicit ideologies.

Her recommendations (see ii139-41): (1) “working in, against and for the state;” (2) “identifying areas of relative autonomy,” wherein we can enact “small rebellions;” (3) “using contradiction as a resource for practice,” finding the creative possibilities in the paradoxical position of the community development worker; (4) “renewing values and practices,” remembering grassroots practices are at the heart of community development, that the worker must side with the dispossessed, and that community development is about making the world better, meaning it needs work now; (5) “creating a filter for practice” to sift out the status quo practices; (6) “arguing about why community development matters” because continued debate reminds us community development is a dynamic practice; (7) “reframing social problems in political terms” to ensure community development is working for the public good; (8) “clarifying objectives” meaning they should be concrete — strategic, educational, participants’ objectives — must all get addressed individually and not confused in/with the others.


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Filed under Annotated Bibliographies, Community Development, Major Field, Research Fields


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