Toomey, A.H. (2009). Empowerment and disempowerment in community development practice: eight roles practitioners play. _Community Development Journal_, 46(2):181-195.

Anne Helen Toomey writes that while we as community development practitioners have learned a great deal since the profession’s start, those communities to be “developed” are those with the greatest to gain or lose. The resident is stuck to deal with the fallout of whatever project’s undertaken.

Again, we see “community development” has many meanings, depending on the agent/agency. Bhattacharyya (2004) proposes the “pursuit of solidarity and agency” (as cited on 182), but Toomey wonders about another popular and equally ambiguous term, “empowerment.” Using Craig’s (2002) definition, “the creation of sustainable structures, processes, and mechanism, over which local communities have an increased degree of control, and from which they have a measurable impact on public and social policies affecting these communities” (as cited on 183), Toomey avers we should think just as much about its opposite, disempowerment.

Think of community development practitioners’ historical/traditional roles:

  • Rescuer: good in the case of the Marshall Plan but states explicitly someone needs rescuing
  • Provider: like Rescuer, but not in times of crisis; this is the most of the international development organizations, and research shows most of the outcomes are simplified/superficial
  • Modernizer: linked to 50s development practices which impoverished small-scale actors (see Scott, 1998)
  • Liberator: Paolo Freire’s (1970) bottom-up education so actors can understand their oppression…good, except potentially polarizing

Alternative roles of the community development agent (interesting to compare against Sherry Arnstein’s [1969] ladder of participation):

  • Catalyst: individual, organization, or even a community that sparks new ideas/actions; they work indirectly and sometimes unwittingly
  • Facilitator: brings people together, especially on behalf of marginalized communities, and in doing so, can challenge current power structures
  • Ally: a friend and supporter who can act in several ways — “solidarity” is key here and relationships can be horizontal
  • Advocate: more politically active than Ally and more concerned with the issue itself

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


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