Sue Kenny is Associate Professor, Director of the Centre for Citizenship & Human Rights, and School of Social Inquiry at Deakin University in Victoria, Australia. She researches community organizations, community development, and capacity building. Her specific research interest areas are: civil society, third sector, sociology of human rights, risk society, uncertainty and globalization, community development, and community studies.
Community development is paradoxical. It entails multiple objectives and contested processes, it upholds and struggles against extant power relations, and it operates at local, national, and international levels. So rather than set an overdetermined form of community development established around the ideas of “social maintenance and defensive active citizenship” (i7), we need a community development that is “unsettled and edgy” (ibid), demanding “critical, proactive, visionary, cosmopolitan and active citizens who are prepared to challenge the existing power relations” (ibid). We need to work within a new third sector, not comfortable, but engaged in deliberative democracy, critical and proactive citizen-making.
There is a lot of literature on the “practices, visions, and ideological contexts of community development” (i7-8), but less on the formal institutional settings (e.g. state, third-sector organizations, sometimes corporate), and even less on those third-sector organizations (e.g. voluntary associations, NGO, community organizations). The discourse pervading community development is determinedly normative, Leftist, and pro-human rights. However, the third-sector approach embraces a third way, both neoliberal in approach and Left-leaning. The emphasis is on the management, rather than the empowerment of, local enterprises.
If we want an “active” citizenry, we need to think about what is, exactly, our conception of “citizenship.” It involves thinking about membership in society, construction of identity and loyalty, support of members (our rights), and contribution to society itself (our obligations). “Active citizens are autonomous, self-conscious beings who are concerned to shape their own destiny” (i9). Community development needs these active citizens because they collaborate for the improvement of their communities.
So what does this mean? Consider four ideal types and their functions of active citizenship: (1) maintenance of existing, asymmetrical social relations (volunteering through third-sector organizations); (2) individualized self-help(ing) that foregrounds individual agency and entrepreneurialism (e.g. neoliberal organizations); (3) defensive opposition, which is oppositional, yes, but within the terms of the prevailing power structures (e.g. letter writing, radio call-ins); and (4) visionary active citizenship, “proactive rather than reactive” (i10).
This mode looks for alternative options and new processes, often adopting deliberative democracy. Cutting across all four typologies are the following aspects of active citizenship:(1) citizenship relates to perceptions about actions or proceedings, (2) the citizen’s interests can be about local, regional, national, global issues, (3) citizens might speak out on their own behalf or others’, and (4) citizenship can be individualistic or collaborative. This matters because community development presupposes the latter form.