Tag Archives: community participation

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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McKnight, J.L. & Kretzmann, J. (1990). Mapping Community Capacity. Center for Urban Affairs and Policy Research, Northwestern University.

John L. McKnight is Professor of Education and Social Policy and Co-Director, the Asset-Based Community Development Institute at Northwestern University. His research is on social service delivery systems, health policy, community organizations, neighborhood policy, and institutional racism. He now directs research projects focused on asset-based neighborhood development and methods of community building by incorporating marginalized people.

John P. Kretzmann, Sociology and Urban Affairs PhD from Northwestern University is Co-Director, the Asset-Based Community Development Institute and Research Associate, Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University. He works to develop community-oriented public policy at the national, state and local levels.

This paper advocates for the capacity-focused model, which allows a community “to assemble its assets and capacities into new combinations, new structures of opportunity, new sources of income and control, and new possibilities for production” (3). The needs-based model, by contrast, maps community pathologies and encourages clientelism; no one can build on such things. The capacity-focused alternative focuses on the skills and assets of a low-income neighborhood and its residents. Two reasons for the capacity-focused model: (1) evidence shows communities improve only when the residents are personally invested (which is why top-down and outside-in are less successful), and (2) we have little reason to think that major firms will move into these neighborhoods and act as jobs flagships, and even less reason to believe more money will flow from federal coffers.

Not all assets are equally available for mapping. The easiest, primary building blocks are located in communities and controlled by residents themselves. The two categories are: (1) individual capacities, captured by the Capacity Inventory, including individual talents, personal income, gifts of “labeled” people, individual local businesses, and home-based enterprises; and (2) associational and organizational capacities, subsuming citizens associations, associations of businesses, financial institutions, cultural organizations, communications organizations, and religious organizations.

Secondary building blocks are those located in the community but governed elsewhere. Neighborhood acts conduct surveys and design strategies to bolster the productive use of these relationships. There are three categories: (1) private and non-profit institutions such as higher education, hospitals, social service agencies; (2) public institutions and services including public schools, fire departments, police, libraries, parks; and (3) physical resources, including vacant land, houses, commercial and industrial structures, and energy and waste resources.

Finally, the least accessible potential building blocks are those located and controlled outside the community. We need to transition public expenditures from maintenance-focused initiatives to local development investments. Welfare expenditures, public capital improvement expenditures, and public information are such investments.

Key to capacity mapping practice is establishing: (1) which organizations in the area can be the best Asset Development Organizations, the Saul Alinsky-esque multi-issue organization or the CDC; (2) what kind of “community-wide research, planning, and decision-making processes can most democratically and effectively advance this rebuilding process in our neighborhood” (18); and (3) how we might solidify networks to share our assets with outside resources. “The task of the Asset Development Organization…involves both drawing the map and using it” (20).

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Castells, M. (1983). _The City and the Grassroots: A Cross-Cultural Theory of Urban Social Movements_. Berkeley and Los Angeles: The University of California Press.

Arguing upfront that sociologists and urban studies experts know much about what constitutes city form and the city’s problems, but nothing about the cause of social change, Castells sets about elaborating “a provisional, theoretical framework” (xvi) of how social change happens. Taking a express departure from Marxism’s preoccupation with production, he reasserts the city is a social social product and a site for collective consumption. Moreover, its innovations generally arise from grassroots efforts, the most successful among them, “urban social movements.”

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