Tag Archives: tensions of community development

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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Shaw, M. (2007). Community development and the politics of community. _Community Development Journal_, 43(1):24-36.

Mae Shaw is Senior Lecturer in the Education, Community and Society Department in the University of Edinburgh’s School of Education. Her research interests include: community work history, theory, policy, practice; politics of policy; politics of care; and social movements/action.

The term “community” “has been contested, fought over and appropriated for different uses and interests to justify different politics, policies and practices” (Mayo, 1994, as cited on 24).

The dialectic is essentially the one between beneficent welfare paternalism and working class struggle. The professionalization of community development has only added to the tension. There are two specific and diametrically opposed traditions that inform our conceptions of community: (1) the liberal tradition foregrounding the individual and reason before else, and (2) the communitarian worldview upholding connectedness with others and locality as key to individual liberty. These differences cause distinct tensions in community development practice.

Mayo (1998) prefers to distinguish between professional community development’s “technicist” and “transformational” approaches, underscoring that “community development is both a professional practice and a political practice” (26). This is because at the center of community development is how agency and structure relate — “action is always mediated through the relations of power” (27). The notion of “community” is tied up in the confusion between what it is and what we want it to be. Geographic locations, material conditions, position in Bourdieu’s social field, etc. — all structure community relationships.

Not taking into account power relations almost guarantees a nostalgic and potentially dangerous version of community. For some, it means the intentional exclusion of others. These ambiguities suggest that community isn’t always perfectly apt at creating comity among social agents, but adept at manifesting or reifying social segregation and conflict.

Harvey’s (1989) critique of “neighborhood as community” (as cited on 30) says that this structuring of community obscures and reinforces social relations arising from Marxian spatial segregation. This “masking ideology” (ibid) directs attention and effort away from what is really the fundamental issue, that capitalist relations are the source of community division. Marris (1987) adds, redevelopment reproduces gender and racial inequalities.

Thus, community development practitioners are placed in an at once contradictory and strategic position between the overarching power structures and grassroots democratic ambitions. Shaw proposes we think about “community as an intermediate level of social reality in which people collectively experience both the possibilities of human agency and the constraints of structure” (32). However, to do this, we likely have to create a distance between “community as policy,” the governmental agenda of community management, and “community as politics,” the creation or appropriation of public space for democratic discourse.

Shaw finally argues that in order to get at communities as they ought to be, we need to create creative spaces for people to assert their place. This “means engaging with the politics of community in ways which offer the possibility of talking back to power rather than simply delivering depoliticized and demeaning versions of empowerment” (34).

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Purcell, R. (2011). Community development and everyday life. _Community Development Journal_, 47(2):266-281.

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.

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Logan, J.R. and Molotch, H.L. (2007). The Social Construction of Cities (Ch.1); Places as Commodities (Ch.2); The City as a Growth Machine (Ch.3). In _Urban Fortunes: The Political Economy of Place_. 20th anniversary ed. Berkeley: University of California Press.

John Logan, PhD Sociology from UC Berkeley, is Professor of Sociology at Brown University. Prior to this post he was Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Public Administration at the University of Albany, SUNY; Director of the Mumford Center for Comparative Urban and Regional Research; and Director of the Urban China Research Network. His current research includes the sociospatial implications of Hurricane Katrina; immigrant routes to political incorporation; immigration, ethnicity, and the family in the early 20th century; group boundaries in early 20th century New York and Chicago.

Harvey Molotch, PhD Sociology from the University of Chicago, is Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis, Sociology at New York University. His areas of interest include: urban development and political economy; the sociology of architecture, design, and consumption; environmental degradation; and mechanisms of interactional inequalities.

The market, just like space, is a social construction. Logan and Molotch seek to understand the tension between “use and exchange value in cities” (2). Component to this is a move away from the neoclassical economist and the Marxian determinist perspectives, and toward an “authentic urban sociology” (49). For the former, its public choice model “trivializes” (42) sociospatial inequalities by chalking them up to matters of choice, and the latter’s missing explorations into human ecology and community studies.

“Places are not simply affected by the institutional maneuvers surrounding them. Places are those machinations” (43).

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Fainstein, S. (2010). _The Just City_. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press.

Susan Fainstein received her PhD in Political Science from MIT and is Professor in Urban Planning at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design and Kennedy School. She has taught at Columbia and Rutgers Universities, and has been a visiting professor at the University of Amsterdam and the University of Witwatersrand. Her research focuses on comparative urban policy, planning theory, and urban redevelopment. Her books include: The Just City; The City Builders: Property, Politics, and Planning in London and New York; Restructuring the City; and Urban Political Movements. She’s also coedited pieces on urban tourism, gender and planning, planning theory, and urban theory.

In this book, Fainstein develops an urban theory of justice and uses it to asses extant and potential programs and institutions. Building on Rawls’ concept of justice as fairness, she proposes a just city exhibits equity, democracy, and diversity. Moreover, the justice criterion “requires the policy maker to ask, efficiency or effectiveness to what end?” (9). This book is a proposal for “realistic utopianism,” wherein she advocates for Sen’s (1992, 1999) and Nussbaum’s (2000) respective capabilities theory view. Following Nussbaum’s threshold level of capabilities, Fainstein upholds this metric: the “potential to ‘live as a dignified free human being who shapes his or her own life'” (as cited on 166). She also proposes Fraser’s (2003) “nonreformist reforms” approach affirming, like Castells (1983), that cities are the sites for collective consumption. She frames effective social movements as just urban policies and argues they do have transformative potential despite their local scale.

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De Souza Briggs, X. 2008. Community Building: New (and old) lessons about the politics of problem-solving in America’s cities. In: J. DeFilippis and S. Saegert, eds. _The Community Development Reader_. New York and London: Routledge, Ch. 4.

Associate Professor of Sociology and Urban Planning at MIT, Briggs is currently on public service leave as the Associate Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget. His work focuses on social capital and community building, and he is well known for his “quality-of-life” planning approach to neighborhood revitalization.

In this brief article, Briggs explains the inception, definitions, and tensions of community building as a vein of contemporary social reform. Within this, he focuses on “its dual agenda – changing political dynamics (empowerment) and changing social outcomes” (36). The emergence: flattening, top-down programs were replaced by programs requiring coordinated efforts, then those with attention to community assets and “community capacity” (Chaskin et al. 2001). The dilemmas: issues of efficiency (sheer scale of programs), power (and who has it), and performance and accountability (how success is measured and who measures it). These phenomena are often in conflict (bureaucracy and democracy) and nearly always complex and in flux (success measurements). Briggs is doubtless a staunch community development advocate and regards understanding the dual agenda component to creating/implementing successful programs.

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DeFilippis, J. and Saegert, S. 2008. Communities Develop: The question is how? In: J. DeFilippis and S. Saegert, eds. _The Community Development Reader_. New York and London: Routledge, Ch. 1.

James DeFilippis is Associate Professor in the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, Rutgers. His PhD is from Rutgers is in Geography. Susan Saegert is Professor of Human and Organizational Development at Vanderbilt Peabody College. She was recently Professor of Environmental Psychology at the CUNY Graduate Center and received her PhD in Social Psychology from the University of Michigan. Their professed reason for compiling this reader is to provide a simultaneously critical and practice-oriented selection of readings for both scholars and practitioners alike; they see no point in discussing one and not the other. They frame their importance of communities around the discovery that community did not fade away in the transition from rural to urban capitalist environments (as the European social theorists predicted) but developed into being a vital component in the perpetuation of the overarching political economy and where new social reproduction occurs. “Community development occurs when the conditions of surviving and thriving in a place are not being supplied by capital” (5). The history and practice of community development represents the tension between the struggling communities and hopeful, democratic ones. Its goals: providing for children and adults in communities, creating equitable institutions that distribute goods/services justly, and promoting sound human interrelations that uphold and encourage social development and democratic practices.

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