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Community Development in an Uncertain

Vision, analysis and practice
Communitv Development in an Uncertain World provides a comprehensive and lively introduction
to modern community development. The book explores the interrelated Irameworks oI social justice,
ecological responsibility and post-Enlightenment thinking, drawing on various sources including the
wisdom oI Indigenous peoples. Recognising the increasing complexity and uncertainty oI the times in
which we live, Jim IIe promotes a holistic approach to community development and emphasises the
diIIerent dimensions oI human community: social, economic, political, cultural, environmental,
spiritual, personal and survival.
The Iirst section oI the book examines the major theories and concepts that underpin community
development. This includes a discussion oI core principles: change and wisdom Irom below`, the
importance oI process and valuing diversity. The second section Iocuses on practical elements, such
as community work roles and essential skills. The Iinal chapters discuss the problematic context oI
much contemporary practice and oIIer vision and hope Ior the Iuture.
Written in Jim IIe`s characteristic engaging and accessible style, Communitv Development in an
Uncertain World is an essential resource Ior students and practitioners now more than ever.
Emeritus Professor 1im Ife holds adjunct positions at the Centre Ior Human Rights Education at
Curtin University, Perth, at the Centre Ior Citizenship and Human Rights at Deakin University, and at
Victoria University, Melbourne.
Community Development in an Uncertain
Vision, analysis and practice
Jim IIe
Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore, São Paulo, Delhi, Mexico City
Cambridge University Press
477 Williamstown Road, Port Melbourne, VIC 3207, Australia
Published in the United States oI America by Cambridge University Press, New York
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© Cambridge University Press 2013
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First published by Pearson Education as Communitv Development in 1995
Second edition 2002
First published by Cambridge University Press as Communitv Development in an Uncertain World
in 2013
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List of figures and tables
1 The crisis in human services and the need Ior community
The crisis in the welIare state and the emergence oI neo-liberalism
A way Iorward
Community-based services as an alternative
The missing ingredient: community development
The next steps
2 Foundations oI community development: An ecological perspective
Environmental responses and Green responses
Themes within Green analysis
An ecological perspective
An ecological perspective: is it enough?
3 Foundations oI community development: A social justice perspective
Approaches to disadvantage: the limitations oI social policy
4 Foundations oI community development: Beyond Enlightenment modernity
The Enlightenment
Beyond the Enlightenment
Indigenous understandings
5 A vision Ior community development
Why each perspective is insuIIicient unless inIormed by the others
The promise oI integration
Community-based human services
An alternative vision: grounds Ior hope
6 Change Irom below
Valuing local knowledge
Valuing local culture
Valuing local resources
Valuing local skills
Valuing local processes
Working in solidarity
Ideological and theoretical Ioundations Ior change Irom below
7 The process oI community development
Process and outcome
The integrity oI process
Participatory democracy
The pace oI development
Peace and non-violence
8 The global and the local
Global and local practice
Universal and contextual issues
9 Colonialism, colonialist practice and working internationally
Guarding against colonialist practice
Working internationally
10 Community development: Social, economic and political
Social development
Economic development
Political development
11 Community development: Cultural, environmental, spiritual, personal and survival
Cultural development
Environmental development
Spiritual development
Personal development
Survival development
Balanced development
12 Principles oI community development and their application to practice
Foundational principles
Principles oI valuing the local
Process principles
Global and local principles
13 Roles and skills 1: Facilitative and educational
With head, heart, hand and Ieet
The problem with cookbooks`
Practice, theory, reIlection and praxis
The language oI roles
Facilitative roles and skills
Educational roles and skills
14 Roles and skills 2: Representational and technical
Representational roles and skills
Technical roles and skills
Two special cases: needs assessment and evaluation
DemystiIying skills
15 The organisational context
Responding to managerialism: community development as subversive
Introducing community development processes: the power oI the collective
16 Practice issues
Practice Irameworks
Categories oI community worker
Values and ethics
Education and training
The use and abuse oI power
Internal and external community work
Long-term commitment
Passion, vision and hope
Figures and tables
Figure 5.1 The vision oI community development
Figure 10.1 Integrated community development
Figure 10.2 Social development
Figure 10.3 Community economic development
Figure 10.4 Political development
Figure 11.1 Cultural development
Figure 13.1 Community work practice roles
Figure 16.1 A Iramework Ior community workers
Table 2.1 Schools oI Green thought
Table 2.2 An ecological perspective
Table 3.1 Accounts oI social issues
Table 3.2 Perspectives on power
Table 3.3 Empowerment
Table 3.4 Types oI need statements
Table 16.1 Categories oI community workers
The ideas represented in a book like this have many sources, and it is impossible to acknowledge
or even remember them all. I have never been comIortable with the idea oI intellectual property`,
as ideas can never be owned, but are shared, and are constantly being reconstructed in dialogue with
a wide range oI people. This book has been inIluenced by a large number oI colleagues, Iriends,
students, community workers, activists and authors at various times stretching back over more than 40
years oI involvement with community work. I began working on the Iirst edition oI this book some 20
years beIore the publication oI this IiIth edition, so there have been many inIluences on its ongoing
development. The book has been an evolving project, and many people have, knowingly or otherwise,
contributed to it along the way.
There are some people who have contributed signiIicantly to this book, and who need special
acknowledgement. First, my wiIe, Dr Sonia Tascon, has been a continuing source oI support and
inspiration at both a personal and an intellectual level; I owe her a tremendous debt, and her presence
in this book is strong.
It is important to acknowledge Dr Frank Tesoriero, who took over the third and Iourth editions oI
this book while my academic and practice interests moved more into the Iield oI human rights. I am
grateIul to him Ior undertaking this work, and also Ieel a sense oI sadness that circumstances have
dictated that he can no longer be involved with the project. It is important to point out that this edition
contains only material Irom the Iirst and second editions (Ior which I was the sole author) together
with substantial additions and alterations I have made to bring it up to date. It contains none oI the
material that Frank added in the third and Iourth editions, and hence it is published with my name as
the sole author. I am also grateIul to the many colleagues throughout Australia and overseas who
encouraged me to take up this project again and to commit to a new edition.
Other people I wish to acknowledge, whose inIluence on the early editions and/or on the present
edition has been particularly important, are, in alphabetical order, Jacques Boulet, Linda Briskman,
Ingrid Burkett, Love Chile, Phil Connors, Jo Dillon, Wendy Earles, Erica Faith, Lucy Fiske, Vic
George, Amanda Hope, Adam Jamrozik, Sue Kenny, Nola Kunnen, Mary Lane, Louise Morley, Robyn
MunIord, Rob Nabben, Jean Panet Raymond, Stuart Rees, Gavin Rennie, Monica Romeo, Dyann
Ross, Rodney Routledge, Evelyn Serrano, Pat Shannon, Joanne Stone, David Woodsworth and Susan
The section in chapter 4, on Indigenous contributions to community development, was read by
Auntie Sue Blacklock, Gillian Bonser, Carmen Daniels, Paula Hayden, Helen Lynes and Cheryl
Kickett Tucker, who provided important Ieedback. Their contribution is particularly valued.
I wish also to acknowledge the generosity oI students and colleagues at the University oI Western
Australia, Curtin University, and Victoria University (Melbourne), who over the years have shared
ideas and helped to create enriching climates to explore issues oI community development. Beyond
the traditional university, Borderlands Cooperative is a special place oI shared scholarship, learning
and activism, with a wonderIul community development library, which has provided me with a
particularly stimulating environment in which to develop ideas Ior this edition. Earlier editions were
particularly inIluenced by Iriends and colleagues at the Greens (WA), Amnesty International and the
International Federation oI Social Workers.
This edition is published by a diIIerent publisher, and I am grateIul to Pearson Education Ior their
generosity in releasing the copyright oI the Iirst two editions so that they could be incorporated in this
new edition. I am also grateIul to Isabella Mead, publisher at Cambridge University Press, Ior her
enthusiasm Ior the project, and her support throughout the process. My association with Cambridge
University Press goes back over 15 years now, and it has been a very proIessional, positive and
trouble-Iree relationship that I have come to value highly.
Finally, this book is dedicated to my grandchildren, Ben, Emma, Joe, Hamish and Phoebe. It is, I
hope, a small contribution towards creating a better Iuture Ior them and Ior all those who will inherit
the world that my generation has so comprehensively trashed and stripped oI its communitarian
Jim IIe
Melbourne, 2013
Despite the Iormidable achievements oI modern, Western, industrialised society, it has become
clear that the current social, economic and political order has been unable to meet two oI the
most basic prerequisites Ior human civilisation: the need Ior people to be able to live in
harmony with their environment, and the need Ior them to be able to live in harmony with each
other. II these two needs cannot be met, in the long term, the achievements and beneIits oI
modern society will be transitory.
The inability oI the dominant order to meet these needs can be seen in the crises currently Iacing
not only Western industrialised societies but all societies. The world is characterised by
increasing instability whether ecological, economic, political, social or cultural and existing
institutions seem only able to provide solutions which in the long term, and even in the short
term, only make things worse.
Those were the words that introduced the Iirst edition oI this book, published in 1995. Eighteen years
on, they are as true today as they were then, iI not more so, and the justiIication Ior this book remains
the same. Many things have changed in those 18 years, but the above paragraphs also remind us that
many things the most important things have not. The world is still on a course that is headed Ior
major crises environmental, economic, social and political and despite the Iact that many more
people are now aware oI, and concerned about, the parlous state oI the world and its very uncertain
Iuture, governments are still showing themselves unwilling or unable (or both) to do anything
signiIicant about it. There have been great disappointments in those 18 years: the Iailure oI the
Copenhagen summit on climate change in 2009, the inability to respond to the Global Financial Crisis
in any way except by bailing out the banks and propping up global capital, the resulting austerity
measures, the draconian response to the threat oI terrorism since 9/11`, which has served only to
heighten global tensions and make a terrorist response more likely, ongoing tension and conIlict in the
Middle East, wars in Iraq and AIghanistan as well as continuing conIlicts in parts oI AIrica, the
widening gap between the increasingly wealthy global elite and the rest oI the world, the inability to
meet the modest Millennium Development Goals, the hardening oI attitudes towards reIugees and
asylum seekers, the emergence oI right-wing and racist political groups in many countries. These
suggest that the current structures oI national and global government are utterly unable to meet the
pressing global problems that threaten the Iuture oI human civilisation. The words that immediately
Iollowed the above 1995 passage In this context, the need Ior alternative ways oI doing things
becomes critical` now seem almost an understatement.
There are, however, signs oI hope. The continuing demonstrations against globalisation,
culminating in the Occupy movement oI 2011, suggest that there are many people who are seeking an
alternative. The widespread disillusionment with mainstream political parties, caused by the
perceived irrelevance oI mainstream politics and meaningless elections that Iail to address many oI
the major issues Iacing the world, can also lead to people seeking a new Iorm oI politics, although it
is yet unclear how this will evolve. Social media and the internet have made possible the
documentation oI human rights abuses and the mobilisation oI opposition in the so-called Arab Spring
and in other protest movements. Campaigning groups such as GetUp! and Avaaz have successIully
mobilised large numbers oI concerned people to oppose oppressive legislation or to struggle Ior
environmental and social justice. Latin American social movements and progressive governments
have been developing inspiring community-based alternatives: the Zapatistas in Mexico, the
community response to the oil crisis in Cuba, the popular governments oI Chavez in Venezuela and
Morales in Bolivia, the education demonstrations in Chile, the horizontalidad` movement in
Argentina. Despite their inevitable problems, Iacing the hostility oI global capital and conservative
media interests, these represent bold initiatives towards an alternative Iuture that are an inspiration to
the world.
It is in this context, both oI impending crisis and oI new signs oI hope, that community
development can play a crucial role. There has been increasing interest in development at the
community level as potentially providing a more viable and sustainable basis Ior the meeting oI
human need and Ior interaction with the environment, and it is not surprising that the Latin American
examples above all include a strong component oI alternative community development. Among
activists concerned with both environmental and social justice issues, the establishment oI viable
community-based structures has become a key component oI strategies Ior change. Community
development represents a vision oI how things might be organised diIIerently, so that genuine
ecological sustainability and social justice, which seem unachievable at global or national levels, can
be realised in the experience oI human community. This book represents an attempt to articulate that
vision, and to provide a theoretical Iramework Ior community development that will relate analysis,
context and action.
In the years since the Iirst edition, the organisational context oI practice, dominated by
managerialism, has become less conducive to good community development, as discussed in chapter
15, but nevertheless the need Ior, and the continuing interest in, community development remains
strong. This is particularly so among those concerned Ior social justice and ecological sustainability,
as community development is seen as a potential alternative way to organise human society; iI indeed
there are to be economic, political and ecological crises, as now seems inevitable, it will be our
ability to work at community level that will determine the capacity oI human civilisation to survive.
However, the interest in community development is also driven by a belieI that human community is
important, and that strong communities will enrich our lives and provide a positive context Ior human
interaction and Ior the meeting oI human need, especially given the continuing erosion oI the welIare
This ongoing interest in community development is shown by reaction to the earlier editions oI this
book, which have had a wider appeal than Iirst imagined. This wider appeal has been evident in two
directions. One is the embracing oI community development by a wide range oI occupational groups,
not merely the human-service proIessionals and community activists that one might expect, and who
were implicitly the readership Ior which the Iirst edition was intended. I have discovered a much
broader range oI occupational and interest groups who Ieel that community development is important
in their work, and this has underscored the power oI the community development perspective. The
other is the way the book has been Iound useIul in diIIerent cultural contexts. Although the book is
written Irom the perspective oI a white Australian male, earlier editions have resonated with workers
in diIIerent cultures, and it has been translated into several diIIerent languages. This inevitably raises
questions about colonialism, a topic that is covered in chapter 9, but it also emphasises that the
concerns oI community development are universal, and many oI the broad principles discussed in this
book (such as wisdom Irom below, the importance oI process, interdependence, participation,
empowerment and so on) apply across cultural boundaries, although the way they are constructed and
applied will diIIer signiIicantly in diIIerent contexts.
For readers Iamiliar with earlier editions, it is important to outline some history oI this publication
to avoid any conIusion as to authorship. This is the IiIth edition oI this book, although it is the Iirst to
be published by Cambridge University Press. I was the sole author oI the Iirst two editions (1995 and
2002), but the third and Iourth editions were prepared by Dr Frank Tesoriero; our names appeared as
joint authors Ior the third edition (2006), and he was the sole named author oI the Iourth edition
(2010), although much oI the content was continued Irom the earlier versions. Sadly, Frank is no
longer associated with the project, and this current edition contains none oI the material he added Ior
the third and Iourth editions. It does contain material written Ior the Iirst two editions, together with a
good deal oI new material; there are 16 chapters, compared with 11 in the Iirst edition and 12 in the
second. However, the overall trajectory oI the book remains the same.
The Iirst Iive chapters lay the Ioundation Ior a vision oI community development. Chapter 1
examines the crisis oI modern Western societies and the crisis oI the welIare state, and argues the
need Ior community development. Chapter 2 explores the ecological crisis and its imperatives, in the
light oI Green political theory, developing an ecological perspective Ior community development.
Chapter 3 outlines a social justice perspective, including discussion oI rights, needs, equity, justice,
empowerment and so on. It explores issues oI class, gender and race/ethnicity Irom both structural
and poststructural perspectives. Chapter 4 outlines elements oI a post-Enlightenment position,
including ideas oI postmodernism and relational reality. A particularly important section oI this
chapter discusses Indigenous cultures, and the signiIicant contributions they can make to community
development. Chapter 5 then seeks to integrate the perspectives oI the previous three chapters, in a
vision Ior community development and Ior community-based human services.
The next two chapters explore two signiIicant principles oI community development. Chapter 6 is
concerned with change Irom below, valuing the wisdom, expertise and skills oI the community, and
the importance oI decentralisation and community control. Chapter 7 discusses the processes oI
community development, including the primacy oI process over outcomes, and the issues oI
participation, democracy, consciousness-raising, peace and non-violence.
Chapters 8 and 9 outline a more global, or international, perspective. Chapter 8 is concerned with
globalisation and understanding community development in a globalising world, while chapter 9
explores the important issue oI colonialism, which can aIIect all community development practice,
and considers issues around working internationally.
Chapters 10 and 11 outline eight dimensions oI community development: social, economic,
political, cultural, environmental, spiritual, personal and survival. Practice in each oI these eight
areas is discussed, with various issues identiIied in relation to each. The approach taken is one that
emphasises the importance oI all eight, in a holistic and integrated understanding oI what community
development means.
Chapter 12 seeks to summarise the ideas oI previous chapters in a series oI practice principles.
There are 30 principles discussed altogether and, although there is little in this chapter that has not
been covered in previous chapters, readers have Iound such a summary at this point to be particularly
useIul as a way oI encapsulating the principles oI community development.
The remaining chapters are concerned with issues oI practice. Chapters 13 and 14 discuss the
various roles taken by community workers, and identiIy the skills needed to Iill those roles. In doing
so they discuss issues oI practice/theory, the problems with prescriptive cookbooks`, and the ways
in which community workers can develop their skills. Chapter 15 is concerned with the managerial
environment in which many community workers have to practice, and which is hostile to community
development principles. It outlines some approaches community workers can use either to adapt to, or
to directly challenge, managerialism. Chapter 16 discusses a number oI other issues relating to
practice, such as proIessionalism, value conIlicts, ethics, support Ior workers and so on.
The book moves, in a general way, Irom more theoretical to more practical considerations, but it
is Iar Irom a simple linear development. Indeed, part oI the discussion in the earlier chapters
emphasises the need to reject linear thinking, so the reader is encouraged to jump around` and not
necessarily read the book in the order in which it is written. The book does attempt to Iollow a
logical sequence, but there are other equally valid logical sequences that could have resulted in a
very diIIerent order oI the material.
Although I have attempted to make the ideas accessible to a wide readership, it has been necessary
to make some assumptions about the background oI those Ior whom the book is written. I have
assumed that the reader has some Iamiliarity with basic social and political ideas, such as social
class, power, the division oI labour, Marxism, Ieminism, socialism and so on. This is not to say that
detailed or expert knowledge oI such topics is necessary; completion oI Iirst-year university study in
sociology, anthropology, politics or some other social science discipline, or alternatively a
comparable understanding gained Irom general reading, should provide the reader with a more than
adequate background.
I have updated the reIerences to incorporate contemporary sources; a lot has been written since
1995. However, I have also included a number oI older sources Ior the earlier editions where I
believe they have something important to say. In this age when the here and now` is so valued, and
where history is oIten marginalised, it is important that we challenge this by listening to the voices oI
the past as well as the present, and there is much oI value to community development in earlier
This book makes Irequent use oI a number oI terms that have been grossly overused and misused in
recent years, such as communitv, empowerment, development, sustainable, ecological, Green,
social fustice, communitv-based, holistic, participation, consciousness-raising, non-violence, and
participatorv democracv. Although these terms have been overused, they still represent powerIul
ideas; indeed, their very popularity is a testament to their power and their perceived relevance. They
have an important contribution to make to the vision and the practice principles oI this book: the aim
oI the book is to clariIy rather than obscure these ideas, and to reinvest them with some substantive
meaning Ior community workers.
Throughout the book, the terms communitv development and communitv work have slightly
diIIerent meanings. I have used the Iormer to reIer to the processes oI developing community
structures, while the latter reIers to the actual practice oI a person (whether paid or unpaid) who is
consciously working to Iacilitate or achieve such development.
I have opted Ior the most part to use the terms the South and the North rather than developing
nations, Third World or other similar terms and their opposites. None is wholly satisIactory, and
living in Australia the South oIIends one`s geographical consciousness but, as in other ways it is the
least oIIensive term, it is the one I have chosen. The term Western (or the West ) similarly takes
liberties with geographical principles, particularly Ior an Australian. The term is nonetheless a useIul
one, and in the context oI this book it reIers primarily to Western culture, whereas the terms North
and South are used more in an economic context; oI course the distinction is not always clear-cut, as
economics and culture are themselves inextricably entwined. It should, however, be noted that there
is no necessary single antithesis oI Western in cultural terms, whereas the economic constructs oI the
North and the South are not only opposites but also in such a structural relationship that neither could
exist without the other, and each serves to deIine the other. I have used the term Aotearoa rather than
New Zealand, as a deliberate political and cultural statement; I only wish that Australia had a
similarly accepted Indigenous name.
Throughout the book there are a number oI tables and diagrams that illustrate in summary Iorm the
ideas discussed in the text, culminating in Iigure 16.1 (see page 366), which ambitiously attempts to
summarise the entire Iramework. They are included with mixed Ieelings: several readers have
commented that such tables and diagrams are helpIul in obtaining an overview and in seeing how the
material Iits together, but this needs to be balanced against the dangers oI categorisation and
oversimpliIication. Tables and diagrams can have the eIIect oI imposing a Ialse sense oI order on a
complex and chaotic reality and, hence, oI inviting simplistic solutions to complex problems. To
represent complex concepts by a Iew words in a cell oI a table is to change the very nature oI the
content itselI, and invites a dangerous reductionism. A too-rigid interpretation oI such tables is
antithetical to the holistic approach advocated in the early chapters, and the reader is cautioned to
remember that the boundaries oI the tables do not represent rigid distinctions or impermeable
barriers. II the tables and diagrams are regarded as an aid to comprehension but not as rigid
categorisations or deIinitions, they will have served their purpose.
While this book has a practical application, and attempts to incorporate both theory and practice, it
does not provide simple prescriptions oI how to do` community work. The reasons Ior rejecting such
an approach are given in chapter 13. A number oI principles oI practice are outlined, but the way in
which they are translated into practice reality will vary Irom community to community, and Irom
worker to worker. Community work is, at heart, a creative exercise, and it is impossible to prescribe
creativity. Rather, one can establish theoretical understandings, a sense oI vision and an examination
oI the nature oI practice, in the hope that this will stimulate a positive, inIormed, creative, critical and
reIlective approach to community work. That is the aim oI this book.
1 The crisis in human services and the need for community
There is no clear agreement on the nature oI the activity described as communitv work. Some see it as
a proIession; some see it as one aspect oI some other proIession or occupation such as social work or
youth work; some see it as anti-proIessional; some see it as people coming together to improve their
neighbourhood; some see it in more ambitious terms, oI righting social injustice and trying to make the
world a better place; some see it in terms oI social action and conIlict; some see it in terms oI
solidarity, cohesion and consensus; some see it as inherently radical; some see it as inherently
conservative; and so on (Butcher et al. 2007, Chile 2007b, Kenny 2010, Ledwith 2005, Craig, Popple
& Shaw 2008). Not only do people`s understandings oI community work diIIer but also the
terminology is similarly conIused. The terms communitv work, communitv development, communitv
organisation, communitv action, communitv capacitv-building, communitv enterprise, communitv
practice and communitv change are all commonly used, oIten interchangeably, and although many
would claim that there are important diIIerences between some or all oI these terms, there is no
agreement as to what these diIIerences are, and no clear consensus as to the diIIerent shades oI
meaning that each implies.
There is similar conIusion about the idea oI community-based human services. The term
communitv-based is used in a variety oI contexts, and oIten has little substantive meaning beyond a
vague indication that the service concerned is somewhat removed Irom the conventional bureaucratic
mode. There is, however, considerable interest in the development oI a community-based approach to
the delivery oI human services such as health, education, housing, justice, childcare, income security
and personal welIare, and a belieI that this represents an important improvement over the current mix
oI welIare state and private market (De Young & Princen 2012, Clark & Teachout 2012).
This book is an attempt to make sense oI community work and community-based services. It is
based on the premise that the main reason Ior much oI the conIusion, and the seeming inadequacy oI
what passes Ior community work theory`, is that community work has oIten not been adequately
located in its social, political and ecological context, or linked to a clearly articulated social vision,
in such a way that the analysis relates to action and real-liIe` practice. Many oI the stated principles
oI practice are Iragmentary and context-Iree, and oIten the goals oI community work remain vague,
uncharted and contradictory. Similarly, the literature on community-based services is oIten rhetorical
rather than substantive, and oIten does not relate speciIically to relevant social and political theory.
This book attempts to remedy that deIiciency. It seeks to locate community work and community-
based services within a broader context oI an approach to community development. This latter term is
seen as the process oI establishing, or re-establishing, structures oI human community within which
new, or sometimes old but Iorgotten, ways oI relating, organising social liIe and meeting human need
become possible. In this context, community work is seen as the activity, or practice, oI a person who
seeks to Iacilitate that process oI community development, whether or not that person is actually paid
Ior Iilling that role. Community-based services are seen as structures and processes Ior meeting
human need, drawing on the resources, expertise and wisdom oI the community itselI.
The starting point Ior this exploration will be the crisis in the contemporary welIare state and the
emergence oI neo-liberalism, alongside the recurring interest in developing some Iorm oI
community-based` alternative. It is Irom examining the shortcomings oI many attempts to move to a
community-based model, and the identiIication oI what is missing Irom these attempts, that the vision
oI a more viable alternative can begin to emerge.
The crisis in the welfare state and the emergence of neo-liberalism
Contemporary community work must be seen within the context oI the crisis in the welIare state, and
the erosion oI government and popular support Ior continued growth in welIare state provision. The
crisis in the welIare state became evident in the 1980s, as the new Right` ideology and economic
theory oI Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher began to inIluence government policy and public
opinion. This was the beginning oI the era oI neo-liberalism, an ideology that had its origins in the
philosophy oI Friedrich Hayek and the economic theory oI Milton Friedman, emphasising the primacy
oI individual Ireedom and the superiority oI the private market as the best way to allocate wealth and
resources. In such a world view, public, or state, provision plays a secondary role, and indeed should
be reduced to a minimum. The belieI in the superiority oI the unregulated market and private initiative
leaves little room Ior the state.
This ideology challenged the previous postwar consensus`, which deIined a central role Ior
government in the meeting oI human need and the creation oI a Iairer society. This earlier view was
exempliIied by the Beveridge Report in Britain, which laid the Ioundation Ior the postwar British
welIare state, and the social policy writing oI Richard Titmuss and T.H. Marshall. Similarly Franklin
D. Roosevelt`s New Deal` in the USA in the 1930s had identiIied a strong role Ior government in
liIting the nation out oI economic depression. WelIare states were also established in most European
countries Iollowing World War II, and in other so-called developed nations (such as Canada,
Australia and Aotearoa) whose economies were able to aIIord signiIicant public expenditure on the
provision oI health, education, housing, income security and personal services. These welIare states
took diIIerent Iorms some were more extensive and well developed than others, and some were
more dependent on a social insurance model but they all accepted the notion that a major role oI
government was to provide Ior the needs oI its citizens.
This view was challenged by neo-liberalism, which emphasised the importance oI individual
responsibility rather than state provision, and saw government`s role as to support the market and to
get out oI people`s lives` (Harvey 2005, Saad-Filho & Johnston 2005, Honeywill 2006, Beder 2006,
Beck 2012, KempI 2009, Panitch & Gindin 2012). Under neo-liberalism, the term nannv state
became a popular epithet Ior the criticism oI the idea oI a welIare state, and government expenditure
moved Irom being seen as positive, enhancing the common good, to being seen in negative terms as a
drain on the productive economy; governments were elected on promises to do less rather than more,
and to reduce taxes rather than to expand services. In this context, it has become common Ior many
commentators to deride a culture oI entitlement` and to encourage individual autonomy and
independence` (we shall see in later chapters that independence` is a nonsense). With the end oI the
Cold War around 1989, and the consequent delegitimising not only oI communism as it had been
maniIest in the Soviet bloc but also oI Marxism more generally, and even oI socialism, there was no
eIIective opposing ideology to capitalism, and so neo-liberalism essentially an extreme Iorm oI
unregulated capitalism could reign supreme (Harvey 2005). This, oI course, has exacerbated
economic inequalities, as the welIare state and strong government regulation mechanisms Ior
reducing inequality and ensuring a reasonably equal sharing oI available wealth and opportunity
were simply not available. Neo-liberalism, indeed, accepts inequality as both necessary and
desirable, iI economic growth and individual prosperity are to be maximised.
Since the arrival oI neo-liberalism as a mainstream ideology, it has become clear not only that the
welIare state is unable to meet Iully the needs oI citizens but also that there is a strong belieI among
many political and opinion leaders that it should not attempt to do so, as this would reduce incentive
and encourage dependency`. But neo-liberalism is not alone in its criticism oI the welIare state.
There is now almost complete agreement about the inadequacy, instability and uncertainty oI the
contemporary welIare state and its apparent continuing inability to meet the Iull range oI human needs.
Even critics Irom the political LeIt have been Iorced to admit that a centralised welIare state is
unable to meet all our social needs, and can be dehumanising and alienating because oI its inhumane
bureaucratic structures.
One oI the important characteristics oI neo-liberalism is that its emergence coincided with, and
embraced, globalisation. This became possible initially because oI the increased availability oI
global travel and then with the coming oI the computer age and the possibility oI instant
communication on a scale previously unimaginable, making possible new global networks oI power
(Castells 1996, 1997, 1998). Hence neo-liberalism became a global Iorce, and the markets became
globalised, and were thus beyond the capacity oI national governments to regulate, even iI they had
wished to. Governments had to take careIul note oI the requirements and preIerences oI global
markets, iI they did not want to Iace sudden and dramatic withdrawal oI capital and corresponding
economic collapse. What became known as globalisation` was eIIectively the globalisation oI the
economy and oI markets, together with a Iorm oI cultural globalisation` so that the purchasing
choices oI consumers became as similar as possible (e.g. in clothes, entertainment, Iood, cars, etc.)
(Niezen 2004, Castells, Caraça & Cardoso 2012); it is easier to produce Ior a market iI everybody
wants to buy more or less the same things. We did not see a corresponding globalisation oI social or
environmental concerns. This diIIerence is seen in the relative lack oI mobility oI labour as opposed
to the instant mobility oI capital, and the strength and power oI those international mechanisms
established to serve the global economy (e.g. the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, World
Trade Organization), compared with the weakness oI international structures (through the United
Nations or international NGOs) to achieve social justice or environmental sustainability at a global
level (Beder 2006, Satz 2010). Globalisation will be discussed in more detail in chapter 8.
The eIIects oI the crisis in the welIare state and the rise oI neo-liberalism are clearly visible at the
level oI service delivery. Continuing cutbacks in public services, lowering oI the quality oI service
as overburdened workers are urged to do more with less`, longer waiting lists and waiting periods,
lack oI access to health care (except Ior those who can aIIord private insurance), the deterioration oI
the public education system, poor staII morale, and a general lack oI conIidence in the capacity oI the
public system to cope, are all Iamiliar themes in many Western societies. Policy responses have
tended to reIlect neo-liberal orthodoxy, through privatisation, the creation oI quasi-markets (e.g. in
health care with diIIerent providers` competing with each other), the role oI government as a
purchaser oI service rather than as a provider, and encouraging the private sector to be involved
either through public/private partnerships` or through total privatisation and the principle oI user
pays`. Other policy options, requiring increased taxation and spending, are simply unacceptable in the
neo-liberal world.
The neo-liberal perspective is not always readily accepted by the people, as can be seen in the
reactions oI people in the European region to the austerity measures` imposed on them by neo-liberal
orthodoxy Iollowing the Global Financial Crisis (Castells, Caraça & Cardoso 2012). In this regard,
the people oI Europe are sharing the experience oI the people oI other regions, such as Latin America
and AIrica, who have had to Iace the hard edge oI neo-liberal policies Ior decades (Klein 2007).
Hence many governments Ieel powerless to address signiIicant problems Irom unemployment and
substance abuse to climate change and land degradation while still retaining some measure oI
popularity with voters. One consequence can be the substitution oI public relations spin Ior policy,
and several policy techniques have become depressingly Iamiliar as strategies to give the impression
that much is being achieved. One is the production oI glossy publications Iull oI rhetoric about steps
Iorward`, new initiatives`, social advantage`, social dividend`, equity and access` and other high-
minded goals. Another is an apparently perpetual succession oI task Iorces, working parties, summits
and commissions, which can take up a good deal oI time while giving the impression that something
is being done`. A third is organisational restructuring, which is a time-honoured way oI appearing to
take decisive action`. A Iourth is the repackaging oI already existing programs under new, catchy
titles; publications about Iamily policy`, Ior example, are notorious in this regard. Thus, iI one asks a
government representative about the policy on a particularly problematic issue (e.g. domestic
violence, youth homelessness or unemployment), one is likely to be handed a slick publication Iull oI
rhetoric, and to be told about a signiIicant new task Iorce that has been established to deal with the
problem, within a newly restructured government department. Such responses have become apologies
Ior genuine policy, and represent a tacit admission that many oI the problems with which governments
are required to deal are in Iact insoluble within existing social, political and economic constraints.
The situation is indeed grim, with inadequate human services, rising inequality and a declining
resource base, made worse by the economic instability now aIIecting or threatening most countries in
the developed` West. Various alternatives have been proposed by those concerned Ior social justice,
the three most common being: (1) seeking to deIend and re-establish the welIare state, (2) moving
towards a more corporatist` state, where a consensus is sought between the various interests such as
capital and labour, and (3) a more radical socialist alternative with human need being given highest
priority, bolstered by a strong regulatory state. Each oI these has some advantages, but they also have
signiIicant drawbacks and seem to have little likelihood oI success in the current social, economic
and political context.
DeIenders oI the welIare state have Iound it diIIicult to counter the criticism that large, centralised
bureaucratic structures, which seem to be an inevitable consequence oI a traditional welIare state
system, are neither eIIective nor eIIicient in the delivery oI human services, and that they dehumanise,
alienate and disempower those whom they purport to serve. In addition, the weak theoretical
Ioundation oI the social democratic approach to welIare (Taylor-Gooby & Dale 1981) has leIt the
advocates oI the welIare state open to attack Irom both the Right and the LeIt; it can be argued that it
was only in the era oI the postwar consensus that the ideological Ioundations oI the welIare state
could remain intact, and this consensus has long gone.
Corporatism is subject to signiIicant criticism on the grounds that it represents an artiIicially
manuIactured compromise between essentially competing interests, such as capital and labour, so that
at best it can be only a short-term and inevitably unstable arrangement. It can, perhaps, succeed only
under certain speciIic economic and political conditions (e.g. relatively stable economic growth and
prosperity), which cannot be expected to last indeIinitely. Another criticism oI the corporatist
approach is that it requires trade-oIIs to be made at the level oI peak organisations representing
particular sectors oI society and the economy. This militates against democratic or participatory
Iorms oI policy- and decision-making, and serves to reinIorce the power oI existing elites.
The socialist alternative, while arguably resting on a much stronger theoretical and intellectual
base than the other approaches, also Iails to take account oI the alienating and dehumanising eIIects oI
state bureaucracies and central planning. Despite the rhetorical ideals oI a truly socialist society, the
imposition oI communism in practice has been accompanied by extremely repressive measures.
While it can be argued that this need not be the case, the experience makes it diIIicult Ior Marxists to
gain signiIicant legitimacy within contemporary social and political debate. As will be evident in the
Iollowing discussion, a Marxist analysis has much to oIIer in developing an alternative, but the
classical Marxist solution oI state socialism does not seem a credible alternative at this time.
The problems oI these responses have been exacerbated by the success oI neo-liberal ideology in
dominating public discourse. Neo-liberalism is presented as natural, and it is assumed that indeed
there is no practical alternative. Thus it has come to be regarded by many people as the natural order
oI things, and the role oI governments has been reduced to one oI managing and supporting the
capitalist system, rather than seeking alternatives. Government intervention in the market is assumed
to be negative, hence any proactive government policy is viewed with a mixture oI scepticism and
alarm, as is only too clear to those who have so desperately sought government action to avert serious
climate change.
A way forward
The above very complex issues deserve more thorough treatment than can be covered here. The
purpose oI this quick and inevitably superIicial discussion is simply to highlight some oI the
speciIic objections to each oI the three conventional responses to the crisis in the welIare state and
the emergence oI neo-liberalism. For the purposes oI this book it is signiIicant to concentrate on one
overriding objection to all the above responses to the crisis, which can be summarised as Iollows:
The crisis in the welfare state, and the tragedv of neo-liberalism, are the result of a wider
crisis of a social, economic and political svstem which is unsustainable, which has reached a
point of ecological crisis, and which is onlv exacerbated bv the neo-liberal agenda. Each
conventional response to the crisis in the welfare state and the emergence of neo-liberalism
is itself based on the same unsustainable, growth-oriented assumptions, and is therefore itself
This objection to the traditional policy responses to the crisis in the welIare state and to the
emergence oI neo-liberalism is the basis Ior the remainder oI the book, which aims to develop an
alternative approach to human service policy and practice that is more consistent with a truly
sustainable society. ThereIore it is appropriate to consider this objection in more detail.
As Marxist writers have pointed out since the 1970s (e.g. O`Connor 1973, OIIe 1984), the welIare
state has grown alongside industrial capitalism, and must be seen as an integral part oI the existing
social, economic and political order. The state provision oI such public services as health, education,
housing and welIare has not been simply the result oI altruistic views oI benign and caring
governments but has been necessary in order Ior industrial capitalism to grow and Ilourish, and as a
means oI establishing and maintaining social control. The Marxist analysis has been particularly
signiIicant in demonstrating this, and sees the welIare state as being in a symbiotic relationship with
advanced capitalism: each is necessary Ior the other`s survival. Thus modern capitalism would not be
possible without some Iorm oI welIare state in order to meet human need, to maintain stability and
security and to keep the workIorce healthy, happy and appropriately` educated so that the key
processes oI production and reproduction can be maintained (George & Wilding 1984).
Such an analysis, which developed in the social policy literature oI the 1970s and 1980s, beIore
the Iull emergence oI neo-liberalism, means that the welIare state must be seen within the context oI,
and not as separate Irom, advanced capitalism. While capitalism, in its present Iorm, cannot survive
without some Iorm oI welIare state, the corollary is that the welIare state in its present Iorm cannot
survive without the industrial capitalist economic order within which it has developed. There is now
ample evidence that this existing order is unsustainable, as the contradictions oI the system (oI which
the contradictions oI the welIare state are only a part) become more apparent (Homer-Dixon 2006,
Castells, Caraça & Cardoso 2012). The system is based on continued growth, which is having
disastrous eIIects on the global environment. As the ecological and human costs oI continuing growth
and progress` become more evident, and as the warnings that the global industrial and economic
system is reaching the limits to growth are more clearly recognised (Shiva 2005), the urgency oI the
situation is highlighted. Western governments are Iinding it increasingly diIIicult to sustain economic
development, standards oI living and Iull employment (by whatever statistical artiIice that is
measured). The conventional economic solutions do not seem to work very well, and are at best short
term. The inequities and limits oI the global economic system, to which all Western economies are
now inextricably linked, are becoming more apparent. Increasing numbers oI economists and other
commentators are reaching the conclusion that the major economic and social problems Iacing
modern society can no longer be solved Irom within the existing system, and that a radical change is
necessary to a quite diIIerent society, based on diIIerent economic principles (Quiggin 2012, Ekins
& Max-NeeI 1992, Doorman 1998, Greco 2009, Boulet 2009, Honeywill 2006). This change would
clearly include the welIare state.
The argument thus Iar is in many ways consistent with a Marxist analysis; indeed, Marx and his
successors have clearly identiIied the contradictions oI capitalism, and have similarly suggested the
need Ior a radical reIormulation. However, there is a Iundamental diIIerence between the Marxist
position and the alternative Green` position on which this book is based. Marxists have still assumed
that continuing economic growth, with a corresponding increase in productivity, wealth and personal
income, is not only possible but also desirable (and, one might argue, necessary). In this they are in
agreement with other ideological positions, including both neo-liberalism and social democracy. It is
common in elections to hear parties Irom many diIIering ideological positions, including the LeIt,
assuming that the way out oI current economic problems is to step up economic growth and to argue
about the best way this can be achieved. Over the years, in a remarkable case oI language slippage,
the idea oI sustainable development` coined in 1987 by the Brundtland Commission (World
Commission on Environment and Development 1987) has morphed Iirst to sustainable growth`, then
in the Rio Earth Summit` oI 2012 into sustained growth`. An alternative Green` position, however,
maintains that economic growth is at best a doubtIul beneIit, in that it causes more problems
(including environmental, social and economic problems) than it solves. Indeed, in a Iinite world, it
is clearly ludicrous to assume that growth can continue indeIinitely, and there is a growing body oI
evidence to suggest that the eIIective limits to growth are being reached (Hamilton 2003, De Young &
Princen 2012).
It is thus necessary to seek a system that breaks the cycle oI growth and is not dependent on
continuing growth Ior its maintenance (in contrast to the existing Iorm oI industrial capitalism, as well
as the Marxist socialist alternative). This requires a genuinely ecological perspective incorporating a
notion oI sustainability, and this will be explored in chapter 2. It is worth noting, however, that in this
context sustainabilitv represents a more signiIicant departure Irom existing practices than is implied
by many contemporary politicians and public Iigures, given the current trend to justiIy virtually any
policy under the now almost meaningless term sustainable development`, or the blatantly selI-
contradictory sustainable growth`.
From this perspective, the crisis in the welIare state cannot be satisIactorily resolved using any oI
the Iour policy strategies outlined above. The existing growth-oriented social, economic and political
system, within which the welIare state is located, is clearly unsustainable in anything other than a
very short time span. The welIare state, certainly in the Iorm to which we have become accustomed in
the West, seems unlikely to last much longer, and as the structures oI society change (as Irom the
ecological perspective they must), diIIerent structures and services Ior the meeting oI human need
will have to be developed. This should not be a surprising conclusion: the modern welIare state,
although its origins can be traced back several hundred years (de Schweinitz 1943), is essentially a
creature oI the twentieth century and oI the aIIluent West. Throughout all but a hundred years oI
history the human species has been able to survive without the welIare state, and even in this hundred
years its supposed beneIits have been enjoyed by only a minority. The welIare state is not a
permanent Iixture, nor is it necessarily a natural component oI human civilisation.
Community-based services as an alternative
Throughout history, there have been diIIerent institutions and mechanisms Ior the meeting oI human
need. At diIIerent times and in diIIerent contexts the extended Iamily, the tribe, the village, the
Church, the market and the state have all been seen as playing critical roles in this process, oIten in
combination. Each institution has had a dominant role in the meeting oI need, yet as society has
changed each has proven to be by itselI inadequate Ior the needs oI the new order, although each has
retained a lesser role in subsequent times. The crisis in the welIare state is simply another oI these
historical transitions, where the nation state, Ior which such great hopes were held, is demonstrating
its inadequacy as new Iorms oI social, economic and political structures emerge.
From this perspective it is inappropriate to put too much energy into deIending or strengthening the
welIare state. A more useIul direction is to ask what might be an alternative Iorm oI social provision
that would be consistent with the newly emerging social and economic order. Many oI the policy
prescriptions that enjoy contemporary popularity represent an attempt to reinstate some oI the earlier
Iorms oI the meeting oI need, principally through the market and the Iamily. Historically, the
limitations oI both oI these have become apparent, and are even more evident within the
contemporary social and economic system, where the market is again proving its inadequacy to meet
human need equitably, and where the Iamily is under continuing pressure and is increasingly
Iragmented (Jamrozik & Sweeny 1996); there is a crisis in the institution oI the contemporary Iamily
that renders it utterly incapable oI meeting the demands oI social care with which some seek to
burden it.
Within this context, there is an increasing interest in community-based programs as an alternative
mode Ior the delivery oI human services and the meeting oI human need (Wheatley 2009, Wheatley &
Frieze 2011, Ball 2011, Bauman 2001, Block 2009, De Young & Princen 2012, Clark & Teachout
2012). AIter the Iamily, the Church, the market and the state, it may now be the turn oI the
community` to carry major responsibility Ior the provision oI services in such Iields as health,
education, housing and welIare. The idea oI community is a central theme in much oI the Green
literature (Hopkins 2008, Pahl 2007, Vanclay 2006, Harding 2011, Manzini 2011, Wheatley 2009),
and at Iirst sight it may seem that a community-based approach to human services is consistent with
the idea oI a postwelIare state` system based on principles oI sustainability. Later chapters in this
book will explore the potential oI such a community-based approach as the next stage in service
provision beyond the welIare state`, and will discuss how such a system might operate and what it
would mean Ior those doing` community work.
As already noted, the terms communitv and communitv-based are highly problematic, and mean
diIIerent things to diIIerent people. The approach to community work and community-based services
developed in this book is not necessarily consistent with the Irequent usage oI the terms in
government policy discourse, where they have come to have as little substantive meaning as the word
sustainable. BeIore outlining the community development approach on which this book is based, it is
necessary Iirst to identiIy some oI the signiIicant problems oIten associated with approaches to human
services that are labelled community-based`. Only then will it be possible to attempt to develop an
approach to community development that overcomes these diIIiculties and has the potential to become
the basis oI a system oI human services in a Iuture society based on principles oI sustainability.
Problems with conventional approaches to community-based services`
Policies oI community-based human services have the potential Ior both progressive and regressive
change. Although such an approach may provide an opportunity Ior the kind oI radical developments
outlined in later chapters oI this book, it has also been criticised Ior its inherent conservatism, on a
number oI grounds. This is not the place to explore these criticisms in detail, yet they need to be
summarised and speciIically acknowledged. Later chapters seek to describe an approach that
overcomes these objections to community-based social provision.
1 Reducing the commitment to welfare
In an era when governments are seeking to reduce expenditure on human services, community-based
programs provide an expedient way Ior this to occur, and represent a Iorm oI services on the cheap`.
This is particularly true oI the move Irom institutional care to community care, where the high costs oI
institutional care can be reduced, but it is also true oI other community-based` options, in that they
tend to rely more on the use oI volunteers and on staII who are paid lower wages than those in the
public sector. The practice oI tendering, increasingly popular with governments, can lead to a race to
the bottom` where agencies try to outbid each other as to which can provide the cheapest service.
Such cost-cutting is a Irequent result oI moving to community-based services, and has a tendency to
become the de Iacto justiIication Ior such a move.
In addition, Ior a government intent on cost-cutting, it is oIten easier to reduce Iunding Ior
community-based programs than to reduce Iunding Ior an equivalent service provided by the state.
This is because the hard decision to reduce services is made at community level, usually by a local
management committee, so it is not as readily seen as the Iault oI the government, even though it
directly Ilows Irom a reduction in government Iunding. The community management committee can in
this way easily be set up as the scapegoat Ior the withdrawal or reduction oI public services.
Thus community-based services can readily serve the political agenda oI a government that is
committed to reducing public expenditure, and can Iacilitate the reduction in the share oI the nation`s
wealth going to human services.
2 Covert privatisation
Another way in which community-based services can serve a conservative political agenda is by
providing a rationale Ior the withdrawal oI government responsibility and a corresponding move to a
market-based approach. By simply withdrawing Irom service provision, loosely using the rhetoric oI
community responsibility`, a government can allow the private market to move in to Iill the gap. This
can result in a community-based project being operated by a market-driven philosophy with the goal
oI maximisation oI proIit rather than the meeting oI human need. Thus the terms communitv and
market can become synonymous. This is not necessarily so; the community development approach
outlined in later chapters Ioresees a reduction in direct government activity but does not imply an
increased reliance on the private market, at least in its large-scale maniIestation.
3 The family
Just as the rhetoric oI community-based services` can be used as a justiIication Ior a return to
reliance on the market to meet human need, so it can be used to support a system where the Iamily
accepts a greater burden oI care; as with privatisation, this is simply seeking to return to an older
Iorm oI service provision, which is inappropriate Ior the contemporary context. Such a trend is
particularly seen in the Iield oI community care`. This oIten does not imply that some Iorm oI local
autonomous community will accept responsibility Ior a person`s care (as would be the case with a
genuinely community-based system), rather that the person concerned will be cared Ior in the
community` by members oI their nuclear or extended Iamily, usually women. It can thereIore have the
eIIect oI placing extra burdens on Iamily members, especially on women, while not acknowledging
the pressures already placed on Iamily structures and the breakdown oI the traditional Iamily` in
contemporary society.
4 Gender
A move to community-based services can place a disproportionate burden on women, both because
oI their traditional role as primary caregivers and because oI the higher level oI participation by
women in the community sector. Within contemporary society, strongly inIluenced by economic
rationalism and neo-liberalism, caregiving and involvement in community activities are not highly
valued, as they are not seen as creating wealth or improving productivity. Hence those who do the
caring are devalued, and community-based services can help to marginalise women and reinIorce
dominant patriarchy. As will be discussed in chapter 3, the oppression oI women is one oI the
Iundamental Iorms oI disadvantage in contemporary Western society, and community-based services
need to be designed in such a way that they challenge rather than reinIorce this disadvantage.
5 The tyranny of locality
Personal mobility is a characteristic oI modern Western societies, and it has become accepted, even
valued, that people should travel long distances to meet their needs Ior social interaction,
entertainment, education, social services and so on. A community-based approach can be seen as
restricting people to their local community when they may preIer to seek human services elsewhere,
either because oI a belieI that a better service is available in another location or because oI a wish
Ior anonymity and a desire to avoid gossip and intrusive neighbours.
6 Locational inequality
Because some communities are better resourced than others, a move to a community-based approach
could simply reinIorce existing inequalities between communities, oIten based on class lines.
Communities with more resources would be able to provide higher levels oI service, and
disadvantaged communities might be Iurther disadvantaged by being denied support Irom a strong
central administration.
The above criticisms oI a community-based approach to human services are powerIul. Taken
together they suggest that community-based services can be proIoundly conservative, and they explain
why a community-based approach has been popular, at least at the rhetorical level, with conservative
governments. While the rhetoric might appear progressive, or even radical, a community-based
strategy can be used to reinIorce traditional conservative understandings oI the Iamily, privatisation,
government cutbacks and class and gender inequalities. It is hardly surprising that some critics have
demonstrated a cynicism about community-based services at least as understood within
conventional policy discourse and have been critical oI their potential to present a truly radical
The approach presented in the Iollowing chapters seeks to overcome these objections, and to
demonstrate how a community development approach need not be conservative but could challenge
such conservative ideas, and could help to initiate an alternative society based on social justice as
well as on ecological sustainability.
The missing ingredient: community development
The criticisms above relate to a strategy oI community-based services developed within the existing
social, economic and political order. Such a strategy has a Iundamental weakness, namely it assumes
that there is an entity called community` within which human services can be based. This assumption
is problematic, given the lack oI strong community structures in contemporary Western society. The
history oI industrial society and indeed oI capitalism has been a history oI the destruction oI
traditional community structures, whether based on the village, the extended Iamily or the Church.
This has been necessary Ior the development oI industrial capitalism, which has required a mobile
labour Iorce, rising levels oI individual and household consumption, increased personal mobility and
the dominance oI an individualist ideology. This is even more the case in the current experience oI
industrial and postindustrial capitalism, driven by neo-liberal ideology and global markets. While
there remain some elements oI traditional community structures, especially in rural areas, and while
some community bonds are maintained through non-geographical communities (e.g. ethnic
communities), it is nevertheless true that community in the traditional sense is not a signiIicant
element oI contemporary Western society, especially in urban or suburban settings.
For this reason, the development oI community-based structures seems somewhat contradictory,
and it is little wonder that community-based services have proven problematic, as suggested by the
criticisms in the previous section. The central issue can best be expressed as Iollows: how can there
be community-based services iI there is no community in which to base them? The primary
assumption oI community-based services must surely be that there are community structures and
processes that can take over all or some oI the responsibility Ior the provision oI human services.
Although Ior centuries traditional communities perIormed these roles, more or less adequately, it is
much more problematic in a society where the dominant social and economic order discourages the
establishment oI community and undermines community solidarity.
Thus, a strategy oI community-based services will not be eIIective unless steps are taken at the
same time to reverse the trend oI the erosion oI community structures, which has been an integral part
oI capitalist industrial development. Community-based services thereIore need to be accompanied by
a program oI community development that seeks to re-establish those structures. Such a program goes
beyond the speciIics oI a particular community-based program, such as community-based childcare,
education or health. It needs to encompass all aspects oI human activity and interaction, and amounts
to a radical restructuring oI society. This might sound like a tall order but, as will be demonstrated in
later chapters, there are grounds Ior believing that we have reached a point in history where such a
transIormation will not only become possible but also in Iact be necessary Ior survival.
The promise of community
Despite the problems associated with community development, and the Iactors working against
community in modern Western societies, the idea oI community remains powerIul. Many people Ieel
strongly the loss oI community` or loss oI identity` in modern society, and see rebuilding community
structures as a priority Ior the Iuture (Bauman 2001). The power oI the idea oI community has long
been recognised, and is seen in the tendency over the years Ior governments to use the term liberally
in titles, speeches and so on, oIten with little substantive meaning; in 1981 Bryson and Mowbray
Iamously described community as a spray-on solution` (Bryson & Mowbray 1981), and this has
resonated with many writers since then. However, despite the problematic nature oI the word, the
power oI the idea is signiIicant as a basis Ior the organisation and development oI alternative social
and economic structures, as outlined in later chapters. It has served as a powerIul vision Ior a number
oI writers in the Iield oI community work (Block 2009, Butcher 2007b, Ingamells 2009, Ingamells et
al. 2009, Ball 2011, Wheatley 2009, Chile 2007b, Kenny 2010, CampIens 1997, Kelly & Sewell
1988, Craig, Popple & Shaw 2008, Westoby & Dowling 2009, Clark & Teachout 2012).
The Ieeling oI loss oI community is oIten interpreted as nostalgia Ior an ideal that never really
existed, and advocates oI community development have been accused oI idealising the village
community` whose reality was in many instances oppressive. This is an important criticism, and it is
essential that the notion oI community be based on more substantial grounds than simply an ideal,
even though the power oI that ideal, and the importance oI vision, must not be underrated. The
chapters that Iollow seek to provide such a Ioundation.
Social capital and civil society
The ideas oI social capital and civil society have become central to many understandings oI
community development. The idea oI social capital is that one can invest` socially as well as
economically, and that while the economic capital oI a society may be increasing, iI this is done at the
cost oI social capital it is a Ialse gain (Putnam 1993a, 1993b, 2000; Field 2003). Social capital might
be seen as the glue` that holds society together: human relationships, people doing things Ior each
other out oI a sense oI social obligation and reciprocity, social solidarity and community. Some
commentators (Cox 1995, Winter 2000) have argued that the social capital oI modern Western society
is eroding, as purely economic market criteria are applied to transactions between people, and as
individual achievement replaces community and social solidarity as the perceived priority Ior human
action. It is argued that it has become necessary to reverse this trend, to prevent the Iurther erosion oI
social capital at the expense oI monetary capital, and to invest in programs aimed at building social
capital throughout society.
Part oI building social capital is the strengthening oI civil society`. Civil societv is the term used
Ior the Iormal or semiIormal structures that people establish voluntarily, on their own initiative,
rather than as a consequence oI some government program or directive. Civil society includes the
non-government sector` or third sector` (Earles & Lynn 2012), the Iirst two` being the state and the
private-Ior-proIit sectors, where non-government agencies oI many varieties have been established to
help meet the needs oI individuals, Iamilies and communities. But civil society is also broader than
this. It includes service clubs Rotary, Lions, Apex and so on and incorporates social and
recreational organisations: Iootball clubs, tennis clubs, choral societies, walking clubs, cultural
groups, amateur dramatic societies, school parent and citizen` associations, book clubs, youth clubs;
in Iact any voluntarily Iormed association oI people with common interests or purposes. It is, in other
words, the collective society that citizens have themselves chosen to Iorm as a way to pursue their
own interests. In an important research study, Robert Putnam (1993a) demonstrated how economic
perIormance oI communities was directly correlated with the extent oI civil society activity: a strong
civil society not only strengthens social capital, it also strengthens economic perIormance.
Part oI the erosion oI social capital in the West is the erosion oI civil society. As the demands oI
the workplace grow, those in employment are Iinding they have less time and energy to participate in
civil society, and many community organisations are Iinding it increasingly diIIicult to recruit
members and volunteers. For those who are unemployed, participation in civil society is oIten not
valued by others; it is not seen as work experience` or as being relevant in the search Ior
employment. And Ior those who have retired Irom the workIorce, retirement is oIten constructed as a
time to enjoy private liIestyle` pleasure and individual consumption, rather than as an opportunity to
contribute skills and experience to the community.
The erosion oI civil society and oI social capital represents a major problem Ior Western
societies, and reduces the quality oI liIe oI those living in them. Community development is an
obvious approach to seek to reverse this trend, both in the Iormalised structures oI civil society and in
the more wide-reaching idea oI social capital, and this has been another important reason Ior the
recent upsurge oI interest in community development.
The danger of a neo-liberal vocabulary
The idea oI social capital`, and the continuing research in this area by Putnam and others, is
important. However, the use oI the term social capital should give cause Ior concern. In adopting this
language, Putnam and other writers were trying to make their argument in such a way as to appeal to
economists, managers and others operating Irom within a more or less neo-liberal paradigm. But by
doing so, adopting the vocabulary oI economics, there is a danger that the idea oI community and oI
community development will also be seen Irom this perspective. Following social capital`, there
emerged social enterprise` (Klein 2009, Social Enterprise Alliance 2010), social
entrepreneurialism` (Bornstein 2007, Nicholls 2006), social marketing` (a term now more commonly
used to describe marketing using social media), and similar terms, each eIIectively deIining
community development in a language that accepts and validates the neo-liberal discourse.
Important successes have undoubtedly been achieved by programs using this language, but there is
a real danger in using such vocabulary to deIine community development. As will be shown in later
chapters, the approach to community development taken in this book stands against the principles and
assumptions oI neo-liberalism. It is based on the premise that neo-liberalism does not adequately
meet human need or achieve the ends oI social justice, human rights and environmental sustainability,
but rather works against them. There is a need Ior an alternative to the neo-liberal world view, and
community development, as outlined in subsequent chapters, represents a way towards such an
alternative. From this perspective, to adopt the language oI neo-liberalism is also adopt some oI the
tenets oI neo-liberalism, and to accept at least part oI that world view. For this reason, the language
oI social capital, social enterprise and so on will not be used in this book.
Another term that has become widely used, especially in the context oI international development,
is capacitv building. While the idea oI community capacity building does not carry with it the same
neo-liberal assumptions as social capital` or social enterprise`, it nevertheless does not convey the
meaning oI community development outlined in later chapters (Craig 2007). The very idea that
communities lack something called capacity` sets up a deIicit approach to community development,
deIining a community in terms oI its weaknesses, rather than the assets-based approach, which will be
discussed in later chapters. It also raises the questions oI who has deIined capacity, and capacity Ior
what? These tend to be deIined by people external to the community, rather than by the community
itselI, as a community development approach requires. There is no space here Ior a Iuller critique oI
community capacity building, but the reader is reIerred to Kenny and Clarke`s book, Questioning
Communitv Capacitv Building (2010) Ior a more detailed discussion.
The needs of strangers`
With the breakdown oI traditional communities and the development oI modern industrial society, a
Iundamental change took place in the nature oI human interaction, which in his classic sociological
work has been described by Tönnies (1955) as the change Irom Gemeinschaft to Gesellschaft. While
Tönnies` analysis is complex, Ior present purposes his distinction can be summarised (and grossly
oversimpliIied) by saying that in Gemeinschaft society people interact with a relatively small number
oI other people, whom they know well, in many diIIerent roles, whereas in Gesellschaft society one
has interactions with many more people, but these interactions are limited to speciIic instrumental
activities. Thus, in Gesellschaft society we do not know most oI the people with whom we have
contact except in their speciIic roles oI, Ior example, shop assistant, teacher, client, bus driver,
customer, nurse or secretary. Our communication with them is limited to a discrete transaction, and
any knowledge oI them beyond their capacity to Iill the particular role is considered unnecessary,
irrelevant and an intrusion into their private aIIairs. There is a clear understanding oI what constitutes
legitimate business in our dealings with another person, and any attempt to cross the boundary into
other aspects oI human liIe can result in being told It is none oI your business`. In Gemeinschaft
society such distinctions are not important, or are non-existent. People know each other well,
although in smaller numbers, through a variety oI diIIerent transactions. The public` and the private`
are not separated, and individuals are known to each other as people rather than roles. In such a
society, community` is a much richer, deeper and more real experience, and Iorms the basis Ior all
social interaction.
With the transIormation Irom Gemeinschaft to Gesellschaft, human services, like other social
interactions, have become based on instrumental relationships, with the service provider and the
consumer knowing each other only in those speciIic roles. From the earlier approach oI meeting the
needs oI one`s neighbour, we have moved to a system based on meeting the needs oI strangers`, as
described by a number oI writers (Titmuss 1970, IgnatieII 1984). This is a Iundamental change, and
requires a diIIerent moral justiIication, diIIerent ethical principles and, above all, diIIerent structures.
The whole apparatus oI the modern welIare state has been constructed on the basis oI the needs-oI-
strangers` approach, and with it have come large bureaucracies and an increasingly proIessionalised
approach to human services. Instead oI having a responsibility to meet the needs oI one`s neighbours,
the responsibility oI the citizen is to pay taxes so that somebody else (usually a proIessional expert`)
can be employed to do the job. Direct responsibility Ior human services thus moves Irom the citizen
to a team oI experts employed by the state, leaving the citizen Iree to pursue their private ends
unencumbered by the needs oI others, except in terms oI Iinancial obligation. Some people, oI course,
choose Ior their own reasons to become involved in helping others through voluntary activity, but this
is seen as a matter oI individual choice rather than a responsibility oI citizenship, and voluntary work
is oIten regarded as auxiliary to the main` work oI those employed by the welIare state to deliver
human services.
It should be noted that a private market approach to human services also incorporates the needs-
oI-strangers model. Here the private citizen is absolved oI the responsibility to meet the needs oI
others even through the payment oI taxes, and individuals are expected to look aIter themselves
through purchasing services in the marketplace, possibly with the help oI insurance (again purchased
in a market). This Iorm oI market transaction in modern society involves limited instrumental
relationships, and hence it implies, in common with the welIare state, a needs-oI-strangers approach.
A move to community-based services and structures, as advocated in subsequent chapters,
essentially seeks to reverse the dominant trend towards the needs-oI-strangers model, as epitomised
by the modern welIare state. It suggests that this approach to the meeting oI human need has not
worked well and that, on balance, its disadvantages have outweighed its beneIits. It is necessary
thereIore to examine some oI the advantages claimed Ior the welIare state in order to see how
strongly they represent objections to the development oI a more community-based approach. It is the
contention oI this book that these beneIits are more apparent than real.
The ideal oI the social democratic welIare state assumed the superiority oI the needs-oI-strangers
model, Ior several reasons. It was argued that this would ensure an adequate minimum standard Ior
all; that it would help to produce a society based on social justice; that it would be impartial and
work without Iear or Iavour`; that it would ensure conIidentiality so that consumers could be assured
oI their secrets being kept; that it would ensure anonymity oI service, thereby preventing stigma; and
that it would ensure proper accountability through the public processes oI parliament and the
bureaucracy. Each oI these claimed beneIits will now be brieIly considered.
1 Adequate minimum standards
The aim oI achieving adequate minimum standards (oI health, housing, education, income security etc)
rests on two assumptions: namely, that the attainment oI uniIorm minimum standards is possible, and
that it is desirable. Both oI these assumptions can be questioned.
It is diIIicult to deIine minimum standards in complex modern industrial societies. In many nations,
regional and cultural diversity means that what is an adequate minimum in one setting may be Iar Irom
adequate in another, and more than adequate in a third. In housing, Ior example, the deIinition oI an
adequate minimum is heavily inIluenced by both climatic and cultural Iactors: what will suIIice in one
setting will not in another. Similarly, cost oI living and hence a minimum standard oI income varies
signiIicantly across regions because oI diIIerent costs oI basic commodities, diIIerent transport needs
(in some locations car ownership is a necessity whereas in others it is not), diIIering climates (in
some locations heating costs are signiIicant) and so on. The idea oI a universal minimum standard is
diIIicult to accept and almost impossible to deIine in other than very basic instances, such as
protection oI basic human rights and dietary intake (this exception, however, is very important (Doyal
& Gough 1991), and will be discussed in chapter 3). Most conventional minimum standards, such as
the poverty line, are thereIore only approximations, and are crude measures indeed oI the
eIIectiveness oI social policy.
But even iI such minimum standards were Ieasible, it could seriously be questioned whether they
represented an appropriate goal Ior the welIare state. As will be seen in chapter 2, an ecological
perspective encourages the valuing oI diversity, whereas the imposition oI a universal minimum
standard encourages uniIormity, and does not value the signiIicance oI ethnic, cultural and regional
diIIerences. An exception might be made in such areas as basic human rights (see chapter 3) but, at
higher levels oI Maslow`s hierarchy oI needs (Maslow 1970), the very idea oI universal minimum
standards must be questioned.
In any case, as was pointed out earlier, the research evidence suggests that the modern welIare
state has been only minimally successIul in meeting acceptable minimum standards oI provision
(George & Wilding 1984). The need Ior the maintenance oI minimum standards is as a result a weak
justiIication Ior the continuation oI the welIare state and the needs-oI-strangers model.
2 Social justice
The deIinition oI social fustice is a complex question, and outside the scope oI this chapter; it will be
explored in more detail in chapter 3. But whatever one`s deIinition, it is not easy to make a strong
case Ior the continuation oI a needs-oI-strangers approach based on social justice. The welIare state
has not been successIul in signiIicantly reducing social inequalities, although it did play some role in
preventing inequality Irom becoming even greater (George & Wilding 1984), as is seen by the
widening oI inequalities as the welIare state is eroded in the name oI neo-liberalism (Jeter 2009).
Despite the best eIIorts oI the welIare state, structural disadvantage across class, race and gender
lines is clearly maintained, and the welIare state has oIten acted to reinIorce rather than challenge
these Iorms oI structural disadvantage (Williams 1989, Jamrozik 1991, Rodger 2000). It is a mistake
to assume that the welIare state alone is an adequate mechanism Ior bringing about a Iairer society;
much more Iundamental structural change is necessary, and the welIare state can really only
ameliorate the worst eIIects oI structural disadvantage.
3 Impartiality
Partiality and discretion are present at all levels oI the human service bureaucracy. Indeed, the nature
oI human interaction and human problems is such that some administrative discretion is required iI
welIare state systems are to continue to operate, as emphasised in Lipsky`s classic study oI street-
level bureaucracy` (1980). This discretion will inevitably be somewhat arbitrary, given human
values and the need Ior the individual bureaucrat to survive in the bureaucracy. Although impartiality
is an ideal oI the welIare state, and large volumes oI rules and regulations are produced and
constantly modiIied in pursuit oI this ideal, in practice it is always necessary Ior workers to exercise
a degree oI discretion, whether oIIicially acknowledged or not, and this results in consumers not
being treated with equal` respect and dignity. The ideal oI impartiality has not been achieved by the
modern welIare state, and the inevitable partiality has resulted in diIIering levels oI access to
services and varying quality oI services. These diIIerences have tended to reinIorce the class, race
and gender inequalities mentioned above.
The implications oI this argument are signiIicant, and will be taken up in more detail in later
chapters, where the community-based alternative is spelled out in more detail. But Ior present
purposes the point is simply that impartiality has not been a Ieature oI the modern welIare state, and
that it represents a weak justiIication Ior the needs-oI-strangers approach.
4 Confidentiality
One oI the advantages claimed Ior the needs-oI-strangers model oI the modern welIare state is that it
is able to ensure conIidentiality Ior consumers, whereas smaller, more locally based structures could
lead to private inIormation being divulged to other people as part oI a local gossip` network.
UnIortunately, this aim oI the welIare state is more apparent than real. The Iact that the welIare state
is, apparently oI necessity, a large and complex bureaucratic structure means that inIormation has to
be shared, communicated and stored in databases. Reports have to be written and Iiled, decisions are
made in teams, and speciIic cases are discussed in meetings, consultations and proIessional
supervision. Some are written up as case studies or used Ior educational purposes. As well as this
large communication network, there is the tendency Ior workers to gossip, and there are also the
inevitable security breaches, misplacement oI documents and coincidences oI recognition. Hence the
assumption oI conIidentiality cannot be made in one`s dealings with the welIare state, and sharing
one`s needs or problems (however intimate) with the welIare state is almost a guarantee that they will
be known by a large number oI people and recorded Ior posterity.
5 Anonymity
The service structures oI Gesellschaft society are based in part on the assumption oI a right` to
anonymity; namely the right oI a person to receive services Irom a stranger and to avoid sharing their
problems with someone who is known personally. This right can be seen as an advantage oI the
welIare state, but it can also be seen as a maniIestation oI the anomie and alienation oI contemporary
society. Services that guarantee anonymity only tend to be depersonalised, and a preIerence Ior
anonymity makes sense only in a society where problems are seen as individual private concerns, and
where social interaction beyond Iragmentary instrumental relationships is seen as deviant or
dangerous. The community-based approach, discussed in later chapters, advocates the reverse:
namely, that services Ior people might in Iact be more appropriately designed and delivered by those
who know those people personally, and who understand their needs, culture and liIestyle. In another
era such an idea would have been regarded as so obviously true as not to need stating, and it is only
in the context oI Gesellschaft society, and the needs-oI-strangers approach, that it is seen as a radical
and almost revolutionary notion. Rather than being a reason to preserve the needs-oI-strangers model,
the anonymity oI the welIare state can instead be regarded as a good reason Ior seeking a more
community-based alternative.
6 Accountability
Another argument put Iorward Ior the needs-oI-strangers welIare state model is that, through the
structures oI government and the state, public accountability can be maintained. Thus consumers and
society in general have access to mechanisms by which they can question those who plan and provide
services, and can hold them accountable Ior their actions. The citizen has recourse to various
complaints and appeals tribunals, to bodies such as human rights commissions, to administrative
appeals tribunals, to an ombudsman and directly to parliament through an elected representative.
While these accountability mechanisms may be present in theory, the experience oI those who
work in the welIare state is that they oIten do not work well, particularly Ior the relatively powerless
and inarticulate consumer. Sophisticated mechanisms have developed within bureaucracies to
minimise the eIIects oI accountability mechanisms, and indeed the bureaucracy needs such
mechanisms Ior survival.
The current climate oI economic rationalism and managerialism has highlighted only one direction
oI accountability: namely, accountability upwards` to management. More important, Irom the
perspective oI this book, is accountability downwards` to the consumer or outwards` to the
community. The welIare state may be moderately eIIective at ensuring upward accountability, but it is
hard to mount a justiIication that it has been at all successIul at supporting and encouraging
accountability downwards or outwards; in Iact, its bureaucratic structures militate against this. It
should be noted, indeed, that the common usage oI the words upwards and downwards in this context
simply reinIorces the dominant view, which sees the manager as in the important, superior position
while the consumer is kept Iirmly at the bottom; the approach proposed in this book seeks to establish
the reverse.
Space does not permit a Iull outline oI the objections to the needs-oI-strangers approach
characteristic oI the modern welIare state, but the above discussion should at least be suIIicient to
demonstrate that the main arguments in support oI such a model are not necessarily very strong. They
should not thereIore be seen as signiIicant impediments to the development oI a community-based
model. Some oI these issues will be explored in more detail in later chapters, to the extent that they
inIorm the approach to policy and practice developed in this book.
The next steps
This chapter has identiIied, inevitably brieIly, some oI the problems Iacing the modern welIare state,
and has suggested that the welIare state is not sustainable in the long term. Many oI the conventional
policy directions proposed as a response to the crisis in the welIare state are also unlikely to be
sustainable, but a community-based approach does, at Iirst sight, seem to oIIer more promise. For this
to occur, however, it will be necessary to base it in a much more thorough and wide-ranging analysis
oI change in the social, economic and political order. Community-based human services will need to
be located within a broader program oI social change based on a philosophy oI sustainability, social
justice and community development.
In order to develop such a program, and to see what community-based services might look like and
how they might operate within a sustainable society, it is thus necessary to embark on a wider
analysis. The next Iour chapters thereIore will seek to develop a vision oI a Iuture society that is
ecologically Ieasible, is based on principles oI social justice, and reIlects more recent thinking about
alternatives to Enlightenment modernity. Following this, the Iocus will revert to community
development, and to the development oI community-based alternatives consistent with such a vision,
beIore moving in later chapters to more speciIic issues oI the practice` oI community work.
2 Foundations of community development: An ecological
The approach to community work developed in this book rests on three principal Ioundations. The
Iirst is an ecological perspective, which is the subject oI this chapter. The second, a social justice
perspective, will be discussed in chapter 3. And the third, a post-Enlightenment perspective, will be
discussed in chapter 4. Each perspective has been inIluential in stimulating community-based
solutions to problems and in promoting community development practice. The extent to which the
three perspectives are conceptually distinct is an interesting point Ior discussion. This will be taken
up in chapter 5, where the three perspectives are considered together, leading to a vision oI an
alternative society in which the concept oI community and the process oI community development
play a major role.
The ecological perspective outlined later in this chapter derives Irom the Green critique oI the
current social, economic and political order. This critique represents a powerIul and Iundamental
challenge to many oI the accepted norms oI social and political discourse. It is a challenge that, in the
twenty-Iirst century, can no longer be ignored, and which will inevitably play a major role in the
shaping oI a Iuture society.
The threat oI impending crisis has always been a part oI the human condition. Such threats constantly
remind us oI the precariousness oI human existence. Religious prophets have Irequently Ioretold the
end either oI the world, or oI civilisation as we know it`, based on anything Irom personal revelation
to the reading oI sacred texts, to the interpretation oI signs and portents in the natural world. In this
they have been joined by others who Iear that the world that they cherish and value cannot last, and
who see only a bleak Iuture. Indeed, a very human response to change, oI whatever sort, is to seek to
hold on to the Iamiliar and to Iear the loss oI things we value. Nostalgia Ior the good old days` and a
concern about Iuture threats are not conIined to the present, but have been a part oI the human
experience throughout recorded history. Sometimes people`s worst Iears are realised, and a crisis has
proved to be real and serious: war, economic collapse, natural disasters and so on. At other times,
especially with millenarian prophecies, Iears prove to be unIounded, and this can then lead to
complacency as in the phrase Don`t worry, it`ll never happen`.
Although it appears that a Iear oI crisis is always with us, there are three reasons why the current
crises Iacing humanity are particularly signiIicant and require serious attention. The Iirst is that,
unlike the various millenarian prophecies, the threats we currently perceive are Ioretold not by
religious prophets but by scientists, on the basis not oI religious insight or divine revelation, but
rather as the result oI painstaking and extensive research. They demand to be taken seriously, and
cannot be simply dismissed as the work oI prophets oI doom`, despite the rhetoric oI climate-change
deniers and others who seek to minimise the serious crises Iacing the contemporary world. The
second reason Ior particular concern is that we are Iacing not one single crisis but several. Not only
is climate change a major threat but so also is the impending Iood crisis, the crisis oI inadequate
water supply, desertiIication and deIorestation, topsoil erosion, the over-Iishing oI the oceans, the
continuing poisoning oI the biosphere through air, water and soil pollution and Iood additives,
species extinction, mass movements oI people (the reIugee crisis` seems sure to escalate), the
resource crisis including Peak Oil`, and other pressures oI over-population. With these crises will
come three associated crises an economic crisis, a political crisis and the threat oI nuclear warIare
as the institutions oI government, global capital and civil society Iind they cannot cope with the
demands on them and that business as usual` is not an option (Shearman & Smith 2007, Hamilton
There will be some disagreement about the signiIicance and severity oI some these crises (e.g. the
debate about Peak Oil`), but it is hard to avoid the conclusion that by the middle oI the twenty-Iirst
century the world will be aIIected not just by one crisis but by a perIect storm` oI multiple crises that
will serve to reinIorce each other, resulting in the deaths oI many millions (iI not billions) oI people,
and in poverty, dislocation and misery Ior many more. The threat oI these multiple crises is
overwhelming; while humanity may be able to cope eIIectively with one or even two oI these, it is
surely too much to expect that we will be able to address them all.
The third reason Ior particular concern is that we have been repeatedly warned, yet our political
leaders reIuse to act. The institutions that were established to regulate human activity have proved to
be unwilling or unable to act in the collective interests oI humanity, the response has
characteristically been too little, too late`. Policies aimed at addressing climate change, Ior example,
are grossly inadequate (Spratt & Sutton 2008, Kolbert 2006), and are set alongside policies that
encourage economic growth and the continued depletion oI resources, such as the repeated assurances
oI the Australian Government that the Australian coal industry has a bright Iuture`. Whether it is
through reluctance or impotence, the inability oI political leaders to act eIIectively on the major
crises Iacing humanity has resulted in a disillusionment with traditional politics and a lack oI
conIidence in both the political process and politicians.
These impending crises have led Green thinkers to seek radical alternatives, and these crises also
give the Green position a sense oI urgency and inevitability. From a Green perspective, change is not
a luxury that can be postponed until the time is right; the problems are urgent and immediate, and
Iailure to act could place the Iuture oI human civilisation, and indeed the very survival oI the human
race (as well as many other species), at risk.
At diIIerent times, and in diIIerent places, diIIerent problems assume importance in popular
consciousness. In the 1970s, Ior example, the resource crisis was oI major public concern, and the
need Ior nuclear disarmament was a major issue in the 1980s. From the late 1980s, problems oI
changing the ecological balance received more attention, and global warming dominated the debate in
the 2000s, at least until 2008 when the Iragility oI the global Iinancial system became evident. In
places like Tasmania and British Columbia, loss oI wilderness always seems to be an issue oI public
signiIicance, although it waxes and wanes elsewhere. Yet despite the vagaries oI public awareness
and media coverage, all these problems are still with us, and the indications are that each is getting
worse. Each is suIIicient to cause major concern, and requires immediate and signiIicant attention at
local, national and global levels. They potentially threaten the long-term, or even medium-term,
survival oI the human race, or at the very least oI civilisation` (Homer-Dixon 2006). Taken together,
they indicate an overall crisis oI enormous magnitude, and it is only when they are considered
together that the seriousness oI the coming period oI crisis can be Iully appreciated.
Environmental responses and Green responses
In considering the responses to these crises, an important distinction needs to be made between what
will here be reIerred to as environmental responses and Green responses. Other writers have used
diIIerent terminology, such as light green and dark green (Dobson 1995) , environmental and
ecological (Bookchin 1991), or deep and shallow ecologv (Fox 1990).
Environmental responses to ecological problems have two important characteristics. First, they
seek to solve speciIic problems by Iinding discrete solutions. Thus, the problem oI global warming is
to be solved by reducing greenhouse gases; problems oI resource depletion by alternative
technologies; problems oI pollution by anti-pollution technology; problems oI population by Iamily
planning programs; problems oI loss oI wilderness by creating protected areas; problems oI species
extinction by endangered species programs; and so on. Each problem is isolated, and a speciIic
solution is sought. Such an approach is characteristic linear thinking, which has played a dominant
role in the Western world view within which industrial and technological progress` has developed
(Saul 1992, Postman 1993, Torgerson 1999, Macy 2007).
The second characteristic oI environmental responses is that they seek solutions within the existing
social, economic and political order. It is not seen as necessary to change the nature oI society in any
Iundamental way, but rather the existing order is seen as capable oI solving the problem through the
application oI technical expertise. This normally involves a reliance on technological solutions, and
in an era where technological progress and expertise are so highly valued it is not surprising that
sophisticated new technology should be expected, oIten implicitly, to solve all problems. This Iaith in
technology and expertise is seen at its most extreme Iorm in the reaction to the threat Irom nuclear
waste, one oI the most concerning pollution problems oI the postwar era. It is still considered, by
many, quite acceptable to continue to operate nuclear reactors producing highly toxic waste, because
it is assumed that eventually the problem oI long-term waste disposal will be solved through some
technological innovation. The possibility that such an answer may not be Iound because it does not
exist, and the dire consequences oI such an eventuality, are not seriously entertained. Similarly, coal-
mining and coal-Iired power stations continue to operate largely because oI the belieI that eIIective
carbon capture and storage` technology will be developed and utilised, even though that technology
has yet to be demonstrated and, at the time oI writing, its implementation is many years away. This is,
eIIectively, gambling the Iuture oI the planet on the ability oI technology to solve all problems that
may eventuate.
By contrast, the Green response to environmental problems takes a more Iundamental or radical
approach. It sees environmental problems as being merely the symptoms oI a more signiIicant
underlying problem. They are the consequence oI a social, economic and political order that is
blatantly unsustainable, and hence it is the social, economic and political order that needs to be
changed (Dobson 1995, Carter 1999, Torgerson 1999). Conventional, linear, technological solutions
to environmental problems may be adequate (and indeed essential) in the short term, but in the long
term they will prove inadequate unless more Iundamental social, political and economic change
occurs. Thus, the Green position sees environmental problems not as separate individual problems
but as related, in that they are all consequences oI the major underlying problem; namely the
unsustainability oI the existing order. It seeks to apply ecological principles to the solving oI
environmental problems, which inevitably requires a more holistic perspective than the conventional
linear approach.
II environmental problems are seen as the result oI the social, economic and political system, the
nature oI the problem Iundamentally changes. Conventional approaches to the environment see the
problems as physical problems, to do with air, water, pollutants, chemical reactions, soils, climate,
ecosystems`, temperature and so on, thus requiring essentially physical and technical solutions.
ThereIore the physical sciences are seen as the major disciplinary base Ior dealing with these
problems; the physical sciences Iorm the basis oI most courses in environmental science`, and
physical scientists are seen as the experts` in environmental issues. The Green perspective, by
contrast, sees environmental problems as essentially social, economic and political problems. They
are caused by the kind oI society we have developed, and to understand and deal with environmental
problems we must seek wisdom and expertise Irom the social, economic and political sciences,
rather than merely Irom the physical sciences and technologies, which are really able to deal only
with the symptoms.
The perspective oI this book accepts the Green, rather than the environmental, view oI ecological
problems. II the ecological crisis is to be eIIectively resolved, it will be through social, economic
and political change, rather than through scientiIic and technological progress. Community work is
potentially one oI the most eIIective ways to develop a more sustainable society, and is thus directly
relevant to a Green analysis. The expertise oI community workers, in terms oI both knowledge and
skills, has much to contribute to the Green movement; it is thereIore not surprising that the Green
movement has been one oI the Iorces behind an upsurge oI interest in community development.
Themes within Green analysis
While the Green perspective accepts the Iundamental socialeconomicpolitical basis Ior the
ecological crisis, and the need Ior Iundamental change, there is some disagreement in the Green
literature about the basic analysis, or exactly what it is that needs to change. Not surprisingly, Green
literature reIlects the divisions that can be Iound in broader social science writing, and diIIerent
perspectives that have been brought to bear on other social problems are reIlected in the deIinition
and analysis oI issues raised by the ecological crisis. Some oI these diIIerent perspectives are
outlined brieIly below, but space restrictions require that these will be discussed only superIicially
and inevitably oversimpliIied (see table 2.1, overleaI).
Table 2.1 Schools of Creen thought
Eco-socialists argue that the ecological crisis is essentially the consequence oI capitalism. In an
extension oI a Marxist analysis, the growth and industrialisation that have accompanied the
development oI capitalism are seen as having resulted in waste, overconsumption and pollution,
together with a lack oI responsibility Ior the health oI the planet. The environment, as well as an
oppressed and alienated workIorce, has paid the price Ior capitalism`s successes. The ideology oI
capitalism has emphasised individualism and an exploitative relationship not only with the working
class but also with the land and natural resources.
From this perspective, the solution to the ecological crisis lies with a Iorm oI socialism. Adequate
protection Ior the environment, and conservation oI resources, can be more easily achieved through a
collectivist or communist system. The need Ior a transition to a socialist society is thereIore given
added urgency by the gravity oI the ecological crisis. Eco-socialism suggests that it is only through
the elimination (or at least reduction) oI private property and capitalist ownership oI the means oI
production that the social and collective values inherent in a sustainable society can be realised.
A somewhat contradictory position to eco-socialism is taken by the eco-anarchists. They maintain that
the ecological crisis is a result oI the structures oI domination and control exempliIied by
government, business, military Iorces and other Iorms oI regulation. To anarchists, these structures
deny human Ireedom and the potential to enjoy nature. They limit genuine human interaction and
human potential. They have alienated human beings Irom the natural world, as a result oI which
people have developed ecologically disastrous practices. Eco-anarchists thereIore seek a society
where there is minimal (or no) central control, where decisions are taken by individuals or in small
localised community groupings. Instead oI hierarchical Iorms oI social organisation, they preIer
decentralised, autonomous and local Iorms oI organisation, based on ecological principles, or social
ecology` to use the words oI Murray Bookchin (1990, 1991), perhaps the most inIluential eco-
anarchist writer.
There is a long history oI anarchist writers showing a concern Ior the natural environment, and a
longing to get back to nature`, in their quest Ior Ireedom Irom oppressive structures (Marshall 1992a,
1992b). For example, the work oI Thoreau (1854), writing in the nineteenth century, would not be out
oI place in a collection oI contemporary Green writing. There is indeed an element oI anarchist
thinking in much oI the current Green literature, speciIically in the rejection oI the dehumanising and
alienating characteristics oI large centralised government (and non-government) structures, and in the
advocacy oI a small is beautiIul` philosophy.
While eco-socialists see the problem in terms oI capitalism, and eco-anarchists see it in terms oI
structures oI domination and control, eco-Ieminists see the problem oI an ecologically insane world
primarily in terms oI patriarchy and its consequences (Mellor 1992, Plumwood 1993, Salleh 1997,
Warren 2000). From this point oI view, patriarchal structures oI domination, oppression and control
have resulted in a competitive, acquisitive and exploitative society. A patriarchal society has
ultimately proved to be unsustainable, and is causing environmental disasters Irom which it is proving
incapable oI extricating itselI.
Thus, the change that eco-Ieminists perceive as needed is the change embodied in the Ieminist
movement, whereby patriarchal structures are challenged, dismantled, deconstructed and replaced. OI
course the Ieminist movement, like the other movements described in this section, has diIIerent and
conIlicting strands and emphases, and there is not space to explore these in detail here. Liberal
Ieminists who simply argue that women should be encouraged and supported to compete` eIIectively
with men within existing structures do not qualiIy Ior inclusion in the eco-Ieminist movement Ior the
purposes oI this analysis, as they are merely reasserting the value oI the existing social, economic and
political order. OI greater signiIicance is the work oI structural Ieminist writers, who argue that a
Ieminist analysis requires the development oI a society based on diIIerent organisational principles,
seeking to replace competitive structures with cooperative structures, to replace individualism with
genuine collective decision-making, and to value all people rather than to support the domination,
control, oppression and exploitation oI some by others. Poststructural Ieminism emphasises
discourses oI oppression, the way patriarchy has dominated discourses oI power, and seeks to
deconstruct such discourses and to validate the voices oI the marginalised. Some Ieminist writers
also recognise the importance oI characteristics traditionally ascribed to women, such as nurturing,
caring, sharing, community and peace as at least as important as (iI not more important than)
characteristics traditionally ascribed to men, such as individual competition, aggression, domination,
exploitation and a war-like nature.
Another strand within Green writing is the critique oI technology, arguing that unbridled technological
development, Iar Irom bringing boundless beneIits Ior humanity, creates more problems than it solves,
and is largely responsible Ior the problems oI the world today. Using the term Luddism to describe
this position is not intended to be derogatory; although the word Luddite has become a term oI abuse
levelled at people who mistrust new technologies, it can also be argued that a healthy mistrust oI new
technologies is precisely what has been lacking during the period oI industrial capitalism.
The Luddites oI the early nineteenth century, and other anti-technology movements that both
preceded and Iollowed them, were in eIIect articulating a simple but extremely signiIicant view:
namely, that social goals must not be subordinated to economic goals, and that technological
development can have negative human consequences (Harrison 1984, Hobsbawm & Rude 1969).
This strikes at the very core oI the spirit oI the Industrial Revolution, and questions its Iundamental
assumption that technological development is Ior the good oI all. It is small wonder that the Luddites
and those in related movements were ruthlessly repressed by the authorities. Because these were
essentially working-class movements, without the beneIit` oI literate and articulate representatives
who could express their views in the respectable vocabulary oI social and political philosophy, it is
easy to dismiss them as ignorant and ill-inIormed, not deserving serious consideration. Their
message, however, is proIoundly relevant today, and at last is Ialling on more sympathetic ears.
In the late twentieth century, the cause oI the Luddites Iinally Iound its intellectual champions, in
such writers as Illich (1973), Schumacher (1973), Postman (1993) and Mander (1991). These writers
argued that the popular view oI technology as value-Iree` is a myth. The issue has become still more
critical in the early twenty-Iirst century, with the explosion oI computer technology to include social
media, dramatically aIIecting the social interactions oI billions oI people (Manzini 2011, Harding
2011, De Young & Princen 2012). There is also the dramatic increase in the use oI surveillance
technology, such as CCTV cameras, which are typically used to reinIorce powerIul interests and to
exert additional control over the most vulnerable. We have developed technologies with eIIects we
do not understand, and unsustainability and uncertainty are consequences oI our rapidly evolving
technological society. Such a view relies heavily on the analysis oI Ivan Illich, who has argued that
technologies in a number oI areas medicine, transport, education have developed to the point
where the disadvantages outweigh the advantages. Other writers (Bowers 2000, Baym 2010,
Bauerlein 2011, Turkle 2011, Carr 2010) have applied a comparable critique to computers,
inIormation technology, the internet and social media, pointing out that we are so excited about the
advantages that we lose sight oI the negatives: the devaluing oI any human knowledge` or
experience` that cannot be reduced to digital impulses; the increasing individualisation as people
retreat into cyberspace and no longer interact with other human beings; and the way in which
inIormation technology is redeIining the dominant culture in ways that have received little critique.
From this perspective, the traditional environmentalist` response to ecological problems, namely
to seek a technological solution, is selI-deIeating. Advanced technology is seen as part oI the problem
rather than part oI the solution. Further technological research and development, while undoubtedly
providing some beneIits, will do so only at increasing social and environmental cost, and there is
likely to be a net cost rather than a net beneIit to humanity. Such a position advocates lower rather
than higher levels oI technology as the answer, seeking to develop technologies that are on a more
human scale`, being able to be used and controlled by ordinary people, and directly related to their
Some writers in the Green movement perceive growth to be the major problem. The existing order is
premised on the desirability and inevitability oI growth, including economic growth, population
growth, the growth oI urban areas, the growth oI aIIluence and the growth oI organisations. Bigger is
equated with better, and one oI the major criteria Ior success and quality is Ior things to be growing.
Economic growth is regarded as a primary goal oI economic policy, and as the mechanism by which
Iull employment`, prosperity and community wellbeing will be maintained. It is assumed that cities
will continue to grow, and planners are required to determine how cities will cope with` growth in
terms oI transport, housing, land use, water, pollution and so on. The health oI a business is measured
by its growth in size, turnover and proIit, and the success stories` oI business are oI small businesses
that become big businesses. The assumption oI the value oI growth, and oI bigger being better, is so
ingrained that it is barely questioned. Everything is expected (indeed required) to grow, whether it be
economies, cities, businesses, community organisations, proIessional Iootball leagues, universities,
resource consumption or tourism.
The problem, oI course, is that we live in a Iinite world. Growth cannot continue Ior-ever, as the
Iinite nature oI the earth limits both the resources available and the extent to which the costs oI growth
can be borne. Such writers as David Suzuki (Suzuki, McConnell & Mason 2007) have argued that
there are clear signs that the natural limits to growth are being reached and that growth cannot
continue. The environmental crisis is the result oI growth having outstripped the earth`s capacity to
cope with its consequences.
This critique oI growth is closely related to the concept oI sustainability. The existing system is
seen as unsustainable, and Iurther growth only makes it more so. Hence, an alternative based on
principles oI sustainability is advocated. This alternative would eIIectively limit growth and would
ensure that, as much as possible, resources are used only at a rate at which they can be replaced, and
that output to the environment is limited to the level at which it can be absorbed. The concept oI
sustainability is central to a Green perspective, and will be discussed later in this chapter.
Alternative economics
Another strand oI Green analysis, closely related to the no-growth` position, is alternative
economics. This perspective sees the major problem as being the economic wisdom` that has
developed within industrial capitalism, as it has encouraged overconsumption, waste, growth and the
devaluing oI the environment. It thus seeks to develop a new economics, based on ecological
There are two main streams within alternative Green` economics. The Iirst seeks to redeIine
conventional economic analysis to incorporate the concerns oI environmentalists. Conventional
analysis, in calculating costs and beneIits, has treated environmental Iactors as externalities, and
thereIore has not included them in the comparison oI costs and beneIits. Thus, an industry that
discharges toxic waste into the environment has been able to do so without cost, and the cost to the
environment is not included in the calculation oI the nett beneIit oI this industry to the economy. There
is, oI course, a cost associated with having to clean up the environment, but this is not borne by the
industry concerned so it is not considered part oI its proIit or loss. Indeed, environmental costs are
oIten borne by people or governments Iar away Irom the source, as is the case with acid rain or
nuclear Iallout. Similarly, social costs tend not to be included in conventional economic calculations.
The social costs or beneIits oI a particular industry or activity, like the environmental costs, are
notoriously diIIicult to measure (some would say impossible), and the response oI conventional
economics has been to treat them as externalities and thereIore to leave them out oI the calculation.
A related problem with conventional economics is its deIinition oI value in terms oI economic
productivity or market price. That such phenomena as wilderness, native Iorests, peace, security and
endangered species can have intrinsic value is not acknowledged in conventional economic
calculations. Thus, in an example oIten cited by Greens, conventional economics dictates that a
standing tree has no value; it is only when it is cut down and becomes a resource` that it can be
regarded as valuable. In this way, conventional economics can Ily in the Iace oI what, Irom an
ecological perspective, is selI-evident.
The existing system, adopting conventional economic wisdom`, eIIectively acts to reduce or
destroy things oI value such as beauty, peace, wilderness, security, endangered species and
community, while at the same time creating undesirable outcomes such as pollution, overcrowding,
congestion, health problems, stress, ugliness and overconsumption. A number oI Green economists
are seeking to develop an alternative economics that does take account oI these environmental and
social Iactors, by developing ways in which they might be measured and incorporated in an economic
analysis that more truly reIlects ecological and social reality (e.g. Jacobs 1991).
The second main strand oI alternative Green economics seeks a more Iundamental change, beyond
merely redeIining the way economic equations are calculated. Hazel Henderson (1988, 1991), Paul
Ekins (1986, 1992) and ManIred Max-NeeI (1991; see also Ekins & Max-NeeI 1992) were
particularly signiIicant writers in establishing this perspective. They argued Ior a Iundamental
paradigm change in the way economic and social phenomena are described. Their vision oI
economics is embedded in a broader vision oI a change oI human values, incorporating many oI the
other perspectives described in this chapter.
Another important alternative economic perspective, which, like Henderson, Ekins and Max-NeeI,
goes Iurther than the redeIinition oI economic equations, is proposed by those who seek a more
decentralised and community-based economic system. For them, the main problem with conventional
economic activity is that it is out oI the reach oI ordinary people, who are disempowered and
impoverished by transnational capitalism. This transIers proIits Irom poor areas (whether countries in
the South or economically disadvantaged` communities in the North) to richer areas, thereby
increasing economic inequality and inequity. It also contributes to ecological destruction by
promoting economic activity that is not closely related to the lives and experiences oI ordinary
people, and which takes no account oI environmental sensitivities. This analysis leads to the
advocacy oI localised alternatives: local employment generation, community banks and credit
schemes, micro-Iinance, barter systems, local currency systems (oIten known as LETS) and so on
(Shuman 2012, Hallsmith & Lietaer 2011, Cortese 2011, Greco 2009). This, oI course, has particular
relevance Ior community development, and will be taken up Iurther in chapter 10.
Throughout this literature on Green economics the perspective oI E.F. Schumacher, who helped to
popularise the maxim Small is beautiIul`, has been particularly important. Schumacher sought to
articulate alternative, human-scale approaches to economics and technology, and was a pioneer in the
alternative economics movement (Schumacher 1973, Lutz 1992). His work is also relevant in the
critique oI technology, described above in the section on eco-Luddism.
Work, leisure and the work ethic
The nature and deIinition oI work is Iundamental in modern industrial society. The labour market is
the primary mechanism Ior allocating Iinancial resources to individuals and Iamilies, and hence Ior
giving people the capacity to participate in the economic and social liIe oI the community. It is also a
signiIicant means oI allocating status within society and, through the trade union movement and
various Iorms oI industrial welIare, a mechanism Ior determining social rights. Paid labour is seen as
the primary way Ior most oI society`s social and economic goals to be achieved, despite the Iact that
much socially necessary and useIul work is unpaid; this especially applies to work traditionally
undertaken by women. A clear distinction is made between work (whether paid or unpaid) and
leisure, although there is also a recognition that what is work Ior one person may be leisure Ior
another, and many human activities typically belong in both work and leisure categories (e.g.
community service, playing Iootball, gardening and making music).
It must be emphasised that the way in which work is understood is historically a recent
phenomenon, and is a product oI the development oI industrial capitalism (Weber 1930). Working
hard has not always been highly valued, and is not necessarily valued in non-Western cultural
traditions, but this value has been an essential part oI capitalist development. Similarly, the
distinctions between paid work, unpaid work and leisure have not always been so clear as they are
today; in Ieudal society, Ior example, these were understood quite diIIerently.
From a Green perspective, it can be argued that understandings oI work and leisure, the role oI
work, the division oI labour and the labour market are part oI the problem that has caused the
ecological crisis now Iacing the world. Certainly the world oI work and employment is undergoing
major changes, and is likely to continue to do so. Unemployment (and underemployment) is one oI the
major social problems oI modern societies, and conventional economics seems unable to deal with it
eIIectively without promoting levels oI economic growth that are ecologically unsustainable. The
neo-liberal trend towards casualisation oI the labour Iorce, and the continued demand Irom managers
Ior more Ilexibility`, have resulted in increasing insecurity Ior many. Some Green writers thereIore
have suggested that radical reIormulations oI work and leisure are Iundamental to a successIul Green
alternative. This critique is closely associated with those oI the eco-socialists and with the writers in
the area oI alternative economics.
The work oI Andre Gorz (1983) has been particularly signiIicant in this regard. Gorz suggested
that economic and technological progress need not result in increased consumption and
unemployment, but rather in shorter working hours and improved quality oI liIe Ior all. This requires
social rather than economic criteria to be paramount in the determination oI how jobs are to be
deIined and distributed. It is an indication oI the dominance oI the neo-liberal narrative that such an
obvious idea has not been taken seriously in the three decades since Gorz was writing. The
distinction between work and leisure would also be less marked in a Iuture Green society. This
would be achieved partly by making work more community-based, and partly by seeking other Iorms
oI meeting people`s basic income needs than through the labour market, Ior example through a
guaranteed minimum income scheme, thereby allowing people to derive status Irom unpaid as well as
paid activities.
Global development
Another strand oI analysis that has been signiIicant in the development oI the Green perspective has
been the work done on global development, by such writers as Robert Chambers (2005), Ted Trainer
(2010a , 2010b), Susan George (2004, 2010) and Vandana Shiva (2005). Many oI the worst
environmental problems occur in nations that are characterised as the South`, where there are high
levels oI pollution in urban areas, land degradation on a massive scale and high levels oI population
growth, and where wilderness areas such as rainIorests are being rapidly destroyed. Much oI this
environmental destruction is the result oI governments oI the South seeking to promote economic
development, through developing industry, more eIIicient` land use and the exploitation oI natural
It is important to emphasise that these governments are merely seeking to emulate the economic
success oI the more developed` nations, which Iollowed a similar route to economic prosperity
through the process oI industrialisation, and which were oIten able to proIit Irom the exploitation oI
their colonies, now the underdeveloped` nations oI the South. OIten they are merely Iollowing the
prescriptions oI the International Monetary Fund, which typically places neo-liberal requirements on
governments seeking Iinancial assistance. Thus, they are understandably resentIul oI criticism Irom
environmentalists in more aIIluent nations, arguing that they should not be denied the same
opportunities Ior economic development, and that it was the colonialist exploitation oI the countries
oI the North that has led them to be disadvantaged. The problem, oI course, is that it is becoming
clear that the world is unable to support the aIIluence oI the North Ior very much longer, and iI the
whole world were to develop to the same level as the industrialised North there would be rapid
escalation oI the ecological crisis. The economic development oI nations oI the South thereIore is
simply hastening the coming oI the ecological Armageddon.
This analysis creates a moral problem Ior environmentalists oI the North. Clearly governments oI
the South should be opposed in their ecologically disastrous policies oI dam-building, timber-Ielling,
land-clearing, nuclear power development, encouragement oI high-polluting industry and so on, Ior
the sake oI the planet. However, to do so means that, given the current economic and political system,
those nations will be denied access to the economic beneIits that societies oI the North (and their
environmentalists) enjoy. Such an argument cannot be justiIied on the grounds oI global equity, which
leaves Northern environmentalists open to the charge oI using the environment to perpetuate
colonialist domination.
The way out oI this dilemma is Ior Northern environmentalists to accept that the responsibility Ior
change, and Ior showing how to develop ecological sustainability, lies with their own societies
(Trainer 2010a , 2010b). This means that those in the industrialised world have to embark on a
program oI dramatically reducing consumption, as it is still the North that is responsible Ior the bulk
oI pollution, waste and overconsumption oI resources. Thus, the North, rather than the South, as the
beneIiciary oI the supposed beneIits oI industrialisation, has the responsibility Ior demonstrating that
quality oI liIe need not be equated with an economically deIined standard oI living`, and it is
unreasonable to expect nations oI the South to Iollow such a path without the North showing a lead.
To use Trainer`s words, The rich must live more simply, so that the poor may simply live` ( 1985:
64). The inability oI the North and the South to reach agreement on climate change is a clear example
oI the way such thinking has yet to be adopted by political leaders.
It can also be argued that the environmental problems oI the South should not be held to be the
responsibility oI governments in those regions, because they are the consequence oI the policies oI the
North. Global development`, according to the analysis oI such writers as George (2004, 2010),
Norgaard (1994), Hurrell & Woods (1999) and Shiva (2005), has not primarily served the needs oI
people in the countries being developed` but rather the needs oI transnational capital, and has
eIIectively supported the aIIluent liIestyles oI the North. This approach to development has been
dictated by authorities` Irom agencies based in the North, and has operated in Iavour oI the interests
they represent. It has been supported by the actions oI such bodies as the World Bank, the
International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization, as well as by military Iorce. Thus,
the North can be seen as being directly responsible Ior the environmental problems oI the South. This
is another powerIul argument why change in Northern societies is essential iI ecological
sustainability is to be achieved at a global level.
The vast diIIerences between the developed` North and the underdeveloped` South are a clear
indictment oI the inadequacy oI the global capitalist order to bring about global equity. From a Green
perspective, there are two signiIicant points to be made. The Iirst is that responsibility Ior change to
ecological sustainability in the South requires Iundamental changes in the North. The second is that
the holistic and systemic approach oI the Green position emphasises that we live in one Iinite world,
and that all people are interconnected in terms oI their current existence and ultimate Iate. Human
civilisation will survive only iI there is a radical change to ecological sustainability in both the North
and the South. Thus, the oneness oI all people transcends national and cultural boundaries, and the
social and environmental policies oI other nations are the legitimate concern oI all. Not only is it
legitimate Ior environmental activists in the North to pressure countries oI the South to adopt better
environmental practices but also it is just as legitimate (iI not more so) Ior people oI the South to
pressure Northern governments to mend their ways. (See chapters 8 and 9 Ior a Iuller discussion oI
global issues and colonialist development.)
The strand oI Green thought described as eco-philosophy seeks to establish a philosophical basis Ior
environmentalism. Central writers in this area have been Robyn Eckersley (1992), Joanna Macy
(2007) and Warwick Fox (1990). They have identiIied the essentially anthropocentric nature oI the
dominant Western` world view, which sees humans as in some way special and diIIerent Irom other
living beings (Huggan 2010). From this perception has developed the view that the human species can
and should dominate the world and subordinate the interests oI other species to the interests oI
humans. This essentially exploitative stance is also applied to the non-living world. ThereIore human
action is evaluated in terms oI its impact on other humans rather than on other species or the planet as
a whole, and humans are not seen as part oI the complex web oI interactions that is the natural
world`. Such a world view is deeply embedded in the Western intellectual tradition, and is
reinIorced by the Judaeo-Christian religious tradition (see Marshall 1992b).
The connection between such a world view and environmental destruction is obvious, and Fox,
Macy and Eckersley argue the need to develop an alternative philosophical Iramework as a
justiIication Ior action. Each develops an approach characterised by eco-centrism (as opposed to
anthropocentrism), in which humans are not treated as special when compared with other living
beings, but rather it is the entire ecosystem that is ascribed primary value. This leads to the allocation
oI intrinsic value to the natural world, instead oI simply judging it in terms oI its instrumental value to
the human species. This, it is argued, is necessary iI the changes required to bring about ecological
sustainability are to be achieved. It would, Ior example, provide a philosophical justiIication Ior the
alternative economic views discussed earlier.
This perspective has been given an added dimension by the contribution oI Indigenous writers and
teachers. Indigenous People around the world have maintained a holistic eco-philosophy,
emphasising the interconnectedness and interdependence between people and the natural world. Their
liIe is based on an ecocentric world view, whereby people`s relationships with the land, animals and
plants can be as important as relationsips between people themselves (Diamond 2013, Turner 2010,
Wallace 2009, Sveiby & Skuthorpe 2006, Mander & Tauli-Corpuz 2006). The Indigenous
contribution to ecocentric thinking, and to community development, will be discussed in more detail
in chapter 4.
Such an analysis is also used to justiIy the animal rights movement and vegetarianism, causes that
are espoused by many (although not all) in the Green movement, with varying degrees oI commitment.
To some, these are essential components oI being Green; to some they are important ideas but not
central; while to others they are largely irrelevant. Whether such views are an essential part oI a
Green position is an interesting area Ior debate, although somewhat outside the boundaries oI this
book, so it will not be pursued here. The issue will, however, re-emerge in the discussion oI ethical
issues in chapter 16.
The Iield oI deep ecology also needs to be mentioned at this point. At the risk oI gross
oversimpliIication, deep ecology can be described as an approach to ecology characterised by a
proIound integration oI social, economic, personal and spiritual values within an ecocentric
perspective. It emphasises personal development and growth as well as a broader analysis, also
personal oneness with, and hence identiIication with, the natural world. When argued by its leading
exponent, the Norwegian ecologist Arne Naess (1989, 2008), it is a serious, thoughtIul and
challenging perspective that has a lot to oIIer in terms oI understanding the consequences oI a
genuinely integrated and holistic position. It can be regarded as the logical outcome oI the ecocentric
analysis oI Fox, Macy and Eckersley.
UnIortunately, deep ecology has been adopted by various Iringe` and new age` writers, who use
the analysis in a more superIicial way to incorporate various Iads` in a Green position. It has also
led to the argument that says, To change the world you must begin with yourselI`, simplistically
seeing personal growth as the solution to all the world`s problems. While personal growth is
certainly important and an essential component oI community development (see chapter 11), the
danger oI such a perspective is that it readily accepts dominant discourses oI power, ignores the
important structural Iactors that both cause and perpetuate the dominant social, economic and political
order, and leads people to believe that simply by meditating, wearing crystals, reading Tarot cards or
undergoing body therapy they can change the world (Tacey 2000). This is not necessarily to deny the
value oI these activities in themselves many people Iind them important in helping to give meaning
and purpose to their lives but rather to emphasise that while personal growth may be desirable, and
indeed necessary, it is certainly not suIIicient Ior eIIective social change.
New paradigm thinking
The terms paradigm and new paradigm were overused in the 1980s and 1990s, and have somewhat
dropped out oI usage since, but the concept oI a new paradigm is important in understanding the
Green perspective. In this context, paradigm means the world view within which theory, practice,
knowledge, science, action and so on are conceptualised. The paradigm is the set oI assumptions,
ideas, understandings and values (usually unstated) that sets the rules oI what is to count as relevant
or irrelevant; what questions should and should not be asked; what knowledge is seen as legitimate;
and what practices are acceptable. Acceptance oI a paradigm is normally a matter oI unstated, and
oIten unconscious, consensus. For example, the dominant paradigm Ior scientiIic research and
practice accepts objectively measurable and veriIiable phenomena as proper objects Ior study, but
rejects phenomena that cannot be thus characterised; hence astronomy is a proper` science while
astrology is not, real` medicine includes drug therapy and surgery but not magic or Iaith healing, and
so on. It is the paradigm, in other words, that deIines what is proper` or legitimate knowledge and
activity. T.S. Kuhn, who argued the importance oI paradigms in The Structure of Scientific
Revolutions (1970), described how scientiIic activity takes place within a certain paradigm that, aIter
a time, proves to be inadequate as a Iramework Ior new knowledge. As a result there is a revolution`
resulting in the development oI a new paradigm, and a reorientation oI scientiIic thought within a new
world view. The transition Irom Newtonian physics to the physics oI relativity and quantum theory is
a clear example oI such a paradigm shiIt (or scientiIic revolution`, to use Kuhn`s terminology).
Although Kuhn applied the notion oI paradigm to scientiIic endeavour, the idea has been applied
much more broadly. Writers Irom a variety oI disciplines suggested that many oI the problems Iacing
the world can be understood as resulting Irom the inadequacy oI the dominant paradigm`, which is
variously deIined as Western, industrial, Cartesian, Newtonian, Enlightenment, mechanistic,
modernist and a number oI other ways (Saul 1992, Hind 2007, Nicholson 1999, Capra 1982,
Henderson 1991, Ornstein & Ehrlich 1989). They suggest that this particular paradigm, or world
view, while it has had undoubted beneIits Ior humanity, has now reached a point where it is
increasingly dysIunctional, and that we will be unable to solve the pressing problems oI the day
unless we develop an alternative. Although not all such writers would identiIy themselves as Green`,
new paradigm thinking has been central to the Green movement and incorporates many oI the views
described earlier in this chapter.
There are many strands oI new paradigm thinking, seeking to challenge the dominant world view
that has led the world to the brink oI ecological catastrophe. These will be picked up and discussed
Iurther in chapter 4, which considers post-Enlightenment ideas as a basis Ior community development.
An ecological perspective
In the midst oI this diversity, is it possible to identiIy a central core oI Green social and political
theory? The diversity itselI need not present a problem, as Irom a Green perspective there is value in
diversity, and a degree oI theoretical and ideological pluralism is an advantage; indeed iI one were to
accept a postmodern Green view, such diversity would be essential. But iI indeed the Green
perspective is to provide a conceptual basis Ior community development, it is important to identiIy
some core ideas that can be used as a basis Ior Iurther discussion, although these may be contested
and will be contextualised in diIIerent ways. It is also important Irom the point oI view oI the Green
movement itselI. Many oI the above strands oI thought reIlect Iamiliar strands in conventional social
and political discourse: socialism, Ieminism, anarchism, alternative economics and so on. II the
Green movement is to oIIer something new, it is essential to Iocus on what makes the Green` Iorms
oI these intellectual positions distinctive. What is the diIIerence between eco-socialism and
conventional socialism, between eco-Ieminism and Ieminism? What does the preIix eco- signiIy,
other than an attempt to appear relevant to the needs oI the day? The strands oI Green analysis
described above are not by and large mutually exclusive, and adoption oI one does not exclude the
adoption oI another. There is no logical reason why a Green position could not be developed that
incorporated some elements oI most, iI not all, oI the perspectives outlined in this chapter. Indeed,
many oI the perspectives reinIorce rather than contradict each other.
In developing a characteristically Green position, there is a signiIicant problem regarding the
deIinition oI what is central to a Green perspective and what is peripheral. Many positions are
claimed as part oI the Green world view, some oI which are quite extreme and which would be
rejected by many people in the Green movement. Such views can also retard the cause oI the Greens,
by inviting negative publicity and providing ready ammunition to the Greens` political opponents. The
question, then, is how to determine the core oI a Green position that will be internally consistent, will
incorporate the central views oI most people in the Green movement, will provide a coherent
Iramework Ior action and will exclude the baggage` such a movement inevitably attracts.
For the purpose oI the remaining chapters oI this book and the approach to community
development they describe, the core oI the Green position is understood in terms oI some basic
principles oI ecology, on the grounds that it is essentially an ecological perspective that turns
socialism into eco-socialism, Ieminism into eco-Ieminism and so on. Because it relies on ecological
principles, this perspective will be reIerred to as an ecological perspective rather than a Green
perspective, even though it is grounded in the above discussion oI Green political theory.
This ecological perspective uses as uniIying themes Iive basic principles oI ecology; namely
holism, sustainability, diversity, equilibrium and interdependence (see table 2.2). These are
Iundamental to any ecological approach, and apply both to the natural world (in traditional ecological
environmental studies) and to the social, economic and political order, which is the concern oI this
book. From these Iive principles, many oI the analyses and prescriptions oI the strands oI Green
writing described above emerge as natural consequences. This perspective contains a degree oI
internal consistency and represents a position that would probably be accepted by most Greens as
legitimate, and as at the core oI Green philosophy, although there would be diIIerences oI emphasis. It
also incorporates most oI the thinking outlined earlier in discussion oI the diIIerent streams oI Green
Table 2.2 An ecological perspective
1 Holism Ecocentric philosophy
Respect Ior liIe and nature
Rejection oI linear solutions
Organic change
Relational reality
2 Sustainability Conservation Reduced consumption No-growth economics
Constraints on technological development Anti-capitalism
3 Diversity Valuing diIIerence No single answer Decentralisation Networking
and lateral communication Lower-level technology
4 Equilibrium Global/local Yin/yang Gender Rights/responsibilities Peace and
Critique oI the ideology oI independence` Importance oI
relationships Analyse relationships, not component parts
This perspective does not incorporate some elements that a number oI Greens take Ior granted,
speciIically those dealing with social justice issues such as inequalities oI gender, class and race.
These are dealt with in diIIerent ways by socialism, Ieminism and other approaches discussed above,
but are not necessarily a part oI the ecological Iramework, which is suggested here as a way to
integrate the overall Green perspective. These need to be justiIied on diIIerent grounds, which will
be the task oI chapter 3.
Ecological principle 1: holism
The principle oI holism requires that every event or phenomenon must be seen as part oI a whole, and
that it can properly be understood only with reIerence to every other part oI the larger system. This is
opposed to linear thinking, which is a characteristic oI the dominant paradigm` oI Western thought.
Thus, problems do not characteristically have simple` or linear solutions but must always be
understood as maniIestations oI a wider system, as exempliIied by the distinction between
ecological` and Green` approaches outlined at the beginning oI the chapter. The interdependence oI
phenomena is thereIore critical (see below) and Irom this perspective is derived the classic
ecological dictum You can never do only one thing`: whatever one does will have ramiIications
throughout the system, oIten unanticipated. ThereIore everything must ideally be understood in terms
oI its relationship and interaction with everything else. There is no beginning and no end to processes,
and there are no clear boundaries; instead phenomena (both physical and social) must be seen as part
oI a seamless web oI complex interconnecting relationships. Rather than diIIerentiation and
classiIication, which have been characteristic oI Western Iorms oI analysis, integration and synthesis
become Iundamental.
From this principle, a number oI Iurther principles can be derived. The interconnectedness oI the
holistic world view leads naturally to ecocentric rather than anthropocentric perspectives, as argued
by such writers as Fox (1990), Eckersley (1992), Macy 2007) and Naess (1989, 2008). Respect Ior
all liIe, the intrinsic value oI the natural world and, hence, a strong conservationist ethic Iollow
naturally. Holism values generalist rather than specialist approaches to problems and their solution. It
also values organic change; attempts to bring about radical change to only one part oI a system while
ignoring the remainder are almost certain to Iail, and will bring about negative consequences
elsewhere (a lesson evidently yet to be learned by many conventional economic and social policy-
makers and critics). Change should proceed cautiously, in small steps but on a broad Iront, iI it is to
have any chance oI success. This perspective sounds a note oI caution about too strong an attachment
to any oI the streams oI Green thought that see the ecological crisis in simplistic terms, and ascribe
responsibility to a single evil`, whether it be capitalism, patriarchy, technology, growth or the work
ethic. A successIul Green strategy would accept the legitimacy oI most or all these analyses and seek
strategies that recognised complexity and interdependence.
The holistic perspective also requires integrative links to be made between phenomena that have
characteristically been regarded as distinct, such as knowledge and action, theory and practice, Iact
and value. Such dualisms are a part oI the dominant positivist paradigm oI the Western intellectual
tradition (Fay 1975) and discourage the integrative approach required by the holistic perspective
(Plumwood 1993). This is particularly important in thinking about community development work, and
will be taken up again in subsequent chapters.
A holistic perspective also emphasises the importance oI relationship. By emphasising that
everything is related to everything else, relationship becomes a central concern. There is an important
school oI thought that understands reality as relational (Gergen 2000, Spretnak 2011), which will be
discussed Iurther in chapter 4. This is a more proIound understanding oI holism and holistic thinking,
but it is central to the ecological approach to community development described in later chapters.
Ecological principle 2: sustainability
The principle oI sustainability means that systems must be able to be maintained in the long term, that
resources should be used only at the rate at which they can be replenished, that renewable energy
sources should be utilised, that output to the environment should be limited to the level at which it can
adequately be absorbed, and that consumption should be minimised rather than maximised. Inevitably
this would require a no-growth` approach to economics and social organisation, as well as the
obvious environmental controls and conservation strategies (Mulder, Ferrer & van Lente 2011). It
would require a radical reIormulation oI economic policy and social organisation, as it would
involve a system where becoming bigger was discouraged rather than valued.
The concept oI sustainability was emphasised by Our Common Future, the report oI the World
Commission on Environment and Development (1987), also reIerred to as the Brundtland Report,
which is seen as a landmark document in changing environmental awareness. UnIortunately this report
stopped short oI explicitly developing the concept oI sustainability in the above terms, and sought to
deIine it within more traditional economic parameters, allowing conventional perceptions oI the
desirability oI growth to go unchallenged (Ior a Iuller critique oI the Brundtland Report, see Ekins
1992: 304). Sustainability was deIined in the report within the concept oI sustainable development,
and as the notion oI development is so closely linked in the public consciousness to the idea oI
growth (the two are oIten equated, at least implicitly), this has eIIectively diluted the meaning oI
sustainability, and allowed it to be used in such a way as not to challenge the centrality oI growth.
Like the word communitv, sustainable is a word that has been so abused that it is in danger oI losing
its substantive meaning, to the point where the blatantly selI-contradictory term sustainable growth
can be unapologetically used by politicians, business leaders and commentators.
II understood within its proper ecological context the concept oI sustainability is very powerIul,
and requires a radical transIormation oI the existing, blatantly unsustainable order. Not only are
unbridled growth and unnecessary consumption unacceptable but also the concept oI sustainability
clearly attacks the Iundamentals oI traditional capitalist economics, which is predicated on growth
and capital accumulation. The same is true oI conventional socialist economics, which has tended to
accept the desirability oI continuing growth. It can, however, be argued that there are varieties oI
each Iorm oI economics that are not incompatible with sustainability, and these tend to be the smaller-
scale, decentralised versions. In the case oI capitalism, this takes the Iorm oI the localised market
economy; in the case oI socialism, it takes the Iorm oI decentralised democratic socialism.
Thus, the ecological principle oI sustainability is readily compatible with some oI the arguments
oI the eco-socialists and the eco-anarchists. It even has a clear link with the views oI the eco-
Luddites, as it can be suggested that unbridled technological development is also unsustainable. Such
arguments would not necessarily invalidate technological development per se, but would require that
such development occur Ior socially and environmentally determined reasons and be constrained by
the need to develop sustainable rather than unsustainable technologies. This is in contrast to the
perspective oI technology within the dominant paradigm, which perceives technological development
itselI as worthwhile and which allows the technology to determine social and economic interaction
(Postman 1993).
Ecological principle 3: diversity
The principle oI diversity is another Iundamental aspect oI the ecological perspective. In nature,
diverse organisms and systems evolve to meet the needs oI particular circumstances, and it is through
diversity that natural systems are able to develop, adapt and grow. With diversity, a setback to one
system or organism does not necessarily mean disaster Ior the whole. For example, a diversity oI
species oI wheat means that a disease may strike one or two but is unlikely to aIIect all. A diversity
oI cultures means that some at least will prove to be adaptable to new circumstances. UniIormity is a
recipe Ior ecological disaster. II there are eIIectively only two or three species oI wheat in the world,
a new disease will potentially wipe out all crops. And uniIormity oI culture may turn out to be
uniIormity oI a maladaptive or destructive culture, resulting in the breakdown oI human civilisation;
indeed it could be argued that this is the current experience oI cultural globalisation (see chapters 9
and 11).
The principle oI diversity has not emerged only Irom a Green, or ecological, perspective.
Postmodernist writers have argued that single modernist Irameworks, or meta-narratives, are no
longer credible or viable in an era oI postmodernity, and that the death oI the meta-narrative`
(Lyotard 1984) allows Ior, and even requires, the emergence oI alternative narratives and discourses.
Postmodernism both promotes and celebrates diversity. Similarly, Ieminism and the movement Ior
gay and lesbian rights have emphasised the importance oI diversity, and have seen diversity as
something to be celebrated rather than as something to be stamped out through rational planning and
imposed conIormity.
The principle oI diversity maintains that there is not necessarily just one answer, or one right way
oI doing things, and so encourages a range oI responses. It is in sharp contrast to, and much more
modest than, the characteristic modernist tendency in Western societies to seek the right answer, then
impose it on the whole system even the whole world whether that answer is the best` strain oI
wheat to replace all others, the best` Iorm oI economics, the best` new technology, the English
language or a uniIorm culture. The assumption that there must be one best answer is deeply ingrained
perhaps most clearly exempliIied in the idea oI best practice` yet it is this assumption that is
questioned by the principle oI diversity.
Diversity proceeds in a much more modest way, not arrogantly deIining the best` answer and
imposing it, but encouraging a variety oI ways oI doing things, so that people can learn Irom the
experience oI others and so that change can proceed cautiously on the basis oI a variety oI
accumulated wisdom. There is no such thing as best practice`, and diIIerence, rather than uniIormity,
is valued. This essentially pluralist approach may be criticised as conservative in that it mistrusts
radical` change, and indeed a Green position inherits a good deal Irom a classical conservative
ideology (as opposed to the radical right). Conservatives oI this type value what has evolved through
natural processes, and warn that attempts to improve` on it are only likely to make things worse. This
is also typical oI a conservationist position (it should be noted that the words conservative and
conservation have the same root), and many Green causes can be justiIied by what is essentially
conservative rhetoric: the preservation oI wilderness, Indigenous land rights, the preservation oI
species, natural beauty, heritage buildings and so on (Goodin 1992).
The principle oI diversity rather than uniIormity is consistent with a major tenet oI Green political
thought, namely decentralisation. II diversity is valued, then people should be allowed, and
encouraged, to Iind their own local solutions and ways oI doing things. Centralised structures tend to
create uniIormity through bureaucratic control and regulation, and a diverse system is much more
easily achieved with maximum decentralisation oI decision-making, control over resources,
economic activity and so on. Many Green writers (e.g. Trainer 2010a, McIntyre 2011, De Young &
Princen 2012) have made decentralised systems a major component oI their vision Ior a Green Iuture.
Contrary to Goodin`s suggestion that this is not a necessary consequence oI a Green position, iI the
ecological principle oI diversity is included as a major Iocus, decentralisation in some Iorm becomes
inevitably part oI a Green political agenda.
In a decentralised system, which values diversity, there need not be isolation oI one decentralised
community Irom another. Indeed, Irom a Green perspective, it is through horizontal communication
that experience can be shared and lessons can be learned, Iar more eIIectively than Irom central
bureaucratic Iorms oI communication. Thus, change emerges Irom below, Irom the day-to-day
experiences oI ordinary people participating in decentralised structures, and change is organic rather
than centrally planned. Such a view sits comIortably with the eco-anarchist position discussed
The question oI decentralisation is, however, problematic Ior the Greens. Unless one takes an
extreme anarchist position, there is a clear need Ior some Iorm oI centralised coordination, and
perhaps even control, resulting Irom the interconnectedness that is emphasised by the holistic
perspective. Diversity may be valued, but this does not necessarily mean that local bodies can go oII
and do their own thing`, which may aIIect others negatively. An interconnected world requires some
Iorm oI coordination. This issue will be taken up in later chapters, but it also relates directly to the
next ecological principle, that oI equilibrium.
Ecological principle 4: equilibrium
Equilibrium emphasises not only the importance oI the relationship between systems but also the need
to maintain a balance between them. In the natural world, this occurs through dynamic equilibrium,
where changes are naturally monitored and alterations made so that balance is maintained. Potentially
conIlicting systems have their interactions controlled in such a way that they are able to coexist, and
even become dependent on each other. This applies to animal populations, vegetation, climate,
atmosphere and so on. It is essential iI systems are to survive in the long term and hence be
sustainable (Suzuki, McConnell & Mason 2007).
An ecological perspective thereIore values balance, harmony and equilibrium. Under a Green
scenario, more attention would be paid to ensuring that diIIerent aspects oI the social, economic and
political system maintained such a balance. This naturally leads to a concern Ior peace and the non-
violent solution oI potential conIlict, which will be taken up in chapter 7. Mediation, conIlict
resolution and the building oI consensus thereIore have an important place in Green thinking. The
development oI cooperative rather than competitive structures is valued, and the assumption that
competition is inherent and intrinsically valuable is seriously questioned (Sullivan, Snyder &
Sullivan 2008, Argyle 1991, Craig 1993).
Another issue that is addressed by the ecological concern Ior equilibrium is the capacity to
incorporate apparently opposing positions, and to accommodate dialectical relationships (Plumwood
1993). Thus, dualisms such as male and Iemale, yin and yang, competition and cooperation, global
and local, theory and practice, mind and body, personal and political, Iact and value or subjective
and objective are not seen in all-or-nothing` terms but rather are integrated within a perspective oI
dynamic tension. It is the balance between them that is important, and which must be maintained. For
a system to lose equilibrium is to risk ecological Iailure. ThereIore one oI the problems oI the present
order is seen as the way in which balance has not been maintained, Ior example in terms oI gender,
where the domination and exploitation oI women by men has led to imbalance, oppression and the
devaluing oI women and their consciousness. Similarly, the issue oI balance between conIlicting
cultures has not been adequately addressed, Ior example the relationship between Indigenous and
non-Indigenous populations, which has been one oI colonial domination and oppression rather than
one oI balance and mutual respect.
Thus, the ecological principle oI equilibrium incorporates a number oI the concerns oI the Green
writers discussed earlier, and relates to issues oI gender, culture, peace, conIlict and so on.
Ecological principle 5: interdependence
Dominant social, economic and political narratives value independence. II someone is seen to be
dependent` that is a deIicit, and there are policies and programs to encourage that person to become
more independent`. While the idea oI independence makes some sense Irom a neo-liberal capitalist
perspective, Irom an ecological perspective it is nonsense. An ecological perspective maintains that
there is no such thing as independence; we are all dependent on each other, on our Iamilies, on our
Iriends, on institutions, on the economy, on our employer, on the shops where we buy Iood, on the
Iarmers who produce that Iood, on cars or public transport, and so on. The human being simply does
not live in splendid isolation, but in reality is always dependent on others. Even those Irom powerIul
elites, who are oIten the strongest advocates Ior independence`, are themselves highly dependent on
the stock market, on their secretaries or personal assistants, on their wives/husbands (usually wives),
on their computers, on their personal contacts, on their credit cards, on their accountants, on their
lawyers, and on their bank managers. Dependency is the norm, and the idea oI independence` makes
no sense. This applies also at the international level; to pretend that nations are independent` Ilies in
the Iace oI reality, as nations are dependent on each other (e.g. Ior trade and Ior the Ilow oI
inIormation). History clearly indicates that a nation that seeks to be truly independent, to isolate itselI
Irom all Iorms oI interdependency with the rest oI the world, simply stagnates and does not survive.
Yet we perpetuate the myth oI nations being independent`, which is not a healthy stance Irom which
to address global issues.
The Iallacy oI independence, oI course, applies not just to human beings or to nations, but is also
an important ecological principle throughout the natural world. The ecosystem can only exist because
oI a rich web oI interdependence, whereby species and even non-living things depend on each other.
Dependency thereIore is both normal and desirable, and Iar Irom being condemned should be
celebrated and encouraged. Building strong bonds oI interdependence is important Ior all
communities because, aIter all, a community is in essence a network oI interdependence. The
celebration oI interdependence, so essential in human community, can also be a way oI subverting the
dominant discourse oI independence` and asserting an alternative, more ecological, reality.
The ecological principle oI interdependence emphasises the importance oI relationship, and
suggests that relationships oI mutual dependence are in themselves worthwhile. The emphasis on
relationship was mentioned above, in relation to holism, and it will be discussed Iurther in chapter 4
as part oI the notion oI relational reality. For present purposes, the important point to note is that the
ecological principle oI interdependence directly implies a concern Ior relationship. From this
perspective, we analyse any situation not Irom the perspective oI understanding its parts (as with the
Enlightenment passion Ior classiIication), but rather oI the web oI relationships between them.
An ecological perspective: is it enough?
The ecological perspective outlined above based on the Iive principles oI holism, sustainability,
diversity, equilibrium and interdependence (and see table 2.2) incorporates most oI the concerns oI
the diIIerent strands oI Green writing discussed earlier in the chapter. In addition, the emphasis on
holism requires that there be some integration oI the diIIerent emphases oI Green writing; and, while
there will inevitably be disagreement (which itselI is valued, according to the principle oI diversity),
an ecological approach represented by these Iive principles represents a reasonable, consensus
position that would be accepted by the majority oI writers or activists identiIying themselves as
Greens. It will thereIore serve as the ecological perspective Ior the model oI community
development, which is the Iocus oI this book.
Given the multiple crises Iacing the world in the twenty-Iirst century, such a perspective is
necessary in any model oI community development (or oI anything else, Ior that matter). But while it
is necessary, it is not thereby suIIicient. The ecological position does not speciIically tackle a number
oI issues that are Iundamental to community development, including equity, human rights, structural
oppression or disadvantage and discourses oI power (Adger et al. 2006, Smith 2006). While these
concerns are not incompatible with a Green position, and are to some extent implied Ior example in
the commitment to balance, peace and harmony this is a weaker implication than would be accepted
by people working with disadvantaged groups who are concerned to bring about a Iairer society. An
ecological position may imply some degree oI social equity, but this is not necessarily so. Indeed, a
society based on authoritarian control and social or economic inequality could well be regarded as
ecologically acceptable and as meeting the criteria oI a Green political agenda. An eco-Iascist system
is in theory quite possible, and might be easier to implement than the alternatives. The resort to
authoritarian and divisive solutions to ecological problems is an easy policy option in societies with
traditions oI power, hierarchy and control, and an ecological perspective could well be used to
justiIy such measures.
For these reasons, a social justice perspective is also required, which deals with issues oI social
equity, oppression, human rights and so on. This will be the subject oI chapter 3, aIter which the
contribution oI post-Enlightenment thinking will be considered in chapter 4. The three perspectives
ecological, social justice and post-Enlightenment will then be integrated in chapter 5 as the
Ioundation Ior a community development perspective.
3 Foundations of community development: A social justice
Chapter 2 outlined an ecological perspective, based on a Green analysis, as one oI the principal
Ioundations Ior a model oI community development. In this chapter a social justice perspective is
developed, which will serve as the second principal Ioundation Ior community development. No
attempt will be made to link the two perspectives; that ambitious but necessary task will be leIt until
chapter 5.
It should be noted at the outset that in this chapter the discussion oI social justice takes place in the
context oI societies that can be categorised as Western (or Northern), industrial (or postindustrial)
and advanced capitalist, such as the countries oI North America, Europe and Australasia. This is not
to deny that there are other Iorms oI society, or that the interrelationship oI societies at the global
level is critical to a broad understanding oI social justice. Global social justice issues, and their
implications Ior social justice programs in the developed world`, are considered Iurther in chapter
The term social fustice is perhaps as oIten used as the term Green, and results in a similar
conIusion oI meanings. The social justice perspective developed in this chapter, like the ecological
perspective oI chapter 2, would not be universally accepted by those who use the term. There are,
inevitably, diIIerent and conIlicting social justice perspectives. As in chapter 2, it is hoped that the
perspective derived here will nevertheless represent a position consistent with that oI most
community development workers, and will thereIore provide a good basis Ior community
development practice.
Approaches to disadvantage: the limitations of social policy
The conventional place to start a discussion oI social justice is with the theory oI justice developed
by John Rawls (1972). In this highly inIluential work, Rawls sought to determine the principles oI
justice that reasonable people, with no prior knowledge oI their personal stake in the outcome, would
seek to apply to a society in which they were to live. His argument is complex, but he concludes with
three principles oI justice he believes would satisIy his criteria. These are: equality in basic liberties,
equality oI opportunity Ior advancement, and positive discrimination Ior the underprivileged in order
to ensure equity.
It is hard to take issue with these principles; there would surely be broad consensus that they are
highly desirable and important in any society concerned with justice, Iairness or equity. The question
is not whether these principles are necessary, but whether they are suIIicient. A broader sociological
treatment oI social problems and social issues suggests that a wider ranging perspective than that oI
Rawls is required iI we are to arrive at a position that will provide an adequate Iramework Ior
understanding and acting on the social issues conIronting community workers.
The signiIicant point to note about Rawls` principles is that they would normally be understood as
applying to individuals. But analysis Irom an individual perspective is only one way oI understanding
social issues and social injustice. In political terms the individual perspective is essentially liberal in
its orientation, and although this orientation has been central to mainstream Western political
philosophy since Hobbes and Locke, it is a perspective that gives a limited and one-dimensional
view oI social phenomena and, iI understood in isolation, can be criticised as being innately
conservative. To move beyond the individual approach, we will consider Iour diIIerent ways oI
looking at social issues, building on the earlier work oI Taylor-Gooby and Dale (1981). These Iour
are the individual, institutional reIormist, structural and poststructural accounts (see table 3.1).
Table 3.1 Accounts of social issues
The individual perspective
The individual perspective on social issues locates a social problem primarily within the individual,
and thereIore seeks individually based solutions. For example, poverty, crime, suicide, depression
and unemployment are seen as the result oI some deIect or pathology (whether psychological,
biological or moral) in the individual(s) aIIected. Solutions are sought on the basis oI individual
treatment or therapy, such as counselling, moral exhortation, punishment, medical treatment or
behaviour modiIication. Although it may well be true that in many cases individual Iactors are
signiIicant, a purely individual account can be criticised in that it Iails to take account oI external
Iactors over which the individual has little or no control. It leads readily to the phenomenon known as
blaming the victim`, whereby the people who suIIer the consequences oI an unjust society are
themselves blamed Ior their own inadequacies. Such an approach is inherently conservative in that it
does not take account oI such important causal Iactors as income distribution, racism, patriarchy and
market-induced inequality, leaving such exploitative structures and discourses essentially
unchallenged and Iocusing all attention on the individual.
The institutional reformist perspective
The institutional reIormist position locates the problem within the institutional structures oI the
society. Thus, the inadequacies oI the justice system (courts, police, prisons etc) are seen as
contributing to the problem oI crime and delinquency, poverty is seen as the result oI an inadequate or
ineIIective social security system, and so on. Proposed solutions to social problems thereIore
concentrate on reIorming, strengthening and improving the institutions developed to deal with them,
such as hospitals, schools, courts, clinics, welIare departments, charities and employment services.
Instead oI blaming the victim`, this approach might be termed blaming the rescuer`. Again, there is
an element oI conservatism, as this approach concentrates on the amelioration oI social problems
rather than on seeking to address their underlying causes.
The structural perspective
Structural accounts oI social issues see the problem as lying in oppressive and inequitable social
structures. This approach might be termed blaming the system`, as it concentrates on such issues as
patriarchy, capitalism, institutional racism and income distribution, and identiIies oppression or
structural disadvantage as the major issue to be addressed. Its prescriptions Ior change require major
restructuring oI the society, in that it sees social problems as embedded in the oppressive structures
oI that society, whether seen in terms oI class, race or gender. It is clearly a more radical approach to
the analysis oI social problems, which accounts Ior its relative lack oI popularity among mainstream
governments and media commentators.
The poststructural perspective
The last category is poststructural accounts. At the risk oI grossly oversimpliIying highly complex
literature, this perspective, Iollowing the work oI such writers as Foucault (1972, 1973, 1979, 1980)
and some postmodernists, can be characterised as being concerned with the discourse` associated
with the particular problem. It sees the cause as lying in the use oI language, the conveyance oI
meaning, the Iormation and accumulation oI knowledge, and the ways in which this is used to control
and dominate through deIinition oI conIormity, acceptable behaviour and so on. It is through language
that we construct discourses oI power, and it is in the construction oI such discursive power` that
oppression and disadvantage are perpetuated. This view rejects Iixed and objective` realities as
understood by many oI the advocates oI structural accounts, although is not necessarily inconsistent
with some structural or quasi-structural positions, especially Ieminism (Clegg 1989). II blame` is to
be applied, this perspective might be called blaming the discourse`. This leads to a practice
involving deconstructing discourses oI power and oppression and, through subsequent reconstruction,
seeking understandings oI shared knowledge and meanings, allowing people to help shape such
alternative discourses. This approach seeks to uncover what are seen as constantly changing points oI
weakness within the dominant order that can be exploited Ior particular political ends. By validating
alternative discourses, poststructuralism encourages a diversity oI constructions oI the problem` and
oI solutions`; there is no one right` answer.
It is important to recognise that there can be some value in all Iour oI these approaches. Each
identiIies particular aspects oI social issues and social change, and it is not realistic or appropriate to
concentrate on one to the exclusion oI some or all oI the others. Conventional social policy strategies,
however, tend to Iocus on the Iirst two, as they are relatively easy to change within the existing order
and do not necessarily challenge signiIicant interests or existing discourses oI power and domination.
For this reason the critical literature, seeking more radical alternatives, has tended to concentrate on
the third and Iourth, seeing the inability oI social policy to take account oI a structural and/or
poststructural analysis as being a primary reason Ior its Iailure to address social issues and social
problems adequately.
Community development, as traditionally practised, has been largely concerned with the second
and third oI these perspectives on social problems; namely the institutional reIormist and structural
perspectives. Most community work has Iocused either on ways to develop better programs, services
and Iacilities Ior people at a community level, or on attempting to bring about structural change
towards a more just society. The individual perspective is more typically the province oI the
individual service worker; namely the counsellor, therapist, caseworker or psychologist. The
poststructural perspective, however, has aIIected the thinking oI community development workers
since the 1990s. The idea oI discourses oI power, oI deconstructing and reconstructing discourses,
and oI the legitimation oI diversity, is seen as potentially empowering and as contributing to the
bottom-up` perspective oI community development; this will be considered in more detail in chapter
One criticism oI the poststructural perspective is that while it provides an interesting analysis oI
power and disadvantage, it has had relatively little to say about what one should actually do about it,
and so has little relevance Ior a community development worker. However, this is a limited
understanding oI the potential oI a poststructural approach. The importance oI poststructualism is that
it allows space and legitimacy Ior alternative voices to be heard and validated, and Ior alternative
discourses to emerge as part oI a development process; and in these terms, although it may not
provide the neat prescriptions oI a structural account (e.g. smash capitalism, dismantle patriarchy), it
does provide a perspective on community work that can be very powerIul and can strengthen the
process oI community empowerment. This will be explored Iurther in chapter 4.
The social justice perspective oI this book, while acknowledging the useIulness oI the individual
and institutional approaches, is primarily located within the structural and poststructural
perspectives. While changes to the individual and to organisations are important, unless changes are
made to the basic structures and discourses oI power and oppression, which create and perpetuate an
unequal and inequitable society, any social justice strategy will have only limited value. Hence, all
programs that claim a social justice label need to be evaluated in terms oI their relationship with the
dominant Iorms oI structural oppression, particularly class, gender and race/ethnicity (but also
including age, disability and sexuality), and in terms oI their role in either perpetuating or challenging
dominant discourses oI power. A society based on social justice principles could adequately be
justiIied only iI these Iorms oI oppression were addressed.
The approach to community work that inIorms this book thereIore seeks to incorporate both the
structural and the poststructural perspectives. It is not necessary to see these two as inevitably in
opposition: the preIix post-` does not necessarily imply anti-`. Rather, it carries the sense oI
beyond`. Thus a poststructuralist perspective can still accept the useIulness oI a structural account oI
class, race and gender oppression, but asserts that one also needs to move beyond that to understand
how those oppressions are deIined and reinIorced through changing discourses oI power. This
position maintains that either the structural or the poststructural perspective is insuIIicient by itselI,
and that each needs to be enhanced and reinIorced by the other.
The question oI which dimension oI structural disadvantage class, gender or race/ethnicity is
stronger`, or more Iundamental`, can be cause Ior considerable disagreement, and will not be
pursued here. Such debate, indeed, can be counterproductive, in that it can divide rather than unite
potential allies in the struggle against oppression and in the promotion oI social justice. The important
point, Ior present purposes, is not whether any one oI class, gender and race/ethnicity transcends the
others, but that each is a Iundamental dimension oI structural disadvantage, and each must be
addressed in any social justice strategy.
Because oI the dominance oI class, gender and race/ethnicity as Iorms oI structural disadvantage,
any social or political program that does not speciIically question or challenge them is likely (albeit
unintentionally) to reinIorce these Iorms oI oppression by accepting the dominant order that supports
them. In the words oI a common saying among activists, II you`re not part oI the solution, you`re part
oI the problem`. Thus, a speciIic commitment to addressing the inequalities oI class, gender and
race/ethnicity must be a Iundamental component oI any social justice strategy, and any existing or
projected program should be evaluated in terms oI its implications in this respect.
This also applies to a poststructural analysis oI discourse; it is very easy unwittingly to acquiesce
to, and reinIorce, dominant discourses oI power and oppression. One needs to be able to deconstruct
dominant discourses, and challenge their taken-Ior-granted views oI reality` and the natural order oI
things`; again, iI you are not part oI the solution, you will be part oI the problem.
The notion oI empowerment is central to a social justice strategy, although empowerment is another
word that has been overused and is in danger oI losing any substantive meaning. It is central to
notions oI community work, and many community workers would choose to deIine their role in terms
oI an empowerment process. Simply put, empowerment aims to increase the power of the
disadvantaged. This statement contains two important concepts, power and disadvantage, each oI
which needs to be considered in any discussion oI empowerment as part oI a social justice
However one looks at empowerment, it is inevitably about power: giving power to individuals or
groups, allowing them to take power into their own hands, redistributing power Irom the haves` to
the have nots` and so on. It is thereIore oI concern that some writers on empowerment and many
practitioners who say they use an empowerment model do not give the concept oI power much
attention (see Rees 1991). Power is a complex and contested notion, and there are varying views oI
power that have been identiIied by social and political theorists (Mitchell 2002, Butcher 2007a,
Clegg 1989).
Political perspectives on power, which are concerned with trying to understand the nature oI
power in modern societies, can be divided into Iour categories, although each oI these itselI contains
a number oI diverging views, and space limitations do not allow a detailed analysis oI the varying
views oI the many writers who have addressed issues oI power (Ior a detailed account, see Clegg
1989). The Iour categories are pluralist accounts, elite accounts, structural accounts, and
poststructural accounts. Each involves a diIIerent perspective on the process oI empowerment.
The pluralist perspective
The pluralist perspective on power is associated with the work oI Dahl (1961), among others, and
has been inIluential in a good deal oI conventional political science that has sought to study power as
an objective` phenomenon. This perspective emphasises the various individuals and groups within
society that are competing Ior power and inIluence, and visualises the political system as a
competition between such groups (e.g. unions, pressure groups, employer bodies, non-government
organisations, proIessions, media, consumer groups) and between individuals (e.g. business leaders,
politicians, lobbyists, power brokers`, advocates, activists, community leaders). Power thereIore
arises Irom one`s capacity to engage in this competing system, to know the rules oI the game` and to
be able to exert pressure and inIluence. The pluralist view is related to a particular perception oI
democracy, where everyone can have their say, all people have equal opportunity to participate, and
no one is all-powerIul because power is distributed among a number oI diIIerent and competing
groups. It is a perspective that is inherently conservative, in that it accepts and legitimises the system
as it is, and simply encourages people to be better players` in the game`. Indeed the language oI
pluralism oIten relies on the metaphor oI sports and games: players, stakeholders, winners and losers,
the rules oI the game, neutral umpire, level playing Iield and so on. It is in other perspectives that
more emotive words like struggle, oppression, domination and powerless tend to be used.
From a pluralist perspective, empowerment is a process oI helping disadvantaged groups and
individuals to compete more eIIectively with other interests, by helping them to learn and use skills in
lobbying, using the media, engaging in political action, understanding how to work the system` and
so on. The work oI Saul Alinsky (1969, 1971) in empowering AIro-American communities in the
USA was premised on a pluralist assumption. Alinsky, one oI the most inIluential Iigures in
community work, did not set out to change the American political system, but simply aimed to teach
AIro-American communities how to work more eIIectively within that system, and to become more
skilled at competing with other groups Ior power through social action, political pressure, covert
threats, publicity and so on. Thus, although Alinsky`s methods and tactics may appear radical (largely
because oI their novelty), and he Ireely used the term radical in his writing, his political position is
basically conservative, in that Iundamentally it accepted the structures oI American society, and saw
the solution Ior black communities as simply to help them to be more politically sophisticated.
The elite perspective
Elite views oI power acknowledge that politics is not a game` in which all players` have equal
opportunities to win`. It identiIies particular groups that have more than their share` oI power, and
which exercise disproportionate inIluence over decision-making. The discussion oI such elites is
associated most strongly with the sociologist C. Wright Mills (1956). Elites are able to perpetuate
themselves through such mechanisms as private schooling, service clubs, inIormal networks and
contacts (the old boys` network`), political parties and proIessional associations; they also have
control oI or access to disproportionate shares oI the nation`s resources. It is these elites that exercise
power in a society, through their capacity to control key institutions (the media, education, Iinance,
political parties, public policy, the bureaucracy, parliaments, corporations, the proIessions). Thus,
society is seen as hierarchical, with certain groups exercising power and control.
From this perspective, empowerment requires not only learning the ability to compete Ior political
power by playing the game`; the rules oI the game, aIter all, have been determined by the power
elites so they are likely to be in their Iavour. As well as learning political skills, it is necessary to do
something about power elites. One way is to join them with the aim oI changing or inIluencing them
(e.g. the activist who joins a mainstream political party with a view to inIluencing its policy, or who
joins Rotary in order to have some involvement in and inIluence over local decisions). Another way
is to seek alliances with powerIul elites to pursue one`s own ends, Ior example by enlisting the help
oI the legal proIession in pursuing issues oI human rights or anti-discrimination legislation and
practices. A third way is to seek to reduce the power oI elites through more Iundamental change, Ior
example attempting to limit the power oI proIessional monopolies by legal challenge.
The structural perspective
The structural view oI power identiIies the importance oI structural inequality, or oppression, as a
major Iorm oI power. It draws on a range oI writing, most particularly Marxist and Ieminist analysis
(Mullaly 1993, Williams 1989). While acknowledging the importance oI the elites described above,
the structural perspective maintains that those elites also act as representatives oI dominant groups,
and reinIorce the structural inequality that results in the unequal distribution oI power. That these
elites are predominantly made up oI white, wealthy men is not coincidental; it indicates the
underlying importance oI class, race and gender, and it is these Iundamental issues that have to be
acknowledged in dealing with power in contemporary industrial (or postindustrial) society. From this
perspective, concentrating on the elites themselves, or on individuals or groups acting in competition
(the pluralist view), is to miss the point. By ignoring Iundamental structural inequalities one is
reinIorcing the structures that determine power relations oI dominance and oppression.
From this structural perspective, empowerment is a much more challenging agenda, as it can
eIIectively be achieved only iI these Iorms oI structural disadvantage are challenged and overcome.
Empowerment thereIore is necessarily part oI a wider program oI social change, with a view to
dismantling the dominant structures oI oppression. Political education and working with elites is not
suIIicient (although it clearly has its place), and is likely to be eIIective in bringing about a real
change in power relationships only iI it is part oI a broader agenda speciIically addressing such
structural issues as class, gender and race/ethnicity.
The poststructural perspective
The poststructural view oI power, like the poststructuralist view oI social problems, concentrates on
the way in which power is understood, the use oI language in deIining and reinIorcing relations oI
power and domination, the deIinition and accumulation oI knowledge and how it is constructed, and
the subjective experience oI power rather than its objective` existence. It rejects both the positivism
oI the pluralist theories and the mechanistic perspective oI more simplistic structuralist accounts. It
relies particularly on the work oI Foucault (1973, 1979; see also Rouse 1994), who traces the ways
in which ideas, language and the deIinition oI knowledge have been used as a major mechanism oI
From this perspective, empowerment becomes a process oI challenging and changing discourse. It
emphasises people`s subjective understandings and the construction oI their world views, and points
to the need Ior the deconstruction oI these understandings and the establishment oI an alternative
vocabulary Ior empowerment. This can be achieved by validating other voices than those currently
dominating the discourse, and by allowing those alternative voices to be heard. The poststructural
perspective thus emphasises understanding, analysis, deconstruction, education and participation in
the discourse(s) oI power, and sees a simple concentration on action alone as inadequate.
This survey oI diIIerent views oI power has been necessarily brieI, and has glossed over major
diIIerences within these categories. Other writers (e.g. Clegg 1989) have proposed other categories,
and it would be wrong to assume that table 3.2 represents the last word` on the subject oI power, or
that there would be wide agreement on its content. It does, however, indicate some oI the complexity
oI the concept oI power, and provides a useIul Iramework Ior thinking about power in the context oI
an empowerment model oI community work. From the point oI view oI a community worker seeking a
model oI empowerment, there is undoubtedly some value in each oI the Iour perspectives. To the
extent that pluralist and elite views are probably the dominant perspectives within the society, and
shape most oI the debate on power and political action, it would be counterproductive to ignore them
or assume they had no value. Indeed, many oI the strategies derived Irom these perspectives will be
oI considerable value to a community worker in day-to-day practice. However, the structural and
poststructural perspectives, based on a more thorough conceptual Ioundation and with the potential
Ior more radical and Iundamental change, hold particular promise Ior an empowerment approach that
can be eIIectively incorporated in an overall social justice strategy. This book assumes that the
dismantling oI the dominant structures oI oppression, and the reconstructing oI dominant discourses oI
power, must be at the centre oI any program oI progressive social change and community
development, and hence strong structural and poststructural perspectives are essential.
Table 3.2 Perspectives on power
II these are the diIIerent views oI how power operates in the society, there still remains the
question oI what sort oI power is involved in the term empowerment; that is, what kind oI power is it
that we wish to enhance? This is clearly a value question. Some kinds oI power, presumably, would
not be sought as part oI empowerment, such as the power to exploit others, the power to wage war or
the power to destroy the environment. For the purposes oI community development, we are concerned
with Iorms oI power that are emancipatory; that is, that are concerned with allowing people to
transIorm their lives, grow and Iree themselves Irom their experience oI disadvantage. We are not
concerned with Iorms oI power that involve power over others, the power to dominate or the power
to oppress.
We can think about power in diIIerent ways: power over, power to and power with. The idea oI
power over` suggests Iorms oI domination and hierarchy. Even in phrases like power over resource
decisions` or power over need deIinition`, the very use oI the word over suggests a Iorm oI agency
that is dominating, and it is only a short step to ideas oI power over other people or groups.
ReIraming ideas oI power as power to` places the emphasis on action and the opening up oI
possibilities. The third approach, power with`, emphasises the important community development
principle that we do not act alone but together in solidarity, and opens up the possibility oI collective,
rather than individual, power. Hence it is ideas oI power to` and power with` that are important in
any understanding oI empowerment in community development.
We will consider seven kinds oI power as being involved in community-based empowerment
strategies, although it must be acknowledged that these overlap and interact in oIten complex ways,
and other categories could easily be added. These are all discussed as Iorms oI power to`. Ideas oI
power with` will emerge in later chapters, in discussion oI community development processes.
1 Power to make personal choices and determine life chances
Many people have little power to determine the course oI their own lives to make decisions about
their liIestyle, where they will live or their occupation. Also included in this category are choices
about one`s own body, sexuality, health and so on. These choices are commonly aIIected by structural
Iactors. Thus one oI the major consequences oI poverty is that people have little choice or power to
make decisions about their own lives. Patriarchal structures and values oIten restrict the power oI
women in making personal choices, and racial oppression works to reduce this power Ior Indigenous
People and members oI ethnic minorities. Cultural norms and values, perpetuated by dominant
discourses within the culture, can also restrict people`s power to make personal choices, irrespective
oI class, race and gender. An empowerment strategy thereIore would seek to maximise people`s
eIIective choices, in order to increase their power to make decisions involving their personal Iutures.
2 Power to define need
One oI the characteristics oI modern society is the dictatorship over needs` (Feher, Heller & Markus
1983, Marcuse 1964), in that needs are oIten determined and deIined not by the person who is
supposedly experiencing them. In some instances, particularly in socialist regimes, the state has
assumed responsibility Ior deIining people`s needs (Feher, Heller & Markus 1983). In other cases, it
is proIessionals such as doctors, social workers, psychologists, teachers and managers who have
become the experts in the deIinition oI need (Illich et al. 1977, Wilding 1982). In either case, this can
be seen as disempowering, and an empowerment perspective would require that people be given the
power oI deIining their own needs. Because need deIinition also requires relevant knowledge and
expertise (see below), such an empowerment process requires education and access to inIormation.
3 Power to think
Whether one takes a poststructuralist view oI the importance oI language and discourse, or a Marxist
view oI hegemony and the control oI the dominant culture, ideas are undoubtedly powerIul and oI
critical importance in either maintaining or challenging the dominant order. An empowerment process
should incorporate the power to think autonomously and not have one`s world view dictated either by
Iorce or by being denied access to alternative Irames oI reIerence. It should also legitimise the
expression oI these ideas in a public Iorum, the capacity oI people to enter into dialogue with each
other and the ability oI people`s ideas to contribute to the public culture. This approach to power also
emphasises the educational (in its broadest sense) aspect oI empowerment.
4 Power to address institutions
A good deal oI disempowerment comes Irom the eIIect oI social institutions, such as the education
system, the health system, the Iamily, the Church or other religious institutions, the social welIare
system, corporations, government structures and the media. To counteract this, an empowerment
strategy would aim to increase people`s power to address these institutions and their eIIects, by
equipping people to use them, to inIluence them and, more Iundamentally, to change these institutions
to make them more accessible, responsive and accountable to all people, not just the powerIul. As
indicated in chapter 1, a community-based strategy is potentially very signiIicant in this respect.
5 Power to access and utilise resources
Many people have relatively little access to resources, and relatively little discretion as to how those
resources will be utilised. This applies both to Iinancial resources and to non-monetary resources
such as education, opportunities Ior personal growth, recreation and cultural experience. However, in
a society where economic criteria and rewards are so signiIicant, power oI access to economic
resources and transactions is particularly important. An empowerment strategy would seek to
maximise the eIIective power oI all people to access and use resources, and to redress the evident
inequality oI access to resources which characterises modern society.
6 Power to engage with the economy
The basic mechanisms oI production, distribution and exchange are vital in any society, and to have
power in a society one must be able to have some access to, and capacity to utilise, these
mechanisms. This power is unequally distributed in modern capitalist society, and this is a cause oI
signiIicant disempowerment. An empowerment process would thereIore seek to ensure that the power
oI economic activity was more evenly distributed.
7 Power to control reproduction
Marx emphasised that, alongside the mechanisms oI production, the mechanisms oI reproduction were
crucial Ior any society, and control over the process oI reproduction has been a signiIicant issue Ior
Ieminist critique. Included in the notion oI reproduction are not only the processes oI birth and child-
rearing but also education and socialisation: the mechanisms by which the social, economic and
political order is reproduced in succeeding generations. Power to control reproduction is unequally
distributed in contemporary society, and again gender, class and race diIIerences are critical.
Although this category closely relates to power oI personal choice and power oI ideas, as discussed
above, the reproductive process is suIIiciently important Ior it to warrant a category oI its own.
The disadvantaged
II, as has been suggested, empowerment is about increasing the power oI the disadvantaged, it is
necessary to look not only at what constitutes power but also at the nature oI disadvantage. Class,
gender and race/ethnicity are the most commonly discussed dimensions oI disadvantage. All three can
be seen as Iundamental, in that they are all-pervasive and identiIiable in most, iI not all, social issues,
social problems and inequities. These three Iorms oI oppression obviously interact and reinIorce
each other; thus, to be an Indigenous woman in poverty is to be trebly disadvantaged. In any other
Iorm oI disadvantage we might consider, women, Indigenous People, members oI minority ethnic or
racial groups, people in poverty, the working class and the unemployed are likely to be worse oII
than are men, people oI Anglo-Celtic background, those with access to wealth or members oI the
proIessional and managerial classes.
There are other groups, oI course, that are also disadvantaged. These include people with
disabilities (physical and/or intellectual), gays, lesbians, bisexual or transsexual people, and people
who are isolated or living in remote areas. There are also those disadvantaged by the vulnerabilities
and prejudices oI age, namely children and people in old age these are diIIerent Irom the other
categories, in that they can apply to all oI us, at diIIerent points in the liIecycle. Although these Iorms
oI disadvantage may not be as all-pervasive as class, gender and race/ethnicity, the disadvantage
suIIered by people in these groups is can be just as debilitating, painIul and disempowering. People
in these groups constitute some oI the most disadvantaged in society, and must clearly be considered
in any empowerment strategy to counter disadvantage.
Discussing the disadvantaged purely in terms oI groups can disguise the Iact that people can also
be disadvantaged as a result oI personal circumstances. GrieI, the loss oI a loved one, problems with
personal and Iamily relationships, identity crisis, perceived sexual inadequacy, loneliness, shyness
and a number oI other essentially personal problems can result in disadvantage and disempowerment,
sometimes only Ior a limited period but still important Ior the person concerned. Although these
problems can (and do) aIIect everybody (even the most advantaged` will suIIer grieI at the loss oI a
loved one), they still interact with other Iorms oI disadvantage such as class, gender and
race/ethnicity, which means that some people will have access to more resources to deal with their
problems than others.
Achieving empowerment
The above discussion has highlighted the complexity oI both power and disadvantage, each oI which
is central to an understanding oI empowerment. The notion oI empowerment thereIore is itselI
complex, as has been pointed out by such writers as Rees (1991) and Friedmann (1992). BeIore
leaving the concept oI empowerment, it is worth brieIly mentioning the various strategies that have
been proposed in order to achieve the empowerment oI disadvantaged groups. These can be broadly
classiIied under the headings policy and planning, social and political action, and education and
Empowerment through policy and planning is achieved by developing or changing structures and
institutions to bring about more equitable access to resources or services and opportunities to
participate in the liIe oI the community. Policies oI aIIirmative action or positive discrimination
acknowledge the existence oI disadvantaged groups (sometimes expressed speciIically in structural
terms), and seek to redress this disadvantage by changing the rules` to Iavour the disadvantaged.
Using economic policy to reduce unemployment might also be seen as empowerment, in that it
enhances people`s resources, access and opportunities. Providing people with adequate and secure
resources is an important empowerment strategy, and thus policies to ensure adequate income could
be said to be empowering. Similarly, the development oI mechanisms Ior consumer input, locating
services and Iacilities within easy access, establishing appropriate and accessible consumer appeal
mechanisms, and other planning decisions can Iacilitate the empowerment oI the disadvantaged. The
concern Ior notions oI access and equity in social policy can thus be justiIied on empowerment
Empowerment through social and political action emphasises the importance oI political struggle
and change in increasing eIIective power. How this is applied depends on one`s understanding oI
power in the political process (pluralist, elite, structural or poststructural). But it emphasises the
activist approach, and seeks to enable people to increase their power through some Iorm oI direct
action, or by equipping them to be more eIIective in the political arena.
Empowerment through education and consciousness-raising emphasises the importance oI an
educative process (broadly understood) in equipping people to increase their power. This
incorporates notions oI consciousness-raising: helping people to understand the society and the
structures oI oppression, giving people the vocabulary and the skills to work towards eIIective
change and so on.
These Iorms oI empowerment, summarised in table 3.3, will be elaborated in later chapters, as
they provide the basis Ior an empowerment approach to community work practice. At this stage it is
time to leave the notion oI empowerment and consider other aspects oI a social justice perspective
that are important in community development.
Table 3.3 Empowerment
Social justice principles are oIten expressed in terms oI need. The notion oI need is Iundamental in
social policy, social planning and community development. There are two ways in which need is seen
as basic to social justice and community development: Iirst, a belieI that people or communities
should have their needs met`; and second, that people or communities should be able to deIine their
own needs rather than have them deIined by others.
Problems with conventional views of need
The notion oI need is inherently complex. Traditional positivist conceptions oI need discuss needs as
iI they have objective reality; that is, as iI they exist and can be measured`. Thus, need assessment`
is seen as essentially a technical exercise in methodology measuring something that is already
there`. The emphasis on methodology, and hence on technical expertise, leads to a situation where
needs can be adequately assessed and deIined only by experts who are skilled in methodology.
ThereIore need deIinition is removed Irom the very people who are experiencing the need, and
placed in the hands oI proIessional need-deIiners, such as social workers, social researchers and
psychologists. From the point oI view oI critics such as Illich et al. (1977), this has resulted in the
rise oI proIessional power while consequently disabling` the bulk oI the population. Conventional
proIessional practice thereIore is seen as based on assumptions oI disempowerment, and serves only
to reinIorce the powerlessness oI the oppressed, by denying them the right to deIine and act on their
own needs.
Such writers as Heller (Feher, Heller & Markus 1983) have seen totalitarian regimes as
exercising a dictatorship over needs`, whereby the state has taken over the role oI deIining people`s
needs, telling them what they do and do not need and hence maintaining a powerIul Iorm oI control
and coercion. This is the anti-democratic Iorm oI state socialism, as experienced in the communist
regimes oI Eastern Europe Irom the 1950s to the 1980s, and is the equivalent at state level oI Illich`s
views oI proIessionalism.
Marcuse (1964) drew an important distinction between true` and Ialse` needs. The Iormer are
the needs people genuinely Ieel, which are required iI one is to reach one`s Iull human potential and
which people will articulate iI they are Iree to do so. False` needs are those we are persuaded we
have, as a result oI the dominant ideology, the media, advertising, the education system and so on.
Seen Irom these perspectives, and Irom the point oI view oI an empowerment agenda, need` is
neither objective nor value-Iree. Rather it must be understood Irom a perspective that takes account oI
values and ideology, and which allows Ior notions oI liberation rather than oppression. To do this, it
is necessary to move away Irom the more conventional positivist accounts oI needs as objects`,
which tend to treat need` as a single concept.
At this point, Bradshaw`s typology oI need must be mentioned, as this has become the
conventional wisdom` on the subject oI social need. Bradshaw (1972) divided need into Iour
categories: (1) normative need, which is need as deIined by some authority, in accordance with an
accepted standard (e.g. poverty lines); (2) Ielt need, which is need as experienced by the people
concerned (e.g. assessed through social surveys); (3) expressed need, which is need expressed by
people seeking some Iorm oI service (e.g. assessed through looking at waiting lists, demands Ior
services); and (4) comparative need, which is need inIerred Irom comparison oI service provision
with national or regional norms (e.g. comparison oI a region`s hospital beds per capita with the
national average).
An important aspect oI Bradshaw`s model is that one Iorm oI need does not necessarily imply
another with the exception oI expressed need, which must also be Ielt need. This model oI need is
useIul in that it breaks away Irom the view oI need as a single concept; but it does not address the
inherently disempowering nature oI conventional need deIinition: all Bradshaw`s categories are still
measured` by experts`, and his conception oI need remains essentially within a positivist
Need statements
An alternative approach, which does provide a Iramework Ior empowerment, can be developed
around the notion oI need deIinition. This sees the important Iactor not as the need itselI but rather the
act oI deIining need, or asserting that something is needed`.
A statement or deIinition oI community need is clearly a normative, or value-laden statement. It
implies certain views oI people`s rights and entitlements, and contains an implicit notion oI what
constitutes an acceptable minimum standard oI personal or community wellbeing. For example,
claiming that a community needs` a childcare centre implies some assumptions about a parent`s
rights to a certain liIestyle or access to the labour market, children`s rights to a certain level oI care,
and the beneIits to personal and community liIe that a childcare centre would bring. These rights are
embedded in the need deIinition, although they are unstated and usually unacknowledged. To the
extent that people will diIIer over these value questions, there will be diIIering views on the nature or
strength oI the need, quite apart Irom any methodological issues oI need assessment. This link
between needs and rights is critically important, as will be seen below.
Using the language oI needs can oIten obscure the political or ideological nature oI an issue.
Instead oI Iocusing on a social problem, discussion oI need can divert attention to the more technical
(and saIer) question oI providing solutions. For example, a problem` oI juvenile crime becomes a
need` Ior more police, and this draws attention away Irom questions about why young people are
alienated and instead Iocuses attention on recruiting and resourcing more police oIIicers. A social
problem can thus be depoliticised by using need` language, and in this way the very act oI need
deIinition can be seen as ideological.
Although a need statement is clearly normative, it also has a technical component. In the above
example, the claim Ior a need Ior more police is based on an assumption that more police will in Iact
solve the problem` oI juvenile crime an assumption that is, to say the least, questionable. Such
assumptions, which are implicit in statements oI community need, are essentially technical, and
require some knowledge oI the inIluence and eIIectiveness oI particular services or programs.
Need statements are also technical in that they are comparative in nature. Claiming that a
community needs a particular provision can be seen as implying that this provision has a higher
priority in the community than other potentially competing claims (e.g. iI made within the context oI a
council budget committee), or that the community needs it more than other communities do (e.g. iI
made within the context oI government decisions on the distribution oI childcare Iunding). In such
cases, there is an assumption oI knowledge about priorities within the community, or about the
comparative situation in other communities, or both.
A statement oI need, then, is both a normative and descriptive statement, reIlecting both the values
or ideology and knowledge or expertise oI the need-deIiner. This means that any typology oI need
statements must take the identity oI the need-deIiner into account. Commonly, there are Iour groups oI
people who are involved in need deIinition at community level. These are: (1) the population at large;
(2) consumers, or potential consumers, oI the service or Iacility that is needed`; (3) caretakers,
namely those whose business` is community need, such as community workers, social workers,
welIare workers, clergy, health workers and local politicians; and (4) the researchers and planners
who inIer need on the basis oI statistics, survey results and other data.
As a result, one can derive a typology oI need statements based on these Iour groups oI need-
deIiners, which is a useIul way oI thinking about how need is deIined in communities. This approach
to need is summarised in table 3.4.
Table 3.4 1ypes of need statements
It can be seen Irom table 3.4 that the Iour diIIerent need-deIiners have diIIerent interests, expertise
and inIormation on which to base their need judgements. For this reason, one would in practice
expect these judgements oI need to vary, and this is the common experience oI community workers. It
does raise the important question oI which Iorm oI need deIinition is better` or more legitimate,
which is oI critical importance Ior community work. It raises the Iundamental issue oI the nature oI
expertise, and whether it is appropriate Ior need deIinition to be handed over to the experts and thus
taken out oI the hands oI the people.
There are three common approaches to this issue. One is to emphasise population-deIined and
consumer-deIined need, asserting the primacy oI people being able to deIine their own needs, and
seeing caretaker-deIined and inIerred need as disempowering and reinIorcing the dominance oI
proIessional power. The second is to assert (usually implicitly) the superiority oI caretaker-deIined
and inIerred need, emphasising the technical and expert nature oI need deIinition. The third approach
is to work towards consensus among need-deIiners, by providing consumers and the general
population with the expertise and resources to make more inIormed` judgements, by helping the
proIessional` need-deIiners to be more sensitive to the perceptions and realities oI the people
directly concerned, and by establishing genuine dialogue among the various potential deIiners oI
From the perspective oI this book, population- and consumer-deIined are the most important types
oI need statement, and should prevail over the other Iorms oI need deIinition unless basic human
rights or other social justice principles are at risk. An empowerment base Ior community
development requires that people have the capacity to deIine their own needs, and to act to have them
met. The role oI proIessionals, community caretakers, researchers and planners must be to assist the
community with its own need deIinition, possibly through helping to provide expertise where
necessary and through Iacilitating the process, but their role is not to assume responsibility Ior need
deIinition and thereby to deny the community the right to control its own destiny.
Universal and relative notions of need
One oI the critical debates in the literature oI social need is the question oI relativism and
universality. The above discussion oI need, by rejecting the positivist Iormulation and emphasising an
understanding oI what actually happens in the act oI need deIinition, might be seen as implying a
purely relativist understanding oI human need, namely that needs vary according to the circumstances
oI their deIinition, and that there is no such thing as universal human need. The universal position, on
the other hand, holds that there are common needs possessed by all people, and that at least some
universal statements oI need are valid. This position is inherent in the work oI the classic` writers on
human need, such as Abraham Maslow (1970) and Charlotte Towle (1965).
It has been strongly argued by Doyal and Gough (1991) not only that a universal understanding oI
basic human need is valid but also that a relativist approach, which denies the legitimacy oI such a
universalist position, is both morally questionable and politically dangerous. Abandoning a
universalist position on human need allows repressive governments to justiIy policies oI oppression,
by invalidating any appeal to basic human rights. It is consistent with a neo-liberal ideology, which
seeks to dismantle social policies based on commitment to universal principles oI justice in Iavour oI
the mechanisms oI the market. A relativist approach, by ignoring a structural analysis oI inequality
and oppression, also ignores the structural Iactors that perpetuate disempowerment. These Iactors
structure people`s perceived reality, and lead to diIIerences in need deIinition resulting Irom the
need-deIiner`s relationship to the structures oI power and domination. Thus, many need deIinitions
should more properly be understood as reIlecting either Ialse consciousness or cultural hegemony.
This is a very important critique, and relates to other critiques oI the relativism that is implied by a
good deal oI postmodernist or poststructuralist thought. For this reason, it is essential that the above
typology oI need deIinition be seen alongside the other social justice perspectives discussed so Iar in
this chapter, namely empowerment and structural disadvantage. It is particularly important in this
regard to link needs with rights. As suggested above, this is a necessary connection, as statements oI
need imply corresponding understandings oI rights, although these are usually unstated. Seeing need
statements within a broader social justice perspective, which includes a commitment to universal (or
at least quasi-universal) notions oI human rights, can go a long way towards satisIying the concerns oI
Doyal and Gough, as it provides need statements with a universal moral underpinning. The way in
which needs are deIined or expressed may well be relative, because oI cultural and other variations,
but the human rights inherent in them can be claimed to be universal. One can think oI need deIinition
as being the way in which universal rights are deIined within speciIic social, cultural and political
contexts. In this respect, local deIinitions oI need can be seen not as dangerous relativism but rather
as an extension oI the deIinition oI universal human rights.
Social justice implies some view oI Iairness or equity, and the principles on which notions oI
Iairness or equity are based generally involve some reIerence to rights. Hence, rights are Iundamental
to any understanding oI social justice.
Human rights have become a strong discourse oI opposition to the dominant order, especially
since the Iall oI the Berlin Wall in 1989, when socialism` lost legitimacy. During the Iollowing
decades, the dominance oI neo-liberalism has silenced most alternatives, but human rights have
remained a legitimate stance Irom which to critique power. Anti-globalisation protesters, Ior
example, Iound it useIul to show how globalisation has violated the rights oI Indigenous and other
communities, especially in the global South. Many community work practitioners would see human
rights as an important part oI their practice. Indeed, it can be argued that human rights require strong
communities, and hence community development. Rights cannot be owned in isolation; the idea oI my
rights` makes sense only iI there are others who can meet the corresponding duties, or
responsibilities, so that my rights can be respected, protected and realised. For example, what is the
point oI a right oI Ireedom oI speech iI nobody will listen, or the right to education iI there is nobody
to provide the resources needed, such as schools, books, computers and so on? The very idea oI
human rights requires that we belong to a community oI rights and responsibilities, and hence
community development and human rights go hand in hand.
The conventional discourse oI human rights has been heavily inIluenced by Enlightenment
modernity, which will be discussed in the next chapter. This has meant that the human` who has
rights is oIten understood in Enlightenment terms, namely as an autonomous individual, separated
Irom nature, in an essentially secular world ruled by reason and order, where scientiIic rationality
takes precedence over the emotional, and where there is little room Ior the spiritual or the sacred.
This is a limited view oI humanity, which is consistent with neo-liberalism and its emphasis on the
individual passive consumer, but is rather at odds with the ideas developed in this book, where more
collective, holistic and postmodern understandings oI humanity are explored. The deconstruction and
reconstruction, in community, oI the idea oI humanity` and human rights` is an important task Iacing
those working Ior human rights, and community development is a powerIul way to work towards a
deeper, richer understanding oI human rights (Ior a Iuller discussion, see IIe 2010).
The conventional approach to human rights has been through the law: legislation, bills or charters
oI rights, United Nations (UN) conventions and the use oI legal mechanisms to work Ior human rights
protection. There is considerable value Ior community development in this conventional approach to
rights. The Universal Declaration oI Human Rights, the various UN conventions (e.g. on civil and
political rights, economic social and cultural rights, the rights oI the child, the rights oI reIugees, the
rights oI Indigenous People etc), and national or regional bills or charters oI human rights can provide
strong protection Ior vulnerable people or groups, and a powerIul basis Ior advocacy. Knowledge oI
these various conventions, and how to use them, can be an important tool Ior a community worker,
and indeed can be used to provide a strong value base Ior community development.
But this is essentially a top-down view oI human rights, at odds with the perspective oI this book.
Typically, our rights are deIined Ior us by a small elite oI those who draIt legislation or UN
documents: politicians, academics, lawyers, and a Iew human rights activists Irom such non-
government organisations (NGOs) as Amnesty International. This elite is eIIectively telling the rest oI
us what our rights are, hardly a democratic process, and indeed a denial oI our right to be involved in
deIining our rights. A community development approach, by contrast, would seek to engage people in
a participatory process, deIining rights Irom their own perspective at community level, then engaging
with some Iorm oI dialogue with others about the meaning oI rights. Human rights need to be
exercised iI they are to have any meaning. What is the point oI having a right to Ireedom oI expression
iI nobody bothers to exercise it? A society based on human rights is one in which people are not only
aware oI their rights but also are actively exercising them: a participatory society, which is also the
aim oI community development.
The issue oI universalism and relativism is as important in thinking about human rights as it is in
thinking about human needs. The conventional view is to deIine human rights as universal, but this
raises the problem oI cultural diIIerence, and the simple Iact that humanity, and the rights oI humans,
will be constructed diIIerently in diIIerent cultural contexts, and indeed also at diIIerent historical
moments. There has been a strong criticism Irom some writers that universal human rights` are
essentially a Western concept, reIlecting a Western secular individualist view oI humanity, and have
been an instrument oI colonialism (Aziz 1999, Bauer & Bell 1999, Pereira 1997). This is an
important criticism, and the Western Enlightenment origin oI contemporary human rights discourse
means that such a limitation is inevitable. A naive universalism, simply imposing one version oI
human rights on everyone, is clearly unacceptable in a world that values cultural diversity, and
valuing diversity is an important community development principle. However, a naive relativism is
equally untenable, as it leaves one powerless to condemn cultural practices that may be demeaning or
oppressive, and are clearly an inIringement oI basic rights; we need an approach to human rights that
enables us to condemn the practices oI the Taliban towards women in AIghanistan, Ior example,
while at the same time being Iully sensitive to cultural diIIerences.
One way around this diIIiculty was implied in the previous discussion oI needs. We can
understand human rights as universal at a very general level, Ior example the right to be treated with
dignity and respect, the right to education, the right to health care, the right to housing and so on, while
resisting the temptation to make these rights more speciIic (e.g. the right to schools, the right to
medical clinics, the right to a three-bedroom house Ior each Iamily). These more speciIic
requirements will vary with context, as diIIerent cultures will embrace diIIerent Iorms oI eduction,
housing and so on, and are perhaps better understood as needs than as rights. Hence the universal
right to education means varying contextualised needs, such as the need Ior schools, or Ior computers,
or Ior teachers, or Ior libraries, or Ior spaces where elders can pass on their wisdom.
Rights-based community development involves a human rights Irom below` approach (see IIe
2010 Ior a Iuller discussion). This would require community processes to deIine rights, to think about
important rights and what they mean, and to consider who is responsible Ior ensuring that those rights
are protected or realised. It then requires community action to work towards the realisation oI those
rights, Ior community members and Ior others. In this understanding oI human rights, we can see rights
as located within communities, rather than within jurisdictions (the language oI lawyers), and
community work and human rights work eIIectively come together.
There is another way in which human rights are important Ior community development. An
approach to community development that does not take account oI human rights can be dangerous. It
could lead, Ior example, to a community worker asking a community what it wants to achieve, and
being told that their aim is to prevent Muslims Irom settling in the community, or to stop young people
Irom gathering on the streets. II that worker has a strong human rights perspective, they will obviously
reIuse such a suggestion, and work with the community to ensure that basic rights are protected. But
without a human rights perspective, there is nothing to stop community programs encoraging exclusion
and racism or, in more extreme Iorms, emulating the Hitler Youth, the Khmer Rouge or Mao`s Red
Guards. These are programs that engaged young people with a high level oI participation and gave
them a strong Ieeling oI belonging (important goals oI community development), yet the outcomes
were clearly disastrous Irom a human rights perspective.
This chapter has identiIied Iour key components oI a social justice approach to community work.
These are disadvantage, empowerment, need and rights. In each case, some conceptual Irameworks
have been identiIied that will, in later chapters, be used as a basis Ior a model oI community
development. These Iour are not independent. Clearly each is relevant to the others, and there are
obvious links between, Ior example, needs and rights, empowerment and structural disadvantage.
Indeed, it would be possible to develop a comprehensive social justice perspective using any one oI
these as a uniIying principle, incorporating the others. Such a synthesis has not been attempted in this
chapter, because the aim oI this book is to integrate these social justice perspectives with the
ecological perspectives discussed in chapter 2 and the post-Enlightenment perspectives discussed in
chapter 4, as a Ioundation Ior community work. The integration, then, needs to be undertaken at a
higher level, and this is the task oI chapter 5.
4 Foundations of community development: Beyond Enlightenment
The world view that predominates in Western societies and indeed in the culture oI global
capitalism is heavily inIluenced by the ideas oI the European Enlightenment. It is important to
understand how these ideas have shaped our understandings both oI community` and oI
development`, and how this has signiIicantly limited community development in a postmodern
world. In this chapter, aIter a brieI discussion oI the Enlightenment and its problems, a number oI
post-Enlightenment` perspectives that can contribute signiIicantly to our understanding oI community
development will be considered. These will not be presented as a single post-Enlightenment tradition
to do so would be to Iall back into Enlightenment thinking with its love oI unity and order but
rather as several strands oI thought, each oI which can move us beyond the constraints oI
Enlightenment modernity.
The Enlightenment
The Enlightenment reIers to the period towards the end oI the eighteenth century, when human reason
and scientiIic objectivity became important in European thinking (Outram 2005, Stove 2003,
Edelstein 2010, Hind 2007, Nicholson 1999). It was, in part, a reaction against the religious wars that
had devastated much oI Europe over the previous two centuries, as a consequence oI the ReIormation
and the counter-ReIormation. Instead oI relying on diIIering views oI divine revelation or biblical
interpretation to determine morality and ideas about how people should live and how society should
be organised, Enlightenment thinkers sought instead to use reason, and the ideas oI such Western
philosophers as Hobbes, Locke, Kant, Rousseau, Mill and Bentham were given greater importance.
Religion was seen as a matter oI personal belieI and spirituality, rather than as the central guiding
Iorce determining how the world should be ordered. With this emphasis on human rationality came a
similar emphasis on tolerance and acceptance oI diIIerent points oI view, as evidenced in the Iamous
statement by Voltaire, the quintessential Enlightenment thinker: I may disapprove oI what you say,
but will deIend to the death your right to say it.` With the idea oI Ireedom oI thought and Ireedom oI
expression came ideas oI political Ireedoms, especially through the writings oI such philosophers as
Locke and Mill. Hence the modern idea oI human rights` was Iounded in Enlightenment thinking
(Hayden 2001).
With the emphasis on rationality came an added importance given to science and scientiIic
discovery. European scientists studied the world, through such disciplines as botany, geology,
biology, astronomy and chemistry. These aimed to document and classiIy the world and the way it
worked. The world was seen as an ordered system, and the task oI Enlightenment scientists was to
understand that order, and to classiIy. There was an imperative to Iit the world into an ordered,
stable, coherent, understandable, unitary model. ClassiIication, with its attempt to Iit things neatly into
categories, brings with it a binary logic: something either belongs in a category or it does not. This is
either/or thinking, rather than both/and thinking, and such binary divisions are characteristic oI the
Enlightenment way oI viewing the world. With this search Ior order, and the emphasis on rational
scientiIic discovery, the Enlightenment became a project oI progress. Humanity was seen as
progressing in knowledge and understanding and, as a result, improving society. This progress in
science makes the world more understandable and more predictable, and hence increased knowledge
enables more control oI the environment, and the improvement oI quality oI liIe Ior humanity.
Humanism thus became the dominant value oI the Enlightenment. The human was valued as the
highest Iorm oI creation or evolution and, in the philosophy oI Kant, humanity was to be valued above
all else. ScientiIic, rational progress was designed Ior the betterment oI humanity`, and it was at this
time that the very idea oI humanity` and human rights became signiIicant (Hunt 2007). This humanism
was in contrast to the religious world view oI earlier centuries, where man` was seen as part oI
God`s creation and subject to God`s will; with the Enlightenment, man` took a more dominant
position in relation to the rest oI the world, and man`s` Iree will was supreme.
These ideas oI Iree will, rationality, science, order, classiIication and progress are so much part
oI the modern Western world view that it is important to reIlect that they have not always been so
dominant; these were not common values in medieval Europe, nor are they necessarily reIlected so
strongly in the world views oI contemporary non-Western societies. However, they are seldom
questioned in the mainstream discourse oI Western modernity.
The Enlightenment paved the way Ior modernity. It provided the impetus Ior the Industrial
Revolution, which was based on developments in science and technology and their application in an
organised, systematic and apparently rational` way. It promoted the idea oI the ordered, predictable
world, constantly being improved by human ingenuity and application. This is a world where
certainty is valued, where planning is important, and where things are made to Iit together in an
ordered way. Enlightenment modernity is exempliIied by the modern university: dedicated to
research` to Iind out how the world works, to technology` that will apply science to practical use,
and to a Iorm oI education` that will Iit people into their roles in an ordered society. This is
duplicated in the modern corporation, in government bureaucracies and in the development oI policy.
It is an ordered world, with rational man` at the centre, but also required to Iit in` to the ordered
The above is, inevitably, a superIicial account oI a major intellectual movement, which is
considerably more complex than such a summary can portray. Readers wishing to know more should
consult the extensive literature on the subject (e.g. Outram 2005, Stove 2003, Edelstein 2010, Hind
2007, Nicholson 1999).
Problems with the Enlightenment legacy
The Enlightenment has certainly made major contributions to the human experience, at least in the
European context, and has contributed signiIicantly to the material quality oI liIe oI many people,
particularly in the West. However, there have also been consequences oI the Enlightenment tradition
that have proved to be more problematic, and which in recent decades have led to a questioning oI the
Enlightenment project. These have particular relevance Ior community development, and it can be
argued that one oI the legacies oI the Enlightenment has been to impede, rather than to promote, the
development oI strong and sustainable communities.
The Enlightenment seeks to deIine and understand a world oI certainty. The aim oI scientiIic research
is to understand how the world works, and this should enable us to predict it and ultimately to control
it. Certainty and predictability become important aims oI the Enlightenment project, and much human
activity is aimed at making the world a more certain and predictable place. This is seen in the
resources dedicated to planning, management, organisational development and top-down policy; a
world oI certainty is clearly the ideal and the goal to be reached. This also applies to the way people
are expected to live their lives. LiIe goals, career goals and the planned existence, with no surprises
or unexpected crises, represent the ideal liIe. The more we have certainty, the happier we will be.
But the human experience is one oI uncertainty. However much we try to impose certainty on a
world oI chaos, there are constant surprises, unpredicted and unpredictable. Our lives do not Iollow
predictable paths, and the same is true Ior Iamilies, corporations, governments and communities. A
world view that seeks to impose certainty is hardly compatible with good community development,
where uncertainty, rather than being a threat or a problem, creates possibilities Ior creative action,
and where the spontaneous initiatives oI community members are encouraged and celebrated, rather
than being Iorced to Iit into a strategic plan.
The Enlightenment deIined humanity in terms oI the autonomous human subject. The individual was at
the centre oI the Enlightenment world: it was individual achievement that was important and
celebrated, it was the individual who was to be educated, Ied, clothed and housed, it was the
individual who was employed in industry, it was the individual (usually a man) who was paid Ior
their labour, it was the individual who had a relationship with the state in the political philosophy oI
Hobbes and Locke, and it was the individual who had moral responsibility in the ethical world oI
Kant. This individualism inevitably weakens more collective understandings oI humanity and the
human ideal, which are at the heart oI our ideas oI community`. Asserting the importance oI
community is a challenge in a world view so heavily inIluenced by individualism, and has led to
ideas oI community as being an optional extra`, something nice to be added on, rather than an
essential basis Ior the human experience.
Rather than promoting human community, the individualism oI the Enlightenment is more
conducive to the idea oI human rights as these have been understood largely Irom an individualist
perspective. It is individuals who have rights, in the language oI the Universal Declaration oI Human
Rights, and in dominant Western Iormulations oI the idea oI rights. Collective understandings oI rights
sit less easily within the Western Enlightenment world view. Hence it has oIten proved easier Ior
those who are seeking a more just and humane world, in which the values oI humanity are dominant
and structures and discourses oI oppression are challenged, to do so Irom within a Iramework oI
human rights, rather than a Iramework oI human community. From a community development
perspective, although human rights are critically important, they are insuIIicient, especially iI Iramed
within a conventional Western Enlightenment individualism.
The Enlightenment tradition has been a tradition oI men (Nicholson 2009). The ideal human, the
autonomous human subject, is usually male, and human rights are reIerred to as the rights oI man`.
The major philosophers oI the Enlightenment, mentioned above, were all men, as were most (although
not quite all) oI the Enlightenment scientists, and it was a man`s world they described. The
participation oI women was assumed to be conIined to the domestic sphere, and thereIore largely
irrelevant to the grand project oI scientiIic discovery and human improvement. Where women`s
voices were raised (as Ior example with Mary WollstonecraIt`s 1792 book Jindication of the Rights
of Women), they were viewed as marginal to the main game oI progress.
This has important implications Ior community development. In many societies, not just the West,
women play major roles in a community. It is oIten women who are nurturing and supportive, women
who bring people together, who Ioster cooperation, and so on. Women seem to do community` better
than men, although typically it is oIten men who will jump to Iill the positions oI Iormal leadership.
This role oI women, and oI Ieminist perspectives, in creating and enhancing community is discussed
in subsequent chapters, but here it is suIIicient to note the patriarchal assumptions inherent in the
Enlightenment world view and that it devalues the more organic understandings, typically associated
with women, that are so necessary Ior community development.
The secular
The Enlightenment is a secular tradition. It emerged as a reaction to the world that had been torn apart
by religious wars, and hence religion, and ideas oI the sacred or the spiritual, were sidelined. This
helped to establish a modernity where reason and science reigned supreme. One reaction against the
Enlightenment was the Romantic movement oI the early nineteenth century, where poets, artists,
composers and novelists sought to reinject ideas oI human emotion, passion and connection with
nature into the sterile rationality oI the Enlightenment world view. Although Romanticism had, and
still has, signiIicant appeal to many people, who Iind that Beethoven, Wordsworth, Keats, Schubert,
Goethe and others are saying very proIound and moving things about the human condition (Bronk
2009), it is still too oIten seen as secondary to the main game` oI science, economics and the more
rational` world; as an example, one only need look to the place given to the humanities, compared
with the sciences, in the modern Western university.
This secular tradition, where the sacred, the spiritual and the emotional are devalued, creates
problems Ior community development. In many communities, religion is oI major importance, and in
many other communities, while organised religion is not signiIicant, many people will have strong
connections to ideas oI the sacred or the spiritual, and to the expression oI emotion. This is an
important component oI the human condition, although devalued by Enlightenment thinking, and it is
important to Iind an approach to community development that includes it.
Different means unequal
The Enlightenment project oI trying to Iit everything into a single uniIied and orderly system has
meant that whenever two things, people, events or actions are diIIerent, there is an immediate
assumption that one must be better, or superior. The Enlightenment urge Ior classiIication has led to
the obsession with ranking and league tables`; when things are diIIerent they must be ranked in order,
whether we are talking about schools, athletes, sporting teams, cars (car oI the year`), cities (most
liveable city`), paintings (art awards), novels (literary awards), Iilms (the Academy Awards) and so
on. This way oI thinking creates seemingly endless awards, prizes, competitions and other attempts to
rank things and decide which is the best`. This in turn reinIorces the idea that there must be one right
answer`, one best practice`. In social policy, there is an assumption that, Ior example, there must be
one best` way to organise a health service, and the result is a constant quest Ior what that one best
way might be. In organisations, the obsession with seeking or deIining best practice` is another
From a more ecological perspective, this is nonsense. There is never one best` way to do
something, one right answer`, but diIIerent practices and diIIerent answers will be appropriate in
diIIerent contexts, at diIIerent times and with diIIerent actors. The heroic quest Ior the right answer,
or Ior best practice, is doomed to Iailure, and there are many right answers and many Iorms oI good
(rather than best) practice. The problem is exempliIied by some Iorms oI Ieminism; iI men and
women are diIIerent, then clearly one must be better`, and in patriarchal societies it is clearly the
men who are regarded as superior. This has led some Ieminists to minimise the diIIerences between
men and women, and to demonstrate that women can be just as good` as men. To emphasise the
diIIerence would be to admit the inequality, so the diIIerences must be minimised or eliminated.
However, other Iorms oI Ieminism have challenged this view, suggesting that women do not have to
be like men in order to be equal, that the diIIerence` between men and women should be celebrated,
and that men and women can play complementary but equally validated roles (Irigaray 2005,
Plumwood 1993). This notion oI diIIerent but equal` challenges the ordered, ranked world oI the
Enlightenment. Just because two things, people, communities, practices or whatever are diIIerent, this
should not imply that one is necessarily better`.
The Enlightenment diIIiculty with equal but diIIerent` is a major problem Ior community
development. In the above example it was applied to gender, but it can also apply to race or ethnicity.
The unspoken assumption, when we identiIy two diIIerent races or cultures, is that one will be
somehow better` and is to be preIerred. In this way the Enlightenment world view can readily Ioster
racism and exclusion, oIten at an unconscious level, and can work against inclusive communities,
built on diversity, as discussed in chapter 5.
The very idea oI enlightenment` results in the assumption that the Western world view, as
enlightened` and constantly progressing, is thereIore superior to others. II the West is more
enlightened, then surely it has a justiIication, iI not an obligation, to share that enlightenment with
others, and hence the Enlightenment provided a ready justiIication Ior colonial expansion (Chowdhry
& Nair 2004, Day 2005). The colonial imposition oI seemingly superior Western ways on other
cultural traditions became a sacred duty oI the colonisers, as teachers, missionaries and others set out
to enlighten` the rest oI the world in the name oI progress. Nowhere is this clearer than in the Iield oI
education: the content to be taught, and the way it was to be taught, were imposed by European
colonisers, and Indigenous Iorms oI knowledge, ways oI knowing and ways oI learning were actively
discouraged. This continued with the pervasive trend Ior people Irom non-Western countries to aspire
to a Western education, and Ior Iamilies to send their children to Western countries Ior their school
and/or university education.
Colonialism will be discussed in more detail in chapter 9, but Ior present purposes it is important
to note that such a colonialist outlook, implicit in the Enlightenment project, is contrary to the
principles oI community development, as described in this book. Challenging colonialist practice is
an important part oI community development, and it is hard to do so Irom within an Enlightenment
world view where the inherent superiority oI Western progress` is taken Ior granted.
Capitalism and the Industrial Revolution
One important aspect oI the Enlightenment was the emergence oI capitalism, as described by Adam
Smith, an important Enlightenment Iigure. Capitalism is a classic Enlightenment idea, with the notion
that it is a natural` system, which works according to certain laws, that it can be studied in order to
make it ordered and predictable, and that through the market a Iorm oI rationality will emerge.
Capitalism is not seen as a God-given beneIit, but rather as emerging Irom the aggregated ingenuity
and application oI individual human beings, making rational` choices in the marketplace.
Along with the emergence oI capitalism came the Industrial Revolution, as the drive and ingenuity
oI entrepreneurs were applied to the rational` scientiIic organisation oI production in Iactories,
Ioundries and workshops. This oI course had a major impact on communities; traditional rural and
town-based communities were dismantled as people moved to Iind work in the Iactories oI the newly
emerging industrial cities, and as the economic base oI smaller towns and villages was threatened.
The erosion oI traditional community, and the transition to urbanised mass society`, had begun. This
was a major concern Ior sociologists oI the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, such as Tönnies
and Durkheim, who observed this change and its implications. The transition to mass society has
meant the traditional idea oI community is now problematic.
Top-down expertise
A natural consequence oI the Enlightenment world view is an emphasis on top-down expertise. The
ordered world oI the Enlightenment lends itselI to hierarchical organisation; this was the basis oI the
classiIicatory systems oI the sciences, which organised plants, animals, rocks and so on into species
and subspecies, represented in a hierarchical diagram. It was thereIore natural that this Iorm oI
organisation should be replicated in workplaces and in the organisation oI companies, government
departments, and various other organisations. The popularity oI the hierarchical organisation chart,
used to describe an organisation, is testament to the power oI the Enlightenment world view.
With such hierarchy goes the assumption that superior wisdom, insight and power belongs with
those at the top. II the world is best understood through objective scientiIic study, and through
understanding the laws by which it operates, there is an important role Ior the expert` who best
understands these laws, and the proper place Ior such expertise is at the top oI the hierarchy, rather
than at the bottom. Top-down practice, managerialism and bureaucratic control are thereIore natural
consequences oI the Enlightenment world view (Weber 1970), and it is no surprise that such Iorms oI
organisation are so common in the Enlightenment world that it is very diIIicult to conceive oI other
Iorms oI organisation.
Yet it is precisely the need Ior such other Iorms oI organisation, validating bottom-up wisdom and
bottom-up practice, that is at the heart oI community development (Clark & Teachout 2012). From a
community development perspective, top-down structures and practices have proved to be alienating,
disempowering and stiIling oI initiative and creativity. Community development seeks to establish
alternative Iorms oI organisation, which can break Iree Irom the disempowering constraints oI the
bureaucratic and the managerial.
Chaos and messiness
Despite the ideal oI an ordered, rational, Enlightenment world, the reality oI most people`s lives, and
the reality oI community, is one oI messiness, contradiction, disorder and chaos. The Enlightenment
world view seeks to impose order on this chaos, through organisation and management, but the
overwhelming experience oI people living and working in communities and organisations is that this
heroic and well-intentioned endeavour is doomed to Iailure. Attempts to make people conIorm to neat
bureaucratic categories and deIinitions only show that the variety and contradictory nature oI human
experiences makes such rigid classiIication impossible.
A modern social security system is a good example; it is Enlightenment modernity at its strongest,
setting up clear categories oI people who are deIined as in need, and targeting beneIits Ior them. But
however careIul and detailed the deIinitions oI who should qualiIy Ior which beneIit, there are
always people who do not quite Iit the categories. Social security systems involve an army oI
bureaucrats and many volumes oI regulations in order to make them work, but even so, many
decisions are appealed and in many cases these appeals are upheld, suggesting that the categories are
never watertight and are always open to interpretation. And aIter all the appeals there are always
some people who Iail to qualiIy although they are clearly in need, while there are others who do not
seem to be so much in need but who qualiIy to receive a beneIit. Human need can never be reduced to
a bureaucratic system, however eIIicient and well intentioned it may be.
The non-human world
Finally, the Enlightenment world view, with its concern Ior the human and the centrality oI the
autonomous human subject, does not deal well with the needs oI the non-human world. The
Enlightenment encouraged people to study nature, primarily so that they could control and exploit it,
rather than necessarily giving it any intrinsic value. This oI course was not a new phenomenon; ever
since the biblical description oI man having dominion over` the rest oI the world, there has been a
tradition oI exploitation oI nature Ior human ends, although this is less entrenched in some societies
(especially Indigenous societies) than in others. The Enlightenment world view simply continued this
view, and only now is there an increasing realisation that, in a Iinite and inter-connected world, such
a perspective might not be so enlightened` aIter all (Macy 2007, Huggan 2010).
Beyond the Enlightenment
The Enlightenment certainly brought about many positive achievements Ior humanity. However, it has
also leIt a legacy oI problems, some oI which have been brieIly outlined above, which negatively
aIIect the ideals oI community development. II community development is to thrive, it needs to draw
on alternative world views, which are aware oI the shortcomings oI the Enlightenment and seek a
broader, more holistic understanding. That will be the task oI the remainder oI this chapter.
Disillusionment with the legacy oI the Enlightenment, and moving towards a post-Enlightenment`
world view, has been oI concern in a variety oI Iields, as well as in community development. Writers
in Iields as diverse as psychology, sociology, management, literature, philosophy and economics have
recognised some oI the limitations oI the Enlightenment, and have explored what a post-Enlightenment
world view might involve. This does not mean the negation oI the Enlightenment or devaluation oI its
many achievements. The preIix post-` implies the idea oI beyond, rather than a negation. Indeed, a
post-Enlightenment evaluation oI the Enlightenment legacy must move beyond a simple good/bad
binary (in itselI classical Enlightenment thinking), and rather would recognise that the Enlightenment
brought both beneIits and problems, seeking at the same time to build on the beneIits and to transcend
the contradictions (Hind 2007).
Many oI the Irustrations oI community workers, which will be explored in chapter 15, centre on
neo-liberalism, managerialism, bureaucracy, top-down rationality, emphasis on outcomes and so on.
It is important to understand that these are the result oI the Enlightenment world view and that, as well
as challenging neo-liberalism, managerialism and so on, it is also important to develop some
alternative world views that can inIorm community development.
The Iirst oI these is postmodernism, which, although its philosophical origins were somewhat earlier,
had a major inIluence on the social sciences in the last two decades oI the twentieth century (Seidman
1994, Rosenau 1992). There is not space here to describe the rich and varied contributions oI
postmodernist writers, so a brieI summary, with all the dangers oI oversimpliIication, will have to
suIIice. Postmodernist theorists sought to move beyond the constraints oI Enlightenment modernity, by
questioning the authority oI the author` oI any particular text` to determine the meaning and
signiIicance oI that text. It is the reader oI a text who ascribes meaning to it, and this will be diIIerent
Irom the meaning oI the author. Indeed, diIIerent readers will construct diIIerent meanings, and there
will be as many diIIerent readings as there are readers. This makes obvious sense when we think in
terms oI the author and the readers oI a book, but it is proIound when we extend the idea oI text`
beyond the notion oI a book to include many other things. For example, iI we think oI a building as a
text`, that building will have particular meanings and signiIicances Ior the people who live or work
in that building, or who regularly walk past it, and these will be diIIerent Irom the original intentions
oI the architect and the builders. Postmodernism suggests that it is the diIIerent understandings oI the
readers`, rather than the intention oI the author`, that is important in constructing reality.
This is contrary to the top-down rationality oI modernity and the Enlightenment. It suggests that
there is no single right` way to understand something, but rather that meaning is constantly being
constructed, deconstructed and reconstructed by a multiplicity oI actors. This in turn led to the
postmodern idea oI the death oI the meta-narrative` (Lyotard 1984), questioning those overarching
narratives such as social justice, human rights, religion, nationality and so on that have
traditionally been used to give meaning to liIe. Postmodernists are not necessarily opposed to these
ideas as such, but rather argue that their meaning is contested, and is constantly subject to
deconstruction and reconstruction by diIIerent people in diIIerent contexts, rather than their meaning
being static and agreed.
Hence postmodernism questions order, predictability and certainty, all hallmarks oI Enlightenment
modernity. Thus postmodern architects, Ior example, typically use the idea oI pastiche: bringing
together in one building diIIerent and conIlicting architectural styles or shapes that clash, or do not
seem to belong together`. Postmodernism questions our traditional ideas oI order, coherence and
what belongs together. Rather, postmodernism accepts, and even celebrates, messiness, contradiction,
unpredictability and spontaneity. It is similar to the revolution caused in physics and the natural
sciences by quantum theory and then chaos theory; the world is not completely predictable and
ordered, but instead there is uncertainty at the heart oI physical matter, and surprising order and
pattern can emerge Irom apparent chaos.
The inIluence oI postmodernism has been proIound. It questions the validity oI universal
assumptions, such as universal human rights, and it conIounds the conventional bureaucratic wisdom
that has led to top-down managerial practices, and hierarchical organisation charts reIlecting
hierarchical control. Many people concerned with social change and community development have
been unsettled by postmodernism, as it challenges the validity oI some oI the meta-narratives, such as
social justice`, that have been so important Ior social movements. The danger oI postmodernism
resulting in a naive relativism, where apparently anything goes` and there is no Iramework Ior
action`, has been diIIicult Ior some activists.
However, this anxiety reIlects an inadequate understanding oI the potential Ior postmodernism to
contribute to community development. As suggested above, postmodernism does not mean that ideas
such as social justice` are irrelevant and have lost their meaning. Rather it means that such ideas are,
and should be, contested, and are open to diIIerent constructions by diIIerent people in diIIerent
circumstances. Rejecting the idea oI truth` as something written in tablets oI stone`, postmodernism
suggests rather that truth` or more properly truths` are always being reconstructed. This makes
an idea like social justice` and human rights` come alive; no longer is it a static universal value, but
rather it is something that people, individually and collectively, engage with, dialogue about and
construct in a variety oI ways. Indeed, Derrida, the most Iamous oI the postmodernists, was deeply
committed to an idea oI human rights (Beardsworth 1996). Thus postmodernism makes ideas such as
social justice and human rights legitimate subjects Ior dialogue, as people in communities struggle
with what they mean in particular contexts.
Postmodernism has some very signiIicant implications Ior community development (Esteva &
Prakash 1998). Its acceptance oI diversity, and oI messiness and contradiction, Iits in well with the
experience oI community. Any community worker will readily relate to ideas oI messiness, chaos and
contradiction as being the norm; it reIlects the reality oI people`s lives, and oI human community.
Instead oI the Enlightenment attempt to impose order and predictability, postmodernism both accepts
the chaos and recognises its potential Ior creative practice; a Iar more hopeIul and realistic option Ior
a community worker. Thus a postmodern community worker will reject much oI the contemporary
obsession with planning, and see it as a heroic attempt to impose modernist order and certainty on a
necessarily chaotic and contradictory world. For such a community worker there can still be a place
Ior planning, but it will be cautious, indicative planning, in which some thought is given to possible
ways Iorward and to priorities in development, but which does not seek rigidly speciIied outcomes or
objectives, and which is always tentative, allowing community process Iree rein to move the
community somewhere else.
Relational reality
The traditional way oI understanding reality` has been to study its material essence. So, to
understand the human being, we try to understand the essence oI humanity and the various parts oI the
human body. To understand the physics oI matter we try to uncover the Iundamental subatomic
particles. And to understand a community we try to identiIy the essence` oI community, through trying
to come up with a deIinition oI what a community really is; this task was Iamously undertaken in an
early study by Hilary, who brought together more than a hundred deIinitions oI community` Irom
diIIerent sources, and tried to identiIy what they had in common (see Bell & Newby 1971). It proved
to be a Iruitless task, as the only common element Hilary could Iind was that all the deIinitions had
something to do with people.
This, however, is only one way oI understanding reality. It is an important way, with a long
tradition going back to Greek philosophy, although it was given added impetus by the scientiIic
classiIication oI the Enlightenment. However, an alternative view, which is both new and old, has
achieved more attention in recent years, and that is to understand reality not as essential but as
relational (Spretnak 2011, Gergen 2000). II we think oI an atom, it is the relationships between the
subatomic particles that creates the atom, not just the particles themselves. And it is the relationships
between atoms that create molecules. It is the relationships between molecules that make up living
cells, and it is the relationships between cells that make up the parts oI the body. Similarly, it is the
relationships between the sun, planets and moons that make up the solar system, the relationships
between stars that make up the galaxy, and so on. In each case, without relationship, the various
phenomena would simply be meaningless blobs oI matter. It is relationship that creates reality and
gives meaning to the world.
The same applies to relationships between people. It is relationships, rather than simply individual
people, that make up a Iamily, a school, a workplace, an army, a church, a shopping centre and, most
important Ior our purposes here, a community. Without relationships, these words would be
meaningless. And it is relationships that create human lives. Without relationships the human person
has no meaning and, to all intents and purposes, does not exist. Relationships deIine our reality and,
in a very real sense, relationships are our reality. This is more than simply reiterating the Iamiliar
phrase the whole is greater than the sum oI its parts`. Rather it is saying that the whole is made up oI
the relationships between its parts.
This idea oI relational reality certainly challenges the Enlightenment world view, which, with its
obsession with classiIication and positivist measurement, emphasises the importance oI component
parts rather than the relationships between them. It is thereIore an important way to move beyond the
Enlightenment world view towards a perspective that is more consistent with community
development. Thinking oI reality` not in terms oI Iixed, static, material entities, but in terms oI
relationships, results in a practice that is based on relationship, rather than a practice that is based on
sterile strategic intervention`. It suggests that we are deIined by our relationships: with Iriends,
lovers, parents, children, siblings, other relatives, neighbours, teachers, colleagues, managers and so
on. It emphasises the relationships between people that make up a community, and suggests that it is
through the use oI relationships that community development processes can be enhanced.
The importance oI relationship extends beyond the relationships between people. We also have
relationships with the non-human world. People in modern, urbanised societies have important
relationships with their computers, smart phones, cars, televisions, clothes, beds, houses and precious
possessions oI whatever Iorm. These are important relationships, which are part oI modern living and
help to deIine reality` Ior many people. We also have relationships with institutions: schools,
universities, places oI worship, employers, unions, shops, government departments and so on. And
we have relationships with the natural world, including our relationships with pets, gardens, Iorests,
beaches, mountains and wilderness. Our lives are a whole set oI relationships, and it is these
relationships that deIine who we are and that represent our reality`.
Community workers work with relationship, so the recent interest in understanding reality as
relational provides an important perspective Ior community development, in seeking to extend our
world view beyond the constraints oI Enlightenment modernity.
Holism and connectedness
The importance oI a holistic perspective, understanding that everything is connected to everything
else, has already been discussed in chapter 2. The ecological perspective as discussed in chapter 2
has encouraged holistic understandings that challenge the Enlightenment way oI understanding the
world, which might loosely be described as divide and conquer`, in that the division oI the world
into neat and discrete categories makes it easier to exploit and manipulate that world. Holistic
understandings emphasise connectedness rather than separation, interdependence rather than
independence, and this is surely an essential aspect oI human community. It leads to a caution about
any intervention` or attempt to exploit or manipulate the world; because everything is interconnected,
such intervention can have consequences way beyond those that were expected or predicted.
Industrial society itselI is a classic example; only now are the multiple and serious negative eIIects on
the environment becoming apparent.
The holistic perspective applies to all community work. Communities are complex systems oI
interaction that themselves interact with other systems in complex ways. Anything we do as
community workers has ripple eIIects`, which we can only begin to understand with a holistic
perspective on practice. Similarly, the very idea oI human community includes diIIerent aspects:
social, cultural, economic, political and so on, which will be explored in more detail in later
chapters. It is essential Ior community workers to think holistically about community, recognising the
interactions between these various dimensions oI our humanity.
Indigenous understandings
The world views discussed above, as alternatives to Enlightenment modernity, may seem like new
intellectual developments, the result oI bold, radical thinkers in the second halI oI the twentieth
century and in the early years oI the twenty-Iirst. But they are not really new. In many ways they
resonate with the world views and understandings oI Indigenous People throughout the world, and it
is important at this point in history to turn again to those Indigenous understandings, as they are
grounded in a much more sustainable, connected, interdependent and relational world view than the
Enlightenment heritage on which modern Western (and globalised) world views are based.
There are, oI course, many diIIerences between the various Indigenous cultures oI the world. But
perhaps more interesting, and more signiIicant, is that there are also many commonalities. These
commonalities have emerged because oI the common experience oI Indigenous Peoples, living in a
close and interdependent relationship with the natural world, and, over millennia, having developed
wisdom in how to do so eIIectively and sustainably. Given the disasters that have been created by
modern industrial society, and its blatant unsustainability, it is surely time Ior Indigenous wisdom to
be accepted as central to our capacity to survive as a species. Indigenous cultures have been around
Ior a lot longer than modern civilisation`, and it is time we listened to our elders.
This is not to pretend that Indigenous cultures are perIect and above criticism. Like all cultures,
they contain their own contradictions, points oI tension and issues Ior disagreement, as well as ways
oI dealing with those disagreements. And like all cultures, they are not static museum displays`, but
are a dynamic work in progress`, as cultural traditions are reinvented and reshaped to adapt to a
changing world.
OI course, to generalise about any culture, let alone a group oI diverse Indigenous cultures, is to
risk dangerous simplicity. Nevertheless, we can identiIy a number oI Ieatures that seem to be
characteristic oI many diIIerent Indigenous world views, and which have signiIicant implications Ior
community development. These ideas are Iundamentally important, not just Ior Indigenous People but
Ior all oI us, and they have proIoundly shaped, and continue to shape, my own understandings oI
community. The Iollowing paragraphs essentially a white man`s (inevitably superIicial and partial)
perspective on Indigenous world views are the result not only oI reading (Diamond 2013, Turner
2010, Wallace 2009, Sveiby & Skuthorpe 2006, Mander & Tauli-Corpuz 2006, Chile 2007a,
Knudtson & Suzuki 2006) but also oI many conversations with Indigenous Iriends and colleagues
over the years, mostly in Australia, but also in Canada and Aotearoa, and I am indebted to several
colleagues, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous (see the Acknowledgements) who have read and
commented on this section.
Collective experience
Indigenous cultures tend to be much less individually oriented than the liberalism oI modern Western
society. People are seen as part oI a collective, and the collective itselI is important. Typically,
wealth is shared among everybody who needs it; an Indigenous woman Irom Western Australia who
won the lottery shared the winnings among her relatives, and continued to live in the same modest
house that was her home. Systems oI kinship tie a person to a large group oI relatives, to whom she
has certain responsibilities. The Iamily is critically important, but this is not the Western nuclear
Iamily (around which the modern ideology oI the Iamily` has been built and promoted) but rather the
large extended Iamily. This enables responsibilities to be shared; Ior example the raising oI children
is not the job only oI the biological parents but also oI many aunties, uncles and elders. The traditions
oI kinship tie people together, in networks oI rights and responsibilities, and it is impossible to think
oI Indigenous communities` without including Iamilies and kinship obligations. In Australia, when
two Indigenous People meet each other, their Iirst task is to work out their Iamily and kinship
connections, as this will deIine their relationship. And when an Indigenous Person Irom one part oI
Australia travels to a very distant part oI the country, it is common Ior them, aIter being welcomed to
country, to be assigned a Iamily position in the local Aboriginal community: they will be assigned a
mother, aunties and so on, and will thereIore understand how they Iit in and their obligations.
Thus the idea oI Iamily` merges with the idea oI community`, and communities are understood
Irom the Iramework oI Iamily relationships and obligations. This Iamily` orientation, with its
implied responsibilities, is completely missing Irom the Western liberal tradition oI community, and
one could argue that community structures are inevitably weaker as a consequence.
Connection to the natural world
For Indigenous People, the natural world, land or country`, has a Iar deeper signiIicance than is
imagined in the industrialised West. The natural world is not separate Irom the human experience,
existing simply to be exploited, but rather there is a proIound sense in which the human and non-
human worlds are interconnected and interdependent. Indeed, there is not really a boundary between
them. Indigenous stories and spirituality emphasise the world oI animals, trees, rocks, rivers, oceans,
mountains and so on, and people are seen as a part oI that dynamic world, not separate Irom it.
Indigenous cultures have many ways oI understanding and emphasising this connection. For example,
in Australia, the idea oI totem` is central. Each person has a totem: an animal, bird or perhaps some
aspect oI the physical environment. That person then has a responsibility Ior that totem. II your totem
is, say, a kangaroo, this means you have responsibility Ior the welIare oI kangaroos, you have to learn
about and understand kangaroos, their liIecycle and their needs, and act always in the interests oI
kangaroos and the preservation oI their habitat and you are not allowed to eat kangaroo meat,
although others will. So strong is your identiIication with the kangaroo that in a sense you become a
kangaroo, and you may represent a kangaroo in dances, songs and so on. This totem system is a
remarkable way to ensure environmental protection, as each person has a strong responsibility Ior
another species and a duty to protect the environment oI that species. It carries ecological
responsibility down to the speciIic duties oI each person.
Such proIound connection to the natural world means that Indigenous People have a strong sense oI
place and oI belonging to a particular part oI the country. Their connection to their own place is
strong; it is the location oI their important stories and is an important part oI their identity and
spirituality. In such a society, land ownership`, that Iundamental Western right`, becomes a
nonsense. It makes more sense, Irom an Indigenous perspective, so say that the land owns us, rather
than that we own the land. And the land and our connection to it becomes an essential part oI the
experience oI community.
The Enlightenment separation oI the spiritual and the secular makes no sense Irom an Indigenous
world view. Ideas, and experiences, oI spirituality and the sacred pervade all aspects oI liIe, and are
totally integrated with the connection to the land discussed above. Indigenous spirituality is land-
based, or country-based, and is part oI the interconnectedness with the non-human world.
This Iorm oI spirituality is very diIIerent Irom more traditional Iorms oI institutionalised religion,
especially the three monotheistic Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Indeed it is
so diIIerent that many Indigenous People Iind no diIIiculty in joining traditional Christian
denominations; it is such a diIIerent sort oI religious experience that it does not necessarily connect
to, or conIlict with, Indigenous spirituality. But traditional Indigenous Iorms oI spirituality, and
understandings oI the sacred, have very diIIerent ramiIications. Such spirituality deIines the human
not as an individual actor with a special relationship with God (whether or not it is mediated by a
priest or church), but rather as interconnected with all other living and non-living things, in an
essentially sacred world, where inevitably some places or animals assume particularly important
sacred meanings, and there is no clear boundary between the spiritual and the real`.
This is almost the opposite oI the traditional Western Enlightenment separation oI the sacred and
the secular. This separation was a result oI the havoc caused by religious wars at the time oI the
ReIormation, but it served to marginalise the spiritual in a way that would make no sense to an
Indigenous person. Many people in the West now lead totally secular lives, where there is little or no
place Ior spirituality and any sense oI the sacred, and Indigenous traditions surely should lead us to
question whether we are not the poorer Ior it. Certainly one oI the things non-Indigenous People can
learn Irom Indigenous People is that we should not be aIraid oI ideas oI sacredness, and do not need
to marginalise them into a diIIerent and relatively unimportant part oI liIe. This broader understanding
oI spirituality, however, can readily make sense to the Western mind. Who has not Ielt a proIound
sense oI the spiritual in such activities as listening to music, climbing a mountain, surIing,
contemplating a sunset, dancing, seeing the stars on a clear night, singing, walking in a Iorest, looking
at a painting and so on? And who has not Ielt that some places are so special that they become almost
sacred, either Ior their own intrinsic qualities or Ior their associations? From a Western perspective,
this is perhaps most eloquently expressed in the poetry oI Wordsworth. This is just a glimpse oI the
way Indigenous People can see the world as spiritual, as their understandings are much deeper and
more proIound than Wordsworth`s, but it does at least allow us to open ourselves up to these ways oI
seeing the world and our place in it.
Wisdom of the elders
Modern Western culture is youth-oriented. The ideal human` is young, healthy, vigorous and usually
male. Many people, as they grow older, Ieel that they are being leIt behind, that they are increasingly
unable to operate the latest technological toys and that the world largely ignores them. Their
experience belongs to another era, which has little relevance to the here and now. This youth bias can
readily be seen in the way events, products, celebrities and experiences are marketed, in the kind oI
music played in public spaces and so on.
Indigenous cultures, on the other hand, value the wisdom oI their elders. As people grow older,
they are seen as acquiring additional wisdom Irom their experiences and their maturity, and as having
both a right and a duty to pass that wisdom on to younger people. Rather than losing relevance as they
grow older, Indigenous People gain relevance, and elders are entitled to, and generally receive,
additional respect. Although young people may excel at physical Ieats, they are expected to listen to,
and respect, the elders.
This is an important diIIerence between Indigenous cultures and modern Western culture and iI, in
community development, we are to learn Irom the Indigenous experience, it is important to consider
the place oI elders in the community and the ways in which their wisdom can be passed on, rather
than ignoring the wisdom and maturity oI the elders and continuing to concentrate only on the energy
oI youth.
The signiIicance oI elders, and their experience, brings us to the issue oI history and how we
remember the past. In Western culture, with its continuing emphasis on the here and now, history is
relegated to the status oI a luxury, something people may be interested in as a pastime but hardly
central to the most important things oI liIe. The study oI history in schools and universities seems to
be in decline, and this means we view the world in a particular way, whereby the past, and how we
came to be where we are, are oI lesser importance. The study oI history is important Ior a number oI
reasons, not least oI which is that it helps us to understand that the way the world is now is not
necessarily the natural order`, and that things have been diIIerent in the past and can similarly be
diIIerent in the Iuture. To see the world as dynamic with the real potential Ior change, rather than
static, an understanding oI history is essential, and the marginalisation and trivialisation oI history is
one oI the tragedies oI Western modernity.
Indigenous cultures, by contrast, value their history. While Western cultures live Ior the Iuture,
Indigenous cultures, in a sense, live Ior the past and see the past, present and Iuture as bound up
together (Turner 2010). This is represented through the tradition oI the story, and stories play a
central part in the Indigenous experience. But stories are about much more than history and
remembering the past. They are also used to teach important cultural values, morality and spirituality
(Sveiby & Skuthorpe 2006, Wallace 2009). There is no clear boundary between Iiction and non-
Iiction, as is also the case, oI course, with many older stories oI Western culture, Irom Homer to the
Bible to Shakespeare; what is important is the truth (not necessarily empirical truth) and wisdom that
they contain. All societies have stories; in modern Western society many oI these stories are told by
Hollywood or the TV networks, but these tend to be transitory, and are largely Iorgotten by
succeeding generations. Indigenous stories, however, rather like the stories oI Homer, Shakespeare
and the Bible, are meant to last and are recounted Irom one generation to the next, Ior the wisdom that
they contain rather than Ior immediate gratiIication. This is a society much more connected to its past
and its heritage; indeed, one oI the tragedies oI Western society is that older stories such as those oI
Homer, Shakespeare and the Bible are in danger oI being Iorgotten in coming generations concerned
only with the immediate present.
For Indigenous People, stories are connected to spirituality, to the idea oI land and to essential
humanity, and these cannot be separated. As expressed by the Australian Indigenous writer and
storyteller Margaret Kemarre Turner:
The Story is the Land, and the Land is the story,
The Story holds the people,
and the people live inside the Story,
The Story lives inside the people,
and the Land lives inside the people also.
It goes all ways to hold the Land.
(Turner 2010: 45)
This way oI thinking would be unimaginable Ior the Western Enlightenment mind.
For community development, it is important to remember the importance oI history: the history oI a
community, and oI the society in which it is located. In Iact it is important to remember histories;
history` can imply that there is just one oIIicial version, whereas to talk about histories suggests that
there is more than one voice, and more than one set oI memories indeed many stories that are
important. This, oI course, is thoroughly consistent with the postmodern view described above.
Stories have played an important role in community development. The use oI stories will be
discussed Iurther in later chapters, but they are an important way Ior a community to value its past, to
pass on its wisdom, and to establish its identity. The important point Ior our present purposes is that
Indigenous People have a rich tradition oI storytelling, which is central to their culture, and Irom
which community development can learn.
While Indigenous societies have a respect Ior elders, in many cases the role oI leadership is shared
(Sveiby & Skuthorpe 2006), so that a person with particular skills or attributes will take a leadership
role Ior some activities, but other people will show leadership Ior other purposes. Elders may guide
and give advice and counsel, but will not always necessarily be leaders in any particular activity.
Thus leadership is not conIined to a single leader` who is expected to show leadership` in all
circumstances the classic model oI the corporate manager or chieI executive oIIicer but instead
diIIerent people will assume leadership roles Ior diIIerent activities. This idea oI shared leadership
is important Ior community development, and can represent a signiIicant way in which people in a
community can move away Irom the idea oI the single community leader`.
One characteristic oI many Indigenous societies is that they have developed complementary, but
equally valued, roles Ior men and women. Women and men have diIIerent responsibilities, and
diIIerent ways in which they contribute to community liIe. One is not necessarily valued over the
other, as is commonly the case in Western patriarchal societies where the public domain
(characteristic oI men) is regularly valued over the private domain (characteristic oI women). Each
gender has important duties, in terms oI knowledge, teaching, spirituality, care oI sacred objects and
relation to the land. Women will oIten have particular responsibility Ior the maintenance oI Iamily
and community, but this is not devalued in comparison with traditional male roles.
This means that understandings oI gender and gender diIIerences are very diIIerent in Indigenous
communities, and this is one oI the reasons why this area causes such diIIiculty when Indigenous
People live in a society where Western norms predominate. But instead oI concentrating on the
problems` this creates, such as domestic violence, it is important also to think oI the lessons that can
be learned Irom Indigenous traditions, which have been able to live with the idea oI diIIerent but
equal` more easily than has Enlightenment modernity. More recent Ieminist writing has also sought to
develop a more sophisticated understanding oI diIIerent but equal` (Irigaray 2005), which the West
has Iorgotten but which Indigenous People have remembered. As discussed earlier in this chapter, the
need to come to terms with diIIerent but equal` is essential Ior the development oI sustainable and
diverse communities, and this is another area where there is much to learn Irom the experience oI
Indigenous People.
The quick, eIIicient decision-making so valued in Western societies is quite Ioreign to the Indigenous
tradition. Typically, Indigenous communities will take much longer to make a decision, and it will be
talked through` rather than argued about and voted on as an agenda item`. Australian Indigenous
People like to talk about varning: talking together in a wide-ranging and Iree-Ilowing way, sharing
stories, talking around, through, over and under an issue. This discussion results eventually in a
decision being reached by consensus, where no voting is necessary, and where everybody owns the
decision. This has important implications Ior community development, and consensus decision-
making is discussed in more detail in chapter 7. It is not a quick way to make decisions, and does not
work well when there are strict time limitations to be met, but such time constraints are typical oI the
rhythms oI Western modernity but much less typical oI the rhythms oI Indigenous societies. It may be a
slower process, but the decision is likely to be a better one, and it will be owned by the whole
community instead oI resented by the minority that was outvoted. It is another area where the modern
West can learn Irom the wisdom oI Indigenous People.
The above paragraphs, oI course, do not do justice to the richness and diversity oI the experience
oI Indigenous People. There is a real danger oI oversimpliIication, and it must not be thought that
these paragraphs represent the complete picture; that is not their intention, and they simply have tried
to highlight a Iew key themes. As well as the danger oI oversimpliIication there is also the danger oI
romanticising. Traditional Indigenous cultures have much Irom which we can learn, but it is a mistake
to assume that they were somehow ideal and perIect; Rousseau`s noble savage` is, oI course, a myth,
and no culture is perIect and ideal. All Indigenous cultures have had to develop, adapt and
compromise, and they have experienced their own conIlicts, dilemmas and contradictions. The point
oI this section is not to romanticise Indigenous culture, but rather to Iind some important lessons Irom
the experience oI Indigenous People, oIten ignored by mainstream Western narratives, which can help
community development to move beyond the constraints oI Enlightenment modernity.
The ideas discussed in this chapter have not been brought together to represent a single picture oI a
post-Enlightenment perspective. To do so would be to Iall into the Enlightenment trap oI seeking
uniIying order. Rather, they are presented as ideas to be developed, as some alternative ways oI
thinking, which can contribute to our understandings oI community and oI community development.
Like the ideas in the previous two chapters, they will be reIerred to throughout the remaining chapters
oI the book.
5 A vision for community development
Chapters 2, 3 and 4 outlined the three perspectives that underlie the approach to community
development taken in this book, namely an ecological perspective, a social justice perspective and a
post-Enlightenment perspective. Each has, in diIIerent ways, been important in stimulating interest in
community development and community-based programs. Community work has developed in part
Irom occupations such as social work, welIare work and youth work, which adopt a speciIic value
position oI social justice. Since the 1990s, a concern Ior community development has also emerged
Irom the Green literature, as Green writers have seen it as a likely way and perhaps the only way
to bring about a truly sustainable society. And the various strands oI post-Enlightenment thought have
given a strong intellectual justiIication Ior a Irom-below` perspective oI diversity, as a way to move
beyond the uniIying constraints oI Enlightenment modernity. While each has been important in
providing a vision Ior community development, and an alternative society, each oI these visions is
limited unless also inIormed by the other two, and it is in bringing them together that a more complete
and powerIul vision oI community development can be established, which can act as a basis Ior
Why each perspective is insufficient unless informed by the others
Limitations of the ecological perspective
The ecological perspective does not, oI itselI, imply social justice principles such as empowerment
and challenging structures and discourses oI oppression (Adger et al. 2006, Smith 2006). In the past,
practice models in social work built around an ecological perspective (Germain 1991) have largely
Iailed to address structural issues, and have as a result tended to reinIorce the existing order and to
legitimise a conservative method oI practice (Pease 1991). Fundamental social justice principles
such as class, gender and race/ethnicity are oIten missing Irom a Green analysis, or are dealt with
only in superIicial terms. Thus, a number oI Green prescriptions Ior a Iuture society simply reinIorce
structures and discourses oI disadvantage, unless social justice principles are also taken into account.
It is worth recalling that the words conservation and conservative have the same root. Conservative
ideology (as distinct Irom the radical right or neo-liberalism) values tradition and seeks to preserve
society as it has evolved; many environmental values, such as the preservation oI native Iorests, the
maintenance oI wilderness or the survival oI endangered species, are oIten justiIied using essentially
conservative (conservation) rhetoric. To achieve signiIicant change to the social, economic and
political order, as is clearly needed Irom an examination oI the crises Iacing the globe, more than this
simple conservatism is required. However, it must be remembered that there is an element oI
conservatism in all oI us; we value certain things about the present that we would wish to preserve or
conserve, and not wish to see set aside by social change. Conservative arguments are indeed
important, but are not suIIicient.
One example oI the social justice limitations oI an ecological perspective is the Ieminisation, and
the consumerisation, oI environmental issues. Many popular publications on ways to change the
world` or save the planet` concentrate on environmentally Iriendly ways to clean the house, control
household pests, prepare meals, package shopping and so on. Such practices are undoubtedly
worthwhile in themselves, yet the underlying message oI these publications is that environmental
change starts in the traditional women`s domain oI the home, and that primary responsibility Ior
saving the world Irom ecological disaster lies in the domestic sphere. It is a classic example oI
patriarchy at work, diverting attention away Irom the more characteristically male domains oI the
corporate boardroom and the cabinet room, where the most Iar-reaching decisions (in terms oI
ecological consequences) are made, where blame` Ior ecologically bad practices more properly
lies, and where primary responsibility Ior saving the planet should be located. Hence it is not just a
gender issue but also a class issue; attention is diverted Irom the captains oI industry` and the
controllers oI global capital, and instead Iocused on consumers, men as well as women. People are
made to Ieel vaguely guilty and somehow personally responsible Ior bringing about change; they
become the target` Ior education campaigns and the Iocus oI environmental programs. This illustrates
the necessity Ior an adequate gender analysis, and an adequate class analysis, within the
environmental movement. Although most environmentalists pay lip service to the importance oI
gender and class, it is sometimes at a Iairly superIicial level, except, oI course, among speciIically
eco-Ieminist or eco-socialist writers. From a social justice perspective, this is an all too Iamiliar
example oI blaming the victim, which oIten occurs when a structural analysis oI an issue is ignored.
There is also the danger oI eco-Iascism. The seriousness oI the ecological crisis results in the
temptation Ior governments to use draconian and authoritarian measures to enIorce sound ecological
practices, and it could be suggested that the extremely heavy penalties Ior littering in such countries
as Singapore represent an initial step in this direction. An alarming extension oI this trend is the
potential Ior the ecological crisis to be used as an excuse Ior the imposition oI an authoritarian regime
and the denial oI civil liberties, by a government seeking to justiIy repressive measures Ior other
purposes. And it is interesting to note that James Lovelock, the environmental scientist who
developed the Gaia hypothesis, has suggested that it may be necessary to suspend democracy in order
to bring about the changes needed to save the planet Irom environmental catastrophe (Lovelock
2006). From a social justice perspective this is indeed a dangerous prospect. The danger oI eco-
Iascism surely underlines the importance oI a strong social justice perspective to be Iully integrated
with environmental awareness and action.
The ecological perspective also has limitations Irom a post-Enlightenment point oI view. This is
partly the result oI the close association oI environmentalism with science, which is, oI course,
characteristic Enlightenment activity. This is not to say that science must be disregarded; the preIix
post-` means beyond` rather than anti`. Indeed, scientiIic research is vital Ior understanding
ecological issues and Ior thinking about ways Iorward. But while science is necessary, it is not
suIIicient. As discussed in chapter 2, we need to see the environment not just as a scientiIic issue but
as a social, cultural and political issue, and in these Iields the limitations oI Enlightenment modernity
have become all too apparent. Mary Midgley is an important writer who has argued that while
scientiIic rationality is important, it is only one way oI viewing the world, and that science must not
be allowed to eliminate all other perspectives Irom our ways oI understanding, such as the spiritual,
the aesthetic, the poetic and the emotional (Midgley 2001). Environmentalism, iI monopolised by
environmental scientists`, is in danger oI minimising or eliminating these important aspects oI the
human experience. Enlightenment modernity has privileged scientiIic rationality, and hence a post-
Enlightenment perspective is necessary iI we are to understand the ecological crisis in a holistic way.
Limitations of the social justice perspective
Just as the ecological perspective is seen to be inadequate unless accompanied by social justice and
post-Enlightenment analyses, so can a social justice perspective pose signiIicant problems unless it
incorporates ecological and post-Enlightenment understandings. The conventional economic
prescription Ior many social problems has been economic growth. It is through growth that wealth is
created, and this wealth can be distributed to reduce economic disadvantage and used to Iund
improved social services. Thus, traditional socialist strategies have assumed continued economic
growth, and have concentrated on the ways the results oI that growth should be distributed and used.
This has enabled many socialists to avoid the diIIiculty oI how to reduce incomes and consumption
levels oI the wealthy; in a growing economy with increasing prosperity, nobody need have less while
the goal oI equality is pursued.
The ecological perspective, however, questions both the Ieasibility and desirability oI continued
growth, and sees growth as one oI the major causes oI the current ecological crisis (Hamilton 2003).
This strikes at the heart not only oI the assumptions oI industrial and postindustrial capitalism but also
oI the assumptions oI socialism and communism as conventionally understood. It makes the
redistribution oI wealth and resources much harder to achieve; when the size oI the cake is not
growing, evening up the portions is going to mean that some people will have to have less. The
traditional reliance on growth to provide extra resources Ior social justice programs is not Ieasible iI
one accepts an ecological position.
Another conventional social justice strategy, again consistent with traditional socialism, is to rely
on strong centralised regulation in order to protect human rights and to counter the eIIects oI structural
disadvantage. This has led to the support oI strong central government and oI bureaucratic structures
as major Irameworks Ior the delivery oI human services, because oI the need to saIeguard minimum
standards and ensure equitable treatment Ior all. Problems with this assumption were identiIied in
chapter 1, and its inadequacies are Iurther highlighted by the ecological principles discussed in
chapter 2. It runs counter to the ecological principles oI diversity and organic change, and has led to
structures that are rigid, disempowering and unsustainable. An ecological perspective suggests that
such structures create at least as many problems as they solve, and that they do not represent an
eIIective long-term solution to the meeting oI human need.
Many oI the ecological dilemmas associated with social justice strategies centre on the issue oI
employment. Conventional social policy wisdom sees the labour market as critical Ior social justice,
and it is through work, and the provision oI jobs, that social justice aims can best be achieved. This
reIlects the primacy oI the work ethic and the Iundamental role played by jobs` in the distribution oI
wealth and power, the allocation oI status, selI-esteem and Iinding meaning` in liIe. From a Green
perspective, the primacy oI work as traditionally understood is part oI the problem, rather than part oI
the solution, and alternatives to conventional understandings oI work and employment are important
elements oI the Green vision. From an ecological perspective the continued search Ior Iull
employment` is unsustainable, and it is essential to develop other mechanisms Ior the distribution oI
wealth and the allocation oI status and worth.
Perhaps the most obvious point at which ecological and social justice strategies potentially clash
is in the area oI job creation. A social justice strategy without ecological awareness will support the
creation oI employment through the growth oI such industries as logging, mining and weapons
manuIacture, and will see the creation oI jobs as taking priority over environmental concerns. An
ecological perspective requires that the nature oI the jobs themselves be taken into account, and
rejects strategies that seek to create jobs at any cost. Hence an ecological perspective requires a
signiIicant reIormulation oI employment strategies as oIten deIined by advocates oI social justice, and
requires a more radical redeIinition than many social justice advocates have been prepared to
consider. This clash is evident in the tension that can develop between conservationists and trade
unionists, and is simplistically labelled in the media as jobs versus the environment`. The issue, oI
course, is much more complex than this, and there is an increasing realisation that the old binary oI
jobs versus environment no longer holds, and that environmental sustainability needs to be taken into
account in any employment strategy. However, the old antagonisms die hard, and in the Latrobe
Valley in Victoria (Australia) there is a good example: it is an area with vast deposits oI brown coal,
a Iorm oI coal that is particularly bad Ior greenhouse gas emissions, yet the state government, with the
support oI unions, is intent on increasing the mining and export oI brown coal, in the interests oI jobs
and the economy`. This has been accompanied by rhetoric oI the dignity oI work` and the denigration
oI those who are unemployed. It appears, at the time oI writing, that little attempt has been made to
Iind alternative solutions, through which people`s need Ior job security can be recognised while
working to achieve rather than undermine ecological sustainability. The Latrobe Valley is still
seen as a case oI jobs versus the environment`, and political Iactors mean that the jobs` are
From a post-Enlightenment point oI view, one oI the major problems oI social justice is that
social justice` itselI is a meta-narrative, and relies on other meta-narratives such as human rights and
equity in describing its mission. Such meta-narratives are questioned by postmodernism, which
suggests that, Iar Irom liberating, they can serve to Iorce conIormity to a single oppressive utopia. A
post-Enlightenment perspective would instead seek to problematise the idea oI social justice`, and
see how it might be diIIerently constructed in diIIerent contexts, rather than becoming a straitjacket.
Ideas such as social justice and human rights need not lose their power Irom this perspective, but
need to be understood in a more immediate, relational and contextual sense, and become a topic Ior
dialogue and discussion, rather than a mantra to be repeated.
Another problem with traditional Iormulations oI social justice, Irom a post-Enlightenment
perspective, is that they are oIten accompanied by a sense oI certainty. II speciIied things can be
done, then the world will be a better place. UnIortunately liIe is never as simple as that, and a post-
Enlightenment perspective is better able to deal with a world oI unpredictability and uncertainty,
rather than trying to impose order and system, so that social justice ends can be realised. This is
achieved by a reorientation to process rather than outcome, accepting that the utopia will never be
achieved, but rather that any concept like social justice or human rights will always be a work in
progress, whereby people are constantly working out what those ideas mean in their particular
context. Hence a post-Enlightenment view is needed iI the idea oI social justice is to have real
meaning at community level, beyond the idealistic mantras oI peace, justice, equity, rights and
Ireeedoms: all worthy ideals, oI course, but empty oI meaning unless they are contextualised.
Limitations of the post-Enlightenment perspective
There are two potential areas oI diIIiculty Ior a post-Enlightenment perspective that is not inIormed
by ecological and social justice principles. One is that a post-Enlightenment perspective is not
necessarily equitable. Simply to understand reality as constructed, and to value the presence oI
multiple readings and realities, does little to help people who may be disadvantaged. Indeed, some
Iorms oI post-Enlightenment thinking can be highly conservative, with little indication oI how
someone might act in order to improve their material circumstances or those oI others, and the
assumption that things should be leIt as they are. Social justice and ecological perspectives are
needed in order to provide a sense oI purpose and oI direction. A post-Enlightenment perspective
alone seems to take little account oI values and ideology, despite the important insights Irom the
diIIerent strands oI post-Enlightenment thinking discussed in chapter 4. Social justice and ecological
perspectives are needed to provide what might be called quasi-meta-narratives`, not the rigid
ideological statements oI the utopians but a set oI value parameters within which community
development occurs, and which provide a sense oI direction.
The other limitation oI a post-Enlightenment perspective is that it can be criticised as being strong
on theory but weak on practice. The analysis may be proIound, but it can leave the community worker
little indication oI what to do about it. Critical theory is a tradition that has recognised this diIIiculty,
and, based largely on a Marxist analysis, critical theorists have sought to show how a constructivist
tradition can be linked to a structural perspective, so that the aim oI social science becomes to help
people be equipped with the analysis and skills to take action about their conditions and experiences
(Calhoun 1995, Ray 1993, Fay 1975). Thus the link between theory and practice becomes oI central
importance, and any theory` must be linked to some Iorm oI action`. However, one oI the problems
oI critical theory is that many such theorists have not Iully escaped Irom the need to seek certainty and
predictability, so to some extent they remain trapped within Enlightenment modernity. For present
purposes, it is suIIicient to identiIy that both an ecological perspective and a social justice
perspective, as described in chapters 2 and 3, help to overcome these limitations oI a post-
Enlightenment view.
The promise of integration
From the above discussion, and indeed Irom the discussion in previous chapters, it can be seen that
all three perspectives are necessary Ior the realisation oI a society that is equitable and sustainable.
Each perspective can contribute to a re-evaluation oI the others, and each requires the others to
engage in Iundamental reappraisals oI some conventional wisdom. The three perspectives, however,
are not necessarily in competition, and Ior the most part are readily compatible. Points oI tension
between them, such as jobs versus the environment`, serve to identiIy areas where re-evaluation and
dialogue need to take place, rather than being seen as evidence oI Iundamental incompatibility.
Indeed, the three perspectives have much in common, in that each is seeking a better world, and each
encompasses a critique oI the dominant social, economic and political order.
From this position, it can be seen that many oI the change strategies attempted by those working
only Irom one perspective will Iail, in the long term iI not the short term, unless adequate account is
taken oI the other perspectives as well. The quest Ior an integrated position, involving all three
perspectives, is thereIore critical. It is also important in terms oI use oI resources; experienced social
justice community workers, Ior example, have commented on how Greens, in their enthusiastic
embrace oI community`, have been discovering` such techniques as non-violent action and
cooperative decision-making that have been well known to other community workers Ior many years.
Such reinventing the wheel` represents a waste oI time, energy and resources that cannot be aIIorded
given the serious nature and urgency oI the current situation, whether understood in terms oI
environmental crisis, economic crisis, political crisis or a crisis in human and spiritual values.
Development oI an integrated perspective, and genuine dialogue between advocates oI the three
positions, are essential.
Such an integration not only provides a vision oI a better society but also can identiIy new
concepts which can ensure that, true to the holistic paradigm, the new whole will be signiIicantly
greater than the sum oI its parts. Such concepts are now becoming part oI the thinking oI community
workers and others concerned Ior progressive social change. They include the idea oI social
sustainability, where the principle oI sustainability is applied not only to the environment but also to
social institutions such as communities, organisations, associations, economic systems and
government programs. These are seen as needing to ensure long-term sustainability in their structures
and processes.
Another idea that has emerged is the integration oI the social and the physical, where this is no
longer seen as a rigid binary but where each interacts with the other, and where such ideas as
relational reality, discussed in chapter 4, transcend both. Locating sustainability alongside social
justice has led to important ideas oI intergenerational equity, where our actions need to be judged not
only on their impact in the present but also on their implications Ior Iuture generations; such
considerations have become more signiIicant in recent years with growing awareness oI
environmental issues. This also emphasises the need to understand our actions and our experiences
within a historical context, rather than only in a decontextualised present.
The integrated perspective also introduces the importance oI global justice, and a global
perspective, which will be discussed Iurther in chapter 8, and oI ecocentric justice and environmental
rights, where our ideas oI justice` and rights` are extended to include the non-human world, which
is seen as having rights that need to be protected and realised. The charter oI the Rights oI Mother
Earth`, enshrined in legislation by the Morales government in Bolivia, is a good example oI this Iorm
oI thinking. The idea oI environmental rights also includes the environmental component oI human
rights, where our rights to a supportive and sustaining environment, Iree Irom pollution and toxins,
and allowing Ior personal enrichment Irom the experience oI nature, are seen as important human
rights to be seaIeguarded and enhanced.
The ecological, social justice and post-Enlightenment perspectives, taken together, Iorm the basis oI a
vision Ior a Iuture society. An important component oI that vision is the concept oI community, which
is inevitably a Iundamental concept Ior any community development approach. The idea oI community
is important in all three perspectives, and can be seen to be a natural consequence oI the premises oI
The community-based approach is reinIorced by the ecological principle oI diversity, as it enables
diIIerent ways oI doing things to be developed in diIIerent circumstances, and by the principle oI
sustainability, as small-scale structures are likely to be more sensitive to their immediate
environments. Community is consistent with empowerment models oI change, as it provides a
Iramework Ior people to take eIIective decisions, and with a needs-based perspective, as it can
enable people more readily to deIine and articulate their Ielt needs and aspirations. And community is
consistent with the idea oI relational reality and the more collective understandings oI Indigenous
world views.
A Iurther justiIication Ior the incorporation oI community in a vision oI social change was
provided in chapter 1, namely the view that perhaps there is no alternative, and that community is the
institution that will succeed the Iamily, the Church, the market and the state as the primary Iocus Ior
the meeting oI human need.
Characteristics of community`
The deIinition oI communitv is highly problematic and contested, so it is incumbent on anyone
wishing to use the word to provide some clariIication oI the meaning ascribed to it. That is the task oI
this section. From a post-Enlightenment perspective, however, it is not appropriate to arrive at a
Iormal deIinition. Rather, community` is an idea that is constantly being constructed and
reconstructed in diIIerent contexts, and that reconstruction is itselI part oI the process oI community
development. The idea oI community underwent major reIormulation as a result oI the Industrial
Revolution, and is now undergoing a similarly proIound transIormation as a consequence oI the
digital revolution. It cannot, and should not, be pinned down too precisely. Rather than a Iormal
deIinition, it is more helpIul to consider some oI the characteristics oI community, so the idea
community as discussed in this book is understood as a Iorm oI social organisation with the Iollowing
Iive related characteristics.
1 Human scale
As a counter to large, impersonalised and centralised structures, community involves interactions at a
scale that can readily be used by individuals. Thus, the scale is limited to one where people will
know each other or can readily get to know each other as needed, and where interactions are such that
they are readily accessible to all. Structures are small enough Ior people to be able to own and
control them, thereby allowing Ior genuine empowerment. There is no magic number` that can be
used to identiIy the size oI such a community, although clearly it could apply to groupings oI up to
several thousand people. This characteristic does, however, rule out particularly large groupings,
such as the Australian community`.
2 Identity and belonging
To most people, the word communitv would incorporate some sense oI Ieeling oI belonging, or being
accepted and valued within the group. It is this that leads to the use oI the term member of the
communitv; the idea oI membership implies belonging, acceptance by others and allegiance or loyalty
to the aims oI the group concerned. It is thereIore more than simply a group established Ior
administrative convenience (e.g. an electorate, a school class or a workplace group), but has some oI
the characteristics oI a club or society, to which people belong as members and where this sense oI
belonging is signiIicant and positively regarded.
Thus, belonging to a community gives one a sense oI identity. The community can become part oI a
person`s selI-concept, and is an important aspect oI how one views one`s place in the world. The
lack oI such personal identity is commonly perceived as one oI the problems oI modern society
(Castells 1997). The decline oI institutions that give people identity (e.g. the tribe, the clan, the
Church or the village) can be seen as one oI the reasons employment and the workplace have become
so signiIicant: they represent one oI the Iew remaining ways in which people can legitimately achieve
an identity, and work has become the primary mechanism Ior the allocation oI status. II the work ethic
is to be successIully challenged, as the Green analysis proposes, it will be important to provide some
other mechanism, such as community, through which people can achieve a sense oI identity.
3 Obligations
Membership oI an organisation carries both rights and responsibilities, so a community also requires
certain obligations oI its members. There is an expectation that people will contribute to the liIe oI
the community` by participating actively in at least some oI its activities, and that they will contribute
to the maintenance oI the community structure. All groups need maintenance iI they are to survive, and
the responsibility Ior the maintenance Iunctions oI a community rests largely with its members. Being
a member oI a community should not thereIore be a purely passive experience but should also involve
some level oI active participation.
4 Cemeinschaft
Tönnies` distinction between Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft (1955) has already been mentioned in
chapter 1. Gemeinschaft structures and relationships are implied by the concept oI community, as
opposed to the Gesellschaft structures and relationships oI mass society. Thus, a community will
enable people to interact with each other in a greater variety oI roles, which will be less
diIIerentiated and contractual, and which will encourage interactions with others as whole people`
rather than as limited and deIined roles or categories. This is not only important in terms oI selI-
enhancement, human contact and personal growth; it also enables individuals to contribute a wider
range oI talents and abilities Ior the beneIit oI others and the community as a whole.
5 Culture
A community provides an opportunity Ior an antidote to the phenomenon oI mass culture`. The
culture oI modern society is produced and consumed on a mass scale, resulting too oIten in sterile
uniIormity and the removal oI culture Irom the local experiences oI ordinary people (Niezen 2004). A
community enables the valuing, production and expression oI a local or community-based culture,
which will have unique characteristics associated with that community, which will enable people to
become active producers oI that culture rather than passive consumers, and which will thus encourage
both diversity among communities and broad-based participation.
These Iive characteristics can be seen as Iorming the basis oI an understanding oI community as
understood in the remaining chapters. They are clearly interrelated, and should be seen not as
necessarily distinct categories but rather as diIIerent maniIestations oI the same phenomenon.
Geographical, functional and on-line communities
One critical question associated with any deIinition oI community is whether communities must
necessarily be geographically based, and deIined in terms oI a particular locality. This has oIten been
an implicit assumption behind much discussion oI community work, but in modern societies (and even
more in postmodern societies) many experiences oI community are not based on locality, and this
trend has dramatically increased as a result oI the rapid development oI on-line communities.
A traditional distinction has been made between geographical and functional communities, the
Iormer being based on locality and the latter on some other common element providing a sense oI
identity. Examples oI Iunctional communities, which may not be locality-based, are: the Italian
community, the academic community, the Church community, the activist community, the legal
community, and groups oI people with speciIic characteristics (e.g. people with a particular
disability) who get together. Each oI these could have the characteristics oI community described
above and so could legitimately be regarded as a community Ior the purposes oI this book.
Community workers, indeed, have a long history oI working with Iunctional communities as well as
geographical communities, a good example being those community workers who work with speciIic
ethnic communities. Functional communities have existed since well beIore the internet and social
media. They may involve Iace-to-Iace contact, where community members meet at a determined time
and place, or they may involve other Iorms oI contact. In pre-internet days this would have been
through mail (newsletters etc.) or by phone. But since the development oI the internet, email and the
various Iorms oI social media, on-line communities have blossomed, in a wide variety oI Iorms.
From all three perspectives discussed above, however, basing community development only on
Iunctional communities, including on-line communities, is problematic. From an ecological
perspective it can be argued that community should ideally be locality-based, because oI the
importance oI the whole ecosystem and the need Ior human communities to be integrated with the
physical environment and the land. This is reinIorced by Indigenous world views, which suggest that
humanity`s artiIicial separation Irom the land, characteristic oI Western societies and the
anthropocentric approach, is the cause oI many current problems, and that Ior community to be
sustainable it must be integrated with a bioregional system, requiring it to be deIined in terms oI
physical location and helping people to re-establish a connection with, and a responsibility Ior, their
physical environment.
Another argument against Iunctional and on-line communities is that they tend to work against
diversity and to segment rather than integrate human populations. A goal oI community development,
and oI community-based services, is to integrate people within a diverse community context so that
they can beneIit Irom that diversity, interact with each other, nurture each other and all participate in
decision-making. This is harder to achieve iI some groups (e.g. those with a particular ethnic
background, with disabilities or with a particular proIession or occupation) have a primary loyalty to
a Iunctional rather than a geographical community, which readily excludes others, rendering them less
inclined to participate in locally based activities. Functional communities do not necessarily embrace
or encourage diversity.
From a social justice perspective, there will be some people Ior whom a Iunctional or on-line
community is not a viable option, and oIten these are the most disadvantaged. People without ready
access to aIIordable transport or childcare, people without access to a computer or smart phone and
the skills to use it, and those Ior whom there is not an obvious Iunctional or on-line community Ior
them to join, cannot be expected to have their need Ior community interaction met in this way. It could
be argued that it is the emergence oI Iunctional communities based on work or leisure activities that
has kept some people (especially men) away Irom spending much time in a localised community
setting, leaving others (typically women, older people and people with disabilities) to endure liIe in
an impoverished and demoralising local situation, leading to loneliness, isolation, depression, drugs
and suicide. II Iunctional communities are thriving at the expense oI local communities, the social
justice perspective described in chapter 3 requires that the Iurther development oI Iunctional
communities be discouraged, and that geographical communities be supported instead.
For these reasons, geographical communities may be seen to represent a preIerred option Ior
community development and community-based services, as opposed to Iunctional communities. Such
arguments, however, can deny the legitimacy oI the positive experiences some people may have in
Iunctional communities, and their potential Ior empowerment. On-line communities are now a Iact oI
liIe, not only in the developed West, and Ior increasing numbers oI people they represent their
primary experience oI community. Given the weak structure oI geographical communities, especially
in urban settings, it is important that operating Iunctional communities, including on-line communities,
be recognised and nurtured. This is particularly important where such communities represent
disadvantaged or oppressed groups, such as Indigenous People, people with disabilities or newly
arrived immigrants, as in these cases Iunctional communities can be an important aspect oI an
empowerment process. It is less important where Iunctional communities represent the powerIul (e.g.
the proIessions, elites and the business community`), and there are good arguments that the
strengthening oI such communities runs counter to social justice aims.
How, then, should community development respond to the rise oI on-line communities? From the
perspective oI this book, it would be a tragedy iI geographical communities ceased to exist in any
meaningIul sense. Geographical communities, oI one kind or another, are essential iI we are to
maintain a connection to place and to the land, which is vital at a time oI ecological crisis. Indeed, the
holistic approach to community development, as described in later chapters, incorporating the social,
economic, political, cultural, environmental, spiritual, personal and survival aspects oI human
community, cannot be Iully applied to on-line communities, which inevitably tend towards more
specialisation and a more limited agenda; they may exist, Ior example, Ior speciIic political purposes,
and have little place Ior the cultural or the spiritual. However, it would be naive to deny the reality,
the signiIicance and the potential oI Iunctional communities, and especially oI on-line communities,
which are so much part oI the postmodern experience. To avoid the new challenges oI on-line
communities would consign community development to increasing irrelevance. Establishing strong
locally based communities, while at the same time supporting and encouraging on-line communities,
and recognising the strengths and limitations oI both, seems to represent the best way Iorward.
However, at this stage oI history, community workers have Iar more experience oI working with local
communities than with on-line communities, so it is inevitable that much oI the theory and practice
wisdom on which this book`s approach to community development is based will be derived primarily
Irom local community experience. Working with on-line communities, Irom a community development
perspective, is the challenge Ior new generations oI practitioners, and Irom their experience more
relevant theorising will undoubtedly develop.
Community as subjective
The earlier discussion oI the meaning oI the term communitv did not result in a neat deIinition but
rather in a set oI descriptions oI what the word implies. This is because community is essentially a
subjective experience, which deIies objective deIinition. It is Ielt and experienced, rather than
measured and deIined. Because oI its subjective nature, it is not particularly helpIul to think oI
community as existing`, or to operationalise` community in such a way that we can measure it. It is
more appropriate to allow people to develop their own constructions oI what community means Ior
them, in their own context, and to help them to work towards the realisation oI a Iorm oI community
that meets the criteria described above.
From this perspective, community development is not about deIining and establishing something
called community, but is rather an ongoing and complex process oI dialogue, exchange,
consciousness-raising, education and action aimed at helping the people concerned to construct their
own version oI community. This may be a very diIIerent version Irom that developed by another
group, and one oI the Iundamental principles oI this book, which is consistent with the ecological and
post-Enlightenment perspectives, is that there is no single right` Iormula Ior what constitutes
community, and no single right` way to develop it. Cookbook` prescriptions, while they may be
intuitively appealing, are thus inappropriate and will not work most oI the time (see chapter 13).
Community development is a much more complex process, Iull oI dilemmas and problems that require
unique and creative solutions. Models oI community work thereIore are valuable only iI they provide
Irameworks within which these problems and dilemmas can be understood and creative solutions
Urban, suburban and rural issues
The development oI autonomous, selI-reliant, geographical communities is in general a much easier
task in smaller rural communities, because oI the size oI the community, the clear boundaries, the
stable population base and existing community ties, which are likely to be stronger than in urban or
suburban areas. The rural tradition oI people working together in hard times is an indication oI
community strength, and the number oI community organisations and associations in country towns is
a Iurther indication oI a level oI community interaction that is not usually present in other locations.
Thus rural towns are likely to be the areas where new alternative community structures will more
readily emerge, because such structures are not greatly diIIerent Irom people`s experience. It might be
argued that the characteristic conservatism oI many rural communities could work against such a
trend, but it is precisely this conservatism that could be a strength in community development; it
would be a case oI building on many oI the strengths already present in many rural communities. It is
also sometimes the case that the supposed conservatism oI rural communities is a myth; rural
communities in Saskatchewan on the Canadian prairies were historically the cradle oI socialism and
the cooperative movement in Canada, and this strong radical tradition can be built on in community
development. Even in rural communities without the radical tradition oI Saskatchewan, rural
recession can open up possibilities Ior alternative economic development on a community-based
model. Alternative local currency schemes are now well established and accepted in many smaller
towns, as rural communities are realising that the mainstream economy has Iailed them and have set
about establishing their own (see chapter 10).
Similarly, human-service workers in rural communities commonly Iind that, oIten despite oIIicial
departmental procedures, they are inevitably working Irom a community-based perspective, as
opposed to a proIessionalised therapeutic model or a bureaucratically based state intervention model.
They live in and are part oI the community, meet their clients in everyday social situations and use
this Ior the client`s beneIit, use their own community networks to help solve problems, Iind that
boundaries between diIIerent agencies are extremely Iluid, and see people`s problems and their
solution within the context oI the local community. To do otherwise would be utterly inappropriate,
and a community-based approach is a matter oI both inevitability and common sense.
It must be emphasised, however, that rural communities are not utopias, and that they pose their
own particular problems Ior community workers. Conservative views on gender, race and sexuality
are common in many such communities, and establishing a community development program based on
the social justice principles oI chapter 3 presents signiIicant challenges. Any community will present
both opportunities and obstacles Ior community development, and although rural communities have
many strengths on which a community worker can build, there can be major diIIiculties in relation to
social justice principles.
Urban and suburban areas represent a diIIerent, and potentially much more signiIicant, set oI
problems Ior community development. Community structures are much weaker, boundaries are
diIIicult to perceive or non-existent, and people commonly relate to groups and structures
substantially removed Irom their local community, although there can be signiIicant exceptions to this,
such as the strong community participatory spirit in certain suburbs with a tradition oI local activism.
Many other suburbs, however, have been planned in such a way that community interaction is
discouraged Iar removed Irom common workplaces, no local employment, no obvious Iocal point
Ior community activity, no local services, pedestrian traIIic almost impossible and public transport
minimal or non-existent. Under such circumstances, and with multiple attractions in other parts oI the
city, it is no wonder that people spend little time in their local neighbourhood, do not know many oI
their neighbours and have little identiIication with local community issues. Inner-city urban areas can
have other problems: transient populations with little commitment to the locality, cultural conIlict,
concern Ior security and personal saIety discouraging people Irom venturing onto the street and so on.
Reaction to this has led to the phenomenon oI secure`, gated communities, where the idea oI
community` is equated with a withdrawal Irom the rest oI the world, with many people isolated
within their constructed, closed communities`; this is little more than a caricature oI community, and
a long way Irom the idea oI community as discussed in this book.
The challenge oI developing community-based structures in urban and suburban areas is a critical
one, as this is the context within which many people live (Hamdi 2004). Finding adequate strategies
Ior community development in such locations is thereIore a major priority and, unless this can be
achieved, the potential oI a genuinely community-based alternative will not be recognised.
Despite the major diIIiculties, there are some indications that the development oI community-based
structures is indeed possible in such locations. This has proven easier in more disadvantaged urban
or suburban communities: the stigmatisation oI a suburb can act as a Iorce to bring the community
together and provide a sense oI identity, and the oIten inadequate public transport services to such
areas combine with poverty to render people less mobile and thereIore more likely to Iocus on local
activity. Thus, in many disadvantaged urban locations, community development work has been able to
build on a strong local community identity and provide a solid Ioundation Ior the development oI
community-based alternatives. Also the problems oI such areas lead to the location oI a variety oI
social services, and the more progressive and community-based among them can act as a Iocal point
Ior the stimulation oI community development.
While such examples are Iar Irom being Iully selI-reliant and autonomous communities, they do
represent the Ioundations on which such structures can be built. In more aIIluent neighbourhoods such
structures are weaker, but nonetheless there are community-level structures that represent potential
Iocal points Ior community activity: sporting clubs, church parishes, progress associations, parents
and citizens associations and so on.
The relative strength oI community in more disadvantaged areas suggests an important principle
Ior community development: it is in circumstances oI adversity, or when the wider social and
economic system is seen as having Iailed them, that people will be more likely to look to local
community-based structures as an alternative. II the Iuture is one oI crisis and instability, more people
are likely to Iind themselves in such circumstances, and the potential Ior the community development
approach is likely to grow. Today`s aIIluent suburbs could become tomorrow`s disadvantaged
ghettos, and community development would then become a more viable alternative.
The word development is, iI anything, even more problematic than the word communitv. In some
circles development has become a dirty word because oI the devastating consequences oI the
dominant Iorm oI global economic development on the nations oI the South. Space does not permit a
Iull analysis oI these processes beyond simply noting that such a model oI development has resulted
in proIits Ior transnational capital and Ior the elites oI the South, while at the same time resulting in
hunger and starvation Ior many oI the poor, the breakdown oI village communities, the creation oI
urban Iringe-dwellers and the decline oI basic health, education and social services (Norgaard 1994,
George 2010, Trainer 2010a, Shiva 2005, Nederveen Pieterse 2001, Therborn 2006, Chambers 2005,
Green 2012). Community development projects within this model have reinIorced this process, and
have been part oI the oppression oI the most disadvantaged people. It is certainly the responsibility oI
those seeking to undertake community development projects to ensure that such models are rejected
and alternatives developed.
The economies oI the world are now subject to the Iorces oI globalisation, an agenda basically set
by the demands oI neo-liberalism and transnational capital. This, particularly since the Global
Financial Crisis oI 200708, is now aIIecting the economies oI many oI the so-called wealthy
nations, in the same direction as those oI the less wealthy: Greece, Spain, Portugal, Iceland and
Ireland are perhaps the most extreme examples, at least at the time oI writing. Deregulation oI
Iinancial markets, the elimination oI tariIIs and barriers to Iree trade`, privatisation, a widening gap
between the rich and the poor, declining living standards, high unemployment, the cutting back oI
public services and the dismantling oI the welIare state have become conventional economic wisdom
in English-speaking Western countries (namely the UK, the USA, Canada, Australia and Aotearoa).
This neo-liberal agenda has been pursued both by conservative governments (the UK Conservatives,
Australian Liberals, Canadian Progressive Conservatives, Aotearoa Nationals, US Republicans) and
by governments with a more social democratic heritage (Labour in Aotearoa and the UK, Labor in
Australia, the Liberals in Canada and the Democrats in the USA). The Iact that such policies seem to
be Iollowed irrespective oI proIessed ideology in these Iive countries indicates that the origins are
not to be Iound within the countries themselves, or their governments, but rather in larger-scale
transnational processes. The long-term consequences oI such policies, iI current trends continue, will
be that those countries (or at least large regions oI them) will take on more oI the characteristics oI
so-called Third World nations, with wealthy elites and an increasingly powerless and underserviced
group in poverty (Castells 1996, Honeywill 2006, Castells, Caraça & Cardoso 2012).
This perspective suggests that the analysis oI what has happened to the South, or the Third
World`, should be oI more than academic interest to the citizens oI Australia, Aotearoa, Canada, the
UK and the USA. The global economy is increasingly Iailing them, too, and as they struggle to
develop a viable alternative and to regain control oI their own economic, social and political aIIairs,
the experience oI the oppressed people oI the world, and indeed the oppressed Irom within those
countries themselves, can be a source oI learning and inspiration.
Alternative development
The traditional Western model oI development has not been the only one applied in nations oI the
South. Alternative development approaches have been proposed by certain non-government aid
agencies working Irom an explicit analysis oI the oppression oI so-called Third World countries.
These have speciIically aimed to develop and support community-level structures that enhance
empowerment and challenge the oppressive structures oI the existing order (Featherstone 2012,
Norgaard 1994, George 2010, Trainer 2010a, Shiva 2005, Nederveen Pieterse 2001, Therborn 2006,
Chambers 2005, Green 2012). Such approaches to development characteristically involve the
Iollowing: little iI any reliance on government structures; local-level development; grounding in the
local culture rather than imposing a model Irom outside; Indigenous leadership; speciIic addressing oI
the structures oI disempowerment; and high levels oI participation by local people.
Another key writer whose ideas have aIIected alternative development, and indeed community
development more generally, is Paulo Freire (1972). Freire`s pioneering work in literacy programs
in Brazil has implications way beyond his own particular experience, and has been a source oI
inspiration to many people involved with community development. For present purposes, the two
important elements oI Freire`s work are his use oI consciousness-raising as a key component oI
development, and his insistence that education and development must link the personal and the
political. Hence, Freire requires that programs be grounded in the real-liIe experiences, suIIerings
and aspirations oI the people as articulated by the people themselves, while at the same time these
subjective experiences must be linked to an analysis oI the broader social, economic and political
structures that are the cause oI people`s oppression and disadvantage. It is only by showing how the
personal and the political relate, in such a way that possibilities Ior action are revealed, that genuine
empowerment can occur. This approach to action and development has been extremely inIluential,
and is a central Iocus oI the approach to community development and community work practice
described in this book.
The wisdom of the oppressed
A Iundamental principle oI community development, as understood in the context oI the previous
chapters, is that wisdom comes Irom below` rather than Irom above`. This is emphasised in
Freire`s work, and in other consciousness-raising approaches, whereby people are assisted to
articulate their own needs and to develop their own strategies oI action in order to have those needs
met. Rather than being the source oI wisdom, the expert` is simply a resource that may be used by the
people to help them articulate and meet their own perceived needs. In the Australian context the
empowerment-based poverty program oI the Brotherhood oI St Laurence (LiIIman 1978) piloted such
an approach in the 1970s, whereby the consumers were given complete control oI the program, and
the proIessionals such as social workers were answerable to them and were in a resourcing rather
than a directing role. This is a reversal oI the traditional proIessional relationship in the so-called
helping proIessions, and represents an important move towards empowerment rather than
disempowerment oI the consumers oI human services. Sadly, this approach, although oIten quoted
with approval, has not been widely implemented in the human services in the succeeding decades,
partly because it is resource-intensive, but also because it is a radical challenge to proIessional
Structures oI domination and oppression have resulted in the legitimising oI the wisdom` oI the
dominant groups, while the alternative wisdoms oI oppressed groups go unrecognised. Hence the
dominant paradigm encourages the notion that wisdom lies with senior managers, policy-makers,
academics, leaders oI the Christian Church, respected media commentators and the authors oI books.
While such wisdom is undoubtedly important, it is essentially the wisdom oI the powerIul, not oI the
powerless, despite the best intentions oI the people involved. An empowerment-based approach, such
as that oI Freire, will by contrast value the wisdom oI the powerless: the victims oI structural
oppression, who are rendered inarticulate by the dominant Iorms oI expression and communication.
An essential component oI a community development approach is not only to acknowledge the
wisdom oI the oppressed and their right to deIine their own needs and aspirations in their own way
but also to Iacilitate the expression oI that wisdom within the wider society as an essential
contribution to the welIare oI the human race. Thus community development must incorporate
strategies oI consciousness-raising and oI ensuring that the voices oI the oppressed are heard,
acknowledged and valued.
As discussed in chapter 4, a particularly important component oI the wisdom oI the oppressed is
the wisdom oI Indigenous People. In many countries Indigenous People have shown how it is
possible to live in harmony with the natural environment incorporating the ecological values
identiIied in chapter 2, and have been able to provide Ior the meeting oI basic human needs through
essentially community-based social, economic and political structures. They have thus incorporated
the major components oI community development as understood in this book, so they are an important
source oI wisdom not just because oI their status as some oI the most oppressed people in Western
societies but because their values, social structures and cultural traditions clearly point the way to
alternatives Irom which mainstream Western society has much to learn. ThereIore community
development with Indigenous People must move away Irom being understood as something that is
done to Indigenous People to being seen as a way in which all humanity can learn Irom those
societies that have been able to maintain their organic links with the natural environment and their
social base in human community. This is increasingly being recognised within the ecological
movement, and it is beginning to be acknowledged that in many cases Indigenous People`s spiritual
and social values Iorm a more solid basis Ior tackling social problems than do the conventional
mechanisms oI the welIare state (Diamond 2013, Knudtson & Suzuki 2006, Sveiby & Skuthorpe
As well as learning Irom Indigenous People`s views oI development, the people`s movements oI
Latin America the Zapatistas in Mexico, the radical governments oI Bolivia and Venezuela, the
Horizontalidad` movement in Argentina (Sitrin 2012), and the Cuban community response to the end
oI the Cold War and the US embargo all represent ways oI doing development` diIIerently. These
are examples oI development based on people`s movements, not on proIit or global trade, and
provide inspiration that alternative Iorms oI development are possible.
Another signiIicant group that has been disadvantaged by structural oppression is women. The
Ieminist movement has sought to develop an alternative to the characteristically male, rational,
mechanistic paradigm. Patriarchal structures have not only served to dominate and oppress women
but also devalued an alternative world view that is typically more holistic and organic. Feminist
theory has become an important inIluence on community development, as it has demonstrated
eIIectively how to link the personal and the political within a program oI consciousness-raising,
education and social action.
The struggles oI Indigenous People, women and other oppressed groups such as ethnic and racial
minorities, people with disabilities, gays and lesbians, the working class and the poor, contain many
lessons Ior those interested in community development. The social movements that have developed
Irom these struggles have sought to challenge the dominant structures oI oppression and disadvantage.
Many successIul community workers have drawn heavily on the experience oI labour organisers,
civil rights activists, workers in the Indigenous rights movement and so on. Thus, the wisdom oI the
oppressed makes an important contribution in terms oI alternative values and world views, and in
terms oI the experience oI struggle and change. This point will be Iurther developed in chapter 6.
Figure 5.1 The vision oI community development
Community-based human services
It is now appropriate to revisit the idea oI community-based human services. Although the approach
to community development outlined in this and subsequent chapters incorporates more than just human
services, it is a human-service perspective that particularly concerns many people working in the
community work Iield, and the crisis in human services was an important theme in chapter 1. Given
the likely Iailure oI the welIare state to continue to meet human needs, and the ecological
unsustainability oI large, centralised welIare state structures, it is important to consider how human
services would look under a community-based approach. II indeed Western societies are entering a
period oI instability and crisis, one oI the most important needs will be to develop human services
such as health, education, housing, income security, law and order and care Ior dependent people
that are sustainable in times oI crisis, and which draw on the resources and expertise oI the local
community. In the community-based society, human services will still be important, but they will be
very diIIerent Irom human services as currently organised and experienced by both the consumers and
the deliverers oI service.
Human services represent a particularly important aspect oI community development because
many community workers are employed Irom a human-service base, and are expected to establish
community-based` services in some Iorm. Also, many community workers come to community
development Irom a background in human services social workers, welIare workers, nurses,
teachers, occupational therapists, psychologists, youth workers, recreation workers and so on. Hence,
it is an important Iocus Ior many community workers, and a good deal oI eIIective community
development will begin Irom a basis in human-service delivery.
Some oI the ideas in the paragraphs below may seem hopelessly idealistic and naive. Certainly
they represent quite a radical departure Irom present practice, at least in Western societies, although
they will perhaps be less remarkable to readers Irom other cultural traditions. However, it is
important to envisage alternatives; iI we do not, we have no clear idea oI where we are headed. More
importantly, the Iact that these ideas may seem unachievable now does not mean that they will always
be so. The context oI practice is constantly changing, and what may seem impossible today could be
Ieasible tomorrow. In a rapidly changing world, where times oI crisis create opportunities, it is very
important to entertain unrealistic` ideas oI a possible Iuture.
Community-based solutions to social problems
One oI the reasons Ior turning to community development as an alternative to more traditional Iorms
oI human services is that it holds out a promise oI a more adequate solution to many oI the most
pressing contemporary social problems. Such problems as unemployment, poverty, crime, loneliness,
mental illness, substance abuse and domestic violence seem to be insoluble. Despite the best eIIorts
oI policy-makers, social and behavioural scientists and human service proIessionals, these problems
remain intractable and, iI anything, appear to be becoming more serious. As discussed in chapter 3,
this is largely due to the structural basis oI such problems, and Irom this perspective it is not
surprising that they cannot be solved` while the basic structures oI contemporary society remain
The community development approach challenges some oI these structures, and seeks alternatives
to the taken-Ior-granted assumptions oI the existing social, economic and political system. In so doing
it holds out a hope that some oI these problems might indeed be adequately addressed. For example, a
community-based approach to work, together with a localised economic system, has the potential to
deal with the perceived problems oI unemployment and poverty in a way that is not possible in the
more conventional labour market. As another example, it has become clear to many that juvenile
oIIending is much better dealt with in its community context, through a restorative justice approach,
rather than being removed to the artiIicial environment oI a court (Liebmann 2007, Sullivan & TiIIt
2006, Strickland 2004). Similarly, eIIective community development can signiIicantly reduce
loneliness, stress and mental health problems.
The implementation oI a program oI community development can serve as a basis Ior addressing
many oI the social problems oI contemporary society. This does not mean that there would be no need
Ior human services in such an alternative society: there would still be a need Ior education, people
would still Iall ill, people would still need Iood, shelter and Iinancial security, there would still be
personal and interpersonal pain and suIIering, and there would still be some degree oI antisocial`
behaviour; these are part and parcel oI the human condition. In a community-based system, however,
services to address these issues would be organised very diIIerently.
Characteristics of community-based services
As indicated in chapter 1, the term communitv-based has been used with a variety oI meanings and, in
some instances, has been a euphemism Ior gender oppression, support Ior privatisation, erosion oI
public responsibility and so on. From the community development perspective, however, community-
based human services are a Iundamental component oI an alternative society, and have the potential to
replace the existing system with one that is more strongly based on principles oI ecological
sustainability and social justice.
The essence oI this approach to human services is that the community must be responsible not only
Ior the delivery oI services but also Ior the identiIication oI needs, the planning oI services to meet
those needs, the establishment oI priorities within and among competing` services, and the
monitoring and evaluation oI programs. Under the current system many oI these processes are
undertaken centrally, as part oI government policy`, and this eIIectively disempowers community
initiative. It is only when all aspects oI service delivery are in Iact controlled at community level, by
the people most directly aIIected, that human services can be said to be genuinely community-based.
It is Ior the community itselI to decide what is needed, how it should be initiated, how it should be
provided and how it should be evaluated subject, oI course, to ecological, social justice and human
rights constraints.
Placing primary responsibility Ior service delivery with the local community means that a
community would utilise its own strengths in terms oI human resources, expertise and so on. Services
would be designed and provided by and Ior local community members, rather than being designed
and provided by expert technicians Irom elsewhere. Personal experience, together with local
knowledge, understanding and wisdom, become highly valued, whereas the welIare state eIIectively
devalues them in Iavour oI anonymous central uniIormity.
The community-based perspective requires a move away Irom the model oI individualised and
proIessionalised services that has increasingly dominated human services in industrial societies.
There are three main reasons Ior such a change. First, the individual or proIessional model reinIorces
individual rather than community deIinitions oI problems and their solutions. This is inherently
conservative, and does not allow Ior the structural and poststructural Iactors identiIied in chapter 3 to
be addressed. Failure to address these issues will inevitably mean that programs and solutions will
not really solve anything, and will at best only prevent things Irom becoming worse.
Second, there is the very practical consideration that individualised proIessionalised services are
very expensive, and cannot be aIIorded Ior all members oI the society at a level suIIicient to meet all
human needs. This leads to the rationing oI services, whereby some people have to miss out or
receive second best. Given the dominance oI the market, these tend to be low-income people who
cannot aIIord to pay Ior services, but they can also be Irom other groups (e.g. rural communities,
reIugees, women, Indigenous People and residents oI outer suburban areas).
Third, individualised and proIessionalised services do not empower communities or consumers,
because knowledge and wisdom tend to be conIined to the proIessional and not shared with others.
Thus existing power inequalities are reinIorced rather than challenged, and people eIIectively do not
gain more control over their own lives.
An alternative community-based model would Iocus on skill-sharing, and on helping community
members to develop skills and to use their own existing skills and wisdom in providing services to
others. Knowledge and skills would be owned` at the community level, and would be shared widely
among community members. Services would not, Ior the most part, be provided by outside
proIessional experts but would be relocated in the community itselI (which is where they have always
been throughout human history, except Ior the past 200 years).
Local communities would have real authority, and responsibility, to manage services in the way
that best suits them. The local community would establish its own priorities, Ior example in the use oI
health-care resources. Service providers, including human-service proIessionals, would be directly
accountable to the local community. ProIessional monopolies would be dismantled, and the resources
oI all people in the community would be used to help solve problems and provide services; thus
education would become an experience in which many people contribute, not just proIessional
educators, and where everyone learns Irom each other. The contribution oI all community members
would be valued and encouraged. Community Iacilities (schools, clinics, oIIices, halls etc.) would be
shared, rather than used Ior a single purpose, and various community activities would be integrated.
Problems would be dealt with in their community context, rather than in a removed and artiIicial
environment. As an example, the justice system would be community-based so that oIIending
behaviour can be dealt with in its community context (Matthews 1988) rather than through the
alienating Iormal mechanisms oI the courts. People with disabilities would be seen as the
community`s responsibility, rather than the Iamily`s or the state`s, and the community itselI would
determine, with the people concerned, how their needs might best be met. Where people need
personal or emotional support they would be able to seek it Irom other community members, rather
than Irom paid counsellors or therapists, and the community would be organised in such a way that
this support would be readily Iorthcoming. Even problems oI poverty would be seen as the
community`s responsibility, as long as the community was in control oI its local economy and the
distribution oI its own resources.
Human-service workers
This change would require a radical reIormulation oI the various human service proIessions,
including medicine, law, nursing, teaching, social work, psychology and occupational therapy. This
does not necessarily mean that there would be no role Ior someone with specialist knowledge in these
areas, but this would be less at the level oI service provision and more in terms oI providing
consultation Ior speciIic problems, and in skilling local community members to deal eIIectively with
particular situations. In developing such alternative models, there are lessons to be learned Irom the
experience oI countries oI the South. Basic health services, Ior example, can be provided at village
level by a local person who has undergone a special training program, and need not be the sole
province oI the medical practitioner; indeed most oI the complaints people take to their GP could
easily be dealt with by a community nurse or a community health worker. This would leave the highly
trained medical practitioner with a very diIIerent role: to deal directly with only the more diIIicult or
complex cases, and to work to increase the skills not only oI health workers but also oI all citizens to
deal eIIectively with health matters. Similarly, proIessional teachers need not be in control oI all
aspects oI a child`s education; in Iact it is a myth to assume that they are, as a good deal oI a person`s
learning (arguably the majority) takes place outside the Iormal education system. Those with
proIessional qualiIications in education could concentrate on skilling others to become good teachers,
and on improving the level oI education, in its broadest sense, in the community.
The issue oI proIessionalism is discussed in chapter 16 in relation speciIically to community
workers, but in the present context it relates to the broader range oI human-service proIessionals. A
community-based approach places a diIIerent perspective on the notion oI proIessionalism. Some
aspects oI a proIessional model oI practice are clearly still relevant and important, Ior example
practice according to a code oI ethics, systematic use oI knowledge and skills, and so on. But there
are other aspects oI proIessionalism that work against the community-based approach, namely the
tendency to monopolise knowledge and skills, the status` aspects oI proIessionalism and the claim to
power and exclusivity on the basis oI proIessional position. The relationship between proIessional
and client is in practice usually not one oI empowerment (despite the rhetoric oI some proIessions)
but rather oI disempowerment and the reinIorcement oI inequality.
Hence human service practice needs to overcome some oI these negative aspects oI
proIessionalism, whether or not the term professional is used. Such approaches would incorporate
notions oI sharing power and skills with consumers, and teaching others how to use the knowledge
and skills oI the proIessional, rather than the proIessional laying exclusive claim to them. Thus
education, in its broadest sense, becomes a critical component oI all human service work. Such a
model also requires the end oI proIessional jargon, which is used to conIuse and mystiIy; thus
translating the insights, wisdom and knowledge oI the proIessions into readily understood language
(within each social and cultural context) is an important initiative.
Many diIIerent sorts oI people, with diIIerent levels oI training, have important roles in human
services iI these services are to be Iully integrated into community structures. ProIessionals would
have to accept working cooperatively (not hierarchically) with untrained people, or people with
lower levels oI training, such as basically trained health workers providing primary health care and
experienced community members with acknowledged wisdom working in the education system,
echoing the Indigenous tradition oI the role oI elders.
The empowerment approach has been piloted in a number oI settings, Ior example in alternative
schools, housing cooperatives and community health clinics. It requires human-service workers to
understand the nature oI power, inequality and structural disadvantage. It also requires them to be
able to enter into genuine dialogue with consumers, in a partnership model. This in turn requires the
building oI appropriate structures Ior basing human services in the local community, and hence all
human-service workers would need some skills in community development work, as described in
later chapters.
Human-service workers would be primarily accountable to the local community, rather than to a
central bureaucracy, the discipline oI the market` or a proIessional body. This would be through
some Iorm oI community management committee or local government structure. The human-service
worker would have to be prepared to accept that the community knows best` what sort oI service it
needs, and would have to be able to communicate eIIectively with local community organisations.
Community-based management structures are not without their problems. ConIlicts oI interest,
personality clashes, local politics, proIessional egos, traditional rivalries, ideological diIIerences
and personal agendas can all interIere with the eIIective and harmonious operation oI community-
based programs. Community-based workers need to be aware oI these potential conIlicts and to be
able to work eIIectively with them. Genuinely community-based programs can operate only iI these
problems are adequately resolved, and the community-based worker needs to be politically and
socially astute and to be able to institute appropriate conIlict resolution and consensus-building
Community-based human-service workers would need to be primarily generalists. The ecological
perspective suggests that the high level oI specialisation is now creating more problems than it
solves, and that a more holistic perspective is essential. ThereIore a human-service worker needs to
be able to understand the issue with which they are working in a broad context, and to relate to
diIIerent elements oI people`s reality. There would inevitably be some continuing need Ior
specialists, Ior reIerral in particular cases. These would probably be located in larger population
centres, Ior cases that could not be dealt with using the resources and expertise oI the local
community. Unlike in the present system, however, in a community-based system specialists would
not be seen as having superior status to generalists but would be seen rather as a last resort Ior
reIerral, to be used only iI necessary.
As human-service workers would be employed by their local community, their services would be
Iunded Irom this source, using locally raised revenue. Human-service workers would be contributing
to, and beneIiting Irom, a primarily local economy, in the same way as other workers. They could
expect some oI their pay` to be in the Iorm oI return goods and services rather than in cash, or as
credit in a local trading system. Salaries might not be particularly high within such a system, but this
would be true oI all workers, as high incomes and high-consumption liIestyles are clearly
unsustainable Ior more than a small minority, and are incompatible with a community-based society
established on ecological and social justice principles.
Many human-service workers indeed would be part-time, and would do other work oI beneIit to
the community. It would probably be diIIicult in this regard to deIine a boundary between their
work` and their role as citizens. This would be a general characteristic oI work in a community-
based society, and would apply to all occupations. It is only an industrial capitalist system that
requires such a clear distinction between work` and non-work`.
Human-service workers would not be supervised` Irom a central point, as this is a characteristic
oI a hierarchical and bureaucratic system. The primary accountability would be to the community.
However, networking with workers Irom other communities (whether in person or on-line) would be
critically important, as a mechanism Ior the spread oI knowledge and experience and Ior the
improvement oI practice.
Education Ior human-service workers would inevitably be diIIerent. It would oI necessity
incorporate skills in education, community development and working with community-level
structures. A holistic approach to human service education would be essential. The human-service
worker would need a broad background oI knowledge and skills and the capacity to integrate
knowledge, understanding and wisdom Irom many sources, as well as the more conventional skills oI
their particular proIession. Training in human service work may be important, but education would be
vital; this perspective is a direct reversal oI the current competency-based instrumentalist approach to
proIessional education.
Finally, creativity, imagination, initiative and enthusiasm are all attributes that would be highly
desirable in a community-based human-service worker. For this, education programs would need to
incorporate a sense oI vision and perspective as well as the more technical aspects oI the job. In the
community context, every work situation represents a new set oI circumstances and a new challenge,
and a human-service worker would have to respond in a new and creative way rather than applying
the Iamiliar practice Iormulas.
The role of government
The distinction between the government and non-government sectors in the provision oI human
services has been an important one in social policy, and it has structured many debates around what
have been seen as key social policy issues: the market versus the state, the role oI non-government
agencies, privatisation and so on. The community-based perspective renders this distinction less
relevant. Community-based services would be neither government nor non-government in the
conventional meanings oI these terms. While having some characteristics oI some non-government
agencies (especially small organisations based on a selI-help model), they would not be accountable
merely to a limited membership-based constituency (e.g. a particular client group, an interest group,
the Church), nor would they be primarily motivated by the proIit motive, as is the case with market-
based services. Similarly, they would not have the normally understood characteristics oI government
services, such as centralised bureaucracy, primary accountability upwards and uniIorm regulations,
although they would also in a very real sense be public services, in that they would be held publicly
responsible and accountable. They would still be located within a structure oI government and oI
public decision-making, but in one based on revitalised local communities.
Conventional bureaucratic structures assign relatively little value to Iace-to-Iace contact with
consumers, and value instead management, administration, supervision and planning. This is the
consequence oI Enlightenment thinking, and oI organisational imperatives, based on the needs oI the
organisation that will inevitably take precedence over the needs oI consumers, despite the best eIIorts
oI well-intentioned workers to make it otherwise. Much oI the energy and resources oI a bureaucratic
organisation go to such Enlightenment-based activities as maintaining and reinIorcing hierarchy,
rational planning and decision-making, patriarchal domination and the reinIorcement oI status,
promotion, salary diIIerentials and so on. The hierarchy inevitably values those at the top` more than
those at the bottom`, and encourages those working within it to hold similar hierarchical values. This
is reIlected in salary structures, other rewards (size oI oIIice, Iurniture, travel, allowances, cars etc.),
the way in which organisational charts are drawn, the titles oI positions (especially the use oI words
like manager and director), the importance attached to promotion or career advancement and so on.
Wisdom is seen as located at the top oI the organisation rather than the bottom. Decisions are made at
higher levels and communicated downwards; communication in the opposite direction is seen
primarily as involving data and inIormation on which decisions can be made, rather than wisdom and
It might be objected that this is a caricature oI contemporary bureaucracy, and that modern
management practices are diIIerent. The essential issue, however, is that whatever modern
management may attempt, the basic attributes oI hierarchical structures remain essentially unchanged.
Modern management has not changed the value placed on senior management (in terms oI salary,
status and mystique) iI anything, it has reinIorced it. Modern management has not changed the
essentially hierarchical nature oI a bureaucracy, nor has it questioned the desire Ior promotion and the
assumption that the most important, interesting, enjoyable and inIluential work is done at the highest
levels. The person who is regarded as having done well in their career is the one who has achieved
rapid promotion and ended up as a highly paid manager, not the person who has remained at the
lower levels oI the organisation and continued to give high-quality service to the general public.
Indeed, the main criterion Ior success in a career in the public service is how quickly one can escape
Irom a Iront-line role oI actually providing a service to the public, and move into the role oI a
supervisor, manager or policy-maker. A more detailed discussion oI managerialism, and oI
community work practice in a managerial environment, is undertaken in chapter 15.
This traditional, hierarchical view oI human service organisations is based on an important
assumption about power. This assumption is that the higher one`s position in a hierarchy, the more
one is able to achieve, the more power and inIluence one has, and the more important and responsible
are one`s decisions. This means that the more skilled and competent people should be in the higher
positions, and that they should be paid more in recognition Ior the work they do. It also means that a
person who wants to achieve power, whether Ior selIish motives or in order to bring about change,
will seek to be promoted to the highest possible position, as that is where their power will be
maximised. UnIortunately, it is oIten only when such people arrive at the top` that they Iind that they
have been labouring under an illusion, and that the assumption that power increases with
organisational status is unIounded. Indeed, a common experience is that as one rises up the ladder, the
constraints on power increase, and one Iinds one has increasingly less Ireedom and Ilexibility to
make important decisions that aIIect people`s lives. The decisions oI senior managers and policy-
makers are normally so circumscribed by real or perceived political, economic and procedural
constraints that they have in reality very little choice, and most important decisions are not really
decisions at all but merely represent the only possible response to a particular set oI circumstances.
Community-based structures can represent an alternative to this hierarchical view oI service
organisations, by relocating them on a small scale within a community context, controlled by the
community itselI rather than by managers and bureaucrats. This perspective is actually more
consistent with the real world oI the human-service proIessional, who Ior the most part will view the
bureaucracy as getting in the way oI doing the job, and who seeks to negotiate creative ways around
bureaucratic regulation. The common complaint that management does not know what it is doing,
continues to make silly decisions or does not understand what it is really like to work at the coalIace
is a Iurther indication that the reality oI bureaucratised human service work is not as it would appear
to be Irom the organisational chart.
Simply reIorming the bureaucracy, and Ilattening or inverting the hierarchies, would not bring
about a genuinely community-based alternative. Even such a radically reIormed bureaucracy would
be inadequate, because it would still be a hierarchy (although a Ilattened or inverted one), and would
still be a large, centralised organisation. This could be only an intermediate step towards the eventual
abolition oI hierarchical structures, to be replaced with other Iorms oI organisation based on
collective decision-making, consensus processes and so on.
In a decentralised system, there would still be some role Ior central government, as clearly some
decisions would still have to be taken centrally. That role, however, would largely be conIined to the
setting oI minimum standards oI output (e.g. in health, education, housing) rather than determining how
those standards are to be met, or attempting to meet them itselI. Central government also would have a
critical role to play in the dissemination oI inIormation and the encouragement oI networking (i.e.
Iacilitating the sharing oI wisdom and experience, rather than pretending to possess all wisdom
itselI), and in speciIic regulations to ensure the maintenance oI Iundamental human rights and
Ireedoms. There is thus a clear distinction to be made between the enabling Iunctions oI central
government and the actual delivery oI human services. In a community-based approach, central
government has an important and indeed a vital role in the Iormer but a minimal role in the latter.
There would inevitably be some residual role Ior a central government in service delivery, but only
in cases where a local community was unable to provide service because oI the need Ior specialised
expertise, technology or resources. Such services would, however, be minimised, in contrast to
current practice where, because oI the obsession with high technology and specialisation, they are
maximised (e.g. in high-tech medical treatment).
In the medium term, beIore a Iully community-based system is instituted, central government would
also have a role in reallocation oI resources because oI the diIIering levels oI resources available to
communities Ior development. In the long term this could be reduced, because oI the equalising
eIIects oI local economic systems once they are properly established. However, although economic
decentralisation would reduce inequality between regions by reducing the extent to which resources
were extracted Irom a community and transIerred elsewhere, some inequality would remain because
oI diIIering levels oI both the quality and quantity oI natural resources. There would still be some
role Ior a central government, in order to maintain equity between diIIerent communities; overall,
however, the role oI central government in actual service delivery would be minimal, and local
government structures would be much more signiIicant Ior all aspects oI human activity. The reIorm
and revitalisation oI local government must thereIore represent a major thrust oI community
development aimed at the establishment oI an alternative Iuture society.
The relocation oI services to a more decentralised or community-based level does not necessarily
imply that one level oI decentralisation is appropriate Ior all services. There is no single ideal size
Ior a community base, as this will vary between communities and also depend on the type oI service.
Some human services are better organised at an extremely localised level (e.g. childcare), while
others (e.g. medical care) may be better organised on a somewhat larger scale. Hence there would be
a continuum oI size oI community base, Irom neighbourhood to region, but the important principle to
be maintained throughout would be the Iundamental principle oI decentralisation, namely that no
activity should be organised at any more centralised a level than necessary. The onus would be on
those who wanted to centralise to demonstrate the beneIits oI such a move, rather than on those who
wanted to decentralise; services would always be decentralised as much as possible, unless there
were clearly demonstrated (and democratically agreed) reasons Ior doing otherwise.
An alternative vision: grounds for hope
The perspectives described thus Iar, taken together, represent a vision oI a Iuture society based on the
principles oI ecology and oI social justice, and post-Enlightenment world views, achievable through
an empowerment approach to the development oI community, where human needs are met primarily at
community level. At this point it might be objected that such a vision is Iine in theory but really
impossible to achieve, and the vision might be dismissed as naive and hopelessly idealistic. This is
an important criticism levelled at most radical alternatives, and it is necessary to consider its
A sense oI an alternative vision is not particularly Iashionable at the present time, yet iI creative
solutions are to be Iound Ior the crisis oI Western society, such thinking is essential. Positivism,
modernity and the Enlightenment world view have led to the de-emphasising oI utopian or visionary
thinking. The rationalist, pragmatic paradigm easily dismisses it as unrealistic and impractical.
Perhaps the ultimate expression oI this was Fukuyama`s (1992) Iamous argument, that by the early
1990s we had reached the end oI history` with a convergence towards American liberal democracy
(despite its blatant unsustainability and inequity).
The importance oI an alternative vision, or a light on the hill`, is not necessarily that it will ever
be achieved in Iull (it is this assumption that leads to criticism oI its being unrealistic`). A slavish
imposition oI a utopian ideal can result in signiIicant oppression and human rights abuse; the French
Revolution, the Russian Revolution and Mao`s revolution in China are but three examples oI the
danger oI enIorced utopias. Rather such thinking should be seen as a source oI inspiration Ior change,
and as a Iramework Ior interpreting and seeking change Irom the perspective oI medium-and long-
term goals, instead oI being purely reactive. It allows one to seek alternative paradigms, whereas
purely reactive problem-solving and an insistence on being realistic means being permanently
imprisoned within the existing dominant paradigm. II we are to change the world we must be able to
say, with Martin Luther King, I have a dream`, and we must seek to share our vision oI a better
world, even iI it means taking small steps, and we know we will never really get there`. To quote the
Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano (1993: 326):
Window on Utopia:
She`s on the horizon . . . I go two steps closer, she moves two steps away. I walk ten steps and
the horizon runs ten steps ahead. No matter how much I walk, I`ll never reach her. What good is
utopia? That`s what: it`s good Ior walking.
Criticism oI visionary perspectives oIten leads to disillusionment. The obstacles to change, in the
Iorm oI institutions, structures, traditions and vested interests, are dauntingly powerIul, and it is easy
to be overwhelmed and disempowered by the strength oI the Iorces opposing change. However, there
are some important reasons Ior cautious optimism, and grounds Ior hope that change towards the kind
oI society envisaged in this and earlier chapters might be achievable.
One sign oI hope is simply the impossibility oI the existing order continuing Ior very much longer.
As was pointed out in chapters 1 and 2, the existing social, economic and political order is blatantly
unsustainable, and because oI this some Iorm oI Iundamental change will be inevitable. The question
is not whether there will be change but rather what kind oI change it will be, and whether it will be
towards the kind oI society envisaged here.
It is clear that the world is entering a period oI major crisis ecological, political, economic and
social. The existing order is both unsustainable and unstable, and certainty, predictability and
stability will not characterise the societies oI the coming decades. It has become rather hackneyed to
say that times oI crisis are times oI opportunity, but it is true that historical periods oI instability
allow new alternatives to emerge that would be unthinkable in more stable and certain times. Thus the
coming period oI crisis can also be expected to allow opportunities Ior creative and radical change.
It is important thereIore that diIIerent, innovative, community-based programs be tested, evaluated
and reported, so that in times oI instability and potential system collapse there are alternative
directions available to which people can turn.
Another sign oI hope is that these changes are already happening. At grassroots level, oIten in
unspectacular and unacknowledged ways, increasing numbers oI people in diIIerent countries are
experimenting with community-based alternatives, such as local economic systems, community-based
education and housing cooperatives (Green 2012, Wheatley & Frieze 2011, Sitrin 2012, McKnight
2010, Featherstone 2012, Clark & Teachout 2012, Patel 2009, Meltzer 2005). It is not something
totally new and untried that is being proposed: a community-based strategy, based on post-
Enlightenment principles oI ecology and social justice, is already emerging, as a result oI the
initiative oI ordinary people at grassroots level who are turning away Irom mainstream structures,
rather than as a result oI any deliberate government policy.
A Iinal source oI hope and optimism is the rise oI social movements. Given the parlous stae oI
traditional party politics, it seems likely that social movements will represent the politics oI the
Iuture, although it must be noted that there is disagreement as to their ultimate potential Ior radical
change, as some social movements (such as the Tea Party in the USA) can be very conservative, and
can be manipulated by the powerIul Ior their own ends. But there are many positive Ieatures oI social
movements. The women`s movement, the peace movement, the Green movement, the gay rights
movement, the human rights and black liberation movements are responsible not only Ior providing
alternative visions but also Ior providing people with ways in which activism can lead to the
establishment oI alternative structures. More recently, the Occupy movement has challenged
traditional global capitalism, and dared to suggest alternatives that many people, especially young
people, have Iound exciting and inspiring. The web-based and social media activism oI groups such
as GetUp! and Avaaz has given a whole new dimension to social movement activism. Certainly the
impact oI social movements on mainstream politics has been signiIicant, and Ior many activists social
movements provide a much more promising avenue Ior social change than do more conventional
political structures.
For these reasons, although the obstacles to change are undoubtedly signiIicant, there are grounds
Ior hope and optimism. It is in this belieI, and in the conviction that people have both the opportunity
and the responsibility to try to make the world a better place, that the approach to community
development in the remaining chapters is grounded.
6 Change from below
At the heart oI community development is the idea oI change Irom below. This is a natural
consequence oI the ecological, social justice and post-Enlightenment perspectives discussed in
chapters 25, and was reIerred to a number oI times in those chapters. The idea that the community
should be able to determine its own needs and how they should be met, that people at local level
know best what they need and that communities should be selI-directing and selI-reliant, is attractive
and is consistent with much ecological, social justice and post-Enlightenment writing. Hence it is
easy to incorporate it into the rhetoric oI community development. People are readily persuaded by
such statements as Communities should be selI-reliant`, There should be more power at grassroots
level`, People should be able to determine their own Iuture`. But although it may be easy to state the
rhetoric, the idea itselI when put into practice is extremely radical, and Ior many people requires a
major change oI mindset (De Young & Princen 2012). It goes against many oI the dominant and
prevailing views inherent in policy-making and program management, particularly in the Western
tradition. This, indeed, is one oI the primary reasons Ior the Iailure oI many community development
programs: the idea oI change Irom below, iI moved Irom the rhetorical to actual practice, challenges
a number oI taken-Ior-granted assumptions, and threatens some powerIul interests. It is important
thereIore to examine in more detail the idea oI change Irom below and what it really involves. This
will be undertaken initially around the ideas oI valuing local knowledge, valuing local culture,
valuing local resources, valuing local skills, valuing local processes and working in solidarity. AIter
this discussion, six important ideological and theoretical traditions pluralism, democratic
socialism, anarchism, postcolonialism, postmodernism/poststructuralism and Ieminism will be used
to provide theoretical substance to the idea oI change Irom below.
Valuing local knowledge
Community workers Iace the temptation common to all human-service workers: to assume that
somehow they are the experts, with specialist knowledge to be brought to the community and used to
help in some way. Special expertise, aIter all, is the only claim to legitimacy that community workers
can have; why else would they be intruding into other people`s community liIe? Why should
community members take any notice oI them, unless they have something special to bring to the
community? There is no doubt that community workers do oIten have specialist knowledge, but to
privilege this knowledge, and thereby to devalue the local knowledge oI the community itselI, is the
antithesis oI community development. The valuing oI local knowledge is an essential component oI
any community development work, and this can best be summed up by the phrase The community
knows best`. AIter all, it is the members oI the community who have the experience oI that
community, oI its needs and problems, its strengths and positives, and its unique characteristics. II we
are to engage in a community development process, it must be done on the basis oI this sort oI local
knowledge, and in this regard community workers, unless they have been a long-term member oI that
community, cannot claim to be the expert. It is local community members who have this knowledge,
wisdom and expertise, and the role oI the community worker is to listen and learn Irom the
community, not to tell the community about its problems and its needs.
UnIortunately this is not the way we normally understand expertise`. The idea oI being an expert
is more usually applied to people who have undertaken Iormal courses oI education, who have
degrees or diplomas or who are members oI a recognised proIession (Chambers 1993, 2005). Such a
notion oI expertise is based on a diIIerent sort oI knowledge, namely knowledge that is removed Irom
the local and is seen as universal: it applies in all situations. Engineers understand the physical laws
that aIIect construction the strength oI materials, stresses and strains, Iorces, the eIIect oI vibrations
and so on and this expert knowledge enables them to build bridges that will not Iall down. This
knowledge, oI physical laws, can apply anywhere: building a bridge that will not Iall down requires
the same knowledge wherever the bridge is located. OI course that knowledge must include an
understanding oI diIIerent soils, climatic conditions and so on, and how these can aIIect the stability
oI a bridge in diIIerent locations but, although these vary with locality, it is still universal knowledge:
the eIIect oI clay soil on bridge Ioundations will be the same wherever that clay is located. There is,
to be sure, some local knowledge that has to be taken into account. The kind oI traIIic that will use the
bridge whether pedestrian, motorised, horse-drawn or buIIalo-drawn will vary Irom place to
place, as will such things as the games children want to play on the bridge (i.e. what sort oI
protective Iencing is required Ior saIety). But this local knowledge is relatively minor compared with
the extent oI local knowledge needed Ior community development.
Community development and bridge-building are alike in that they need both local and universal
knowledge. But community development must rely much more on local knowledge, and
correspondingly less on universal knowledge, than is the case with bridge-building. With universal
knowledge, the worker Irom outside the engineer or the community worker is the acknowledged
expert, who is likely to have much more knowledge than the people oI the local community. But with
local knowledge the outsider is not the expert; the outsider must listen and learn Irom the local
people, who clearly have Iar more relevant local knowledge and expertise. For the bridge-builder,
this is a Iairly minor part oI the whole exercise, but Ior a community worker this local knowledge is
what is most important. A good community worker thereIore will seek to value and validate that local
knowledge, will listen and learn, and will not assume that their external expertise can provide all (or
even some) oI the answers.
This may seem obvious, but such local knowledge is oIten devalued. There are several reasons Ior
this. One is the proIessional socialisation oI the community worker, who will oIten be trained in one
oI the human service proIessions (e.g. social work, nursing, education, psychology or recreation). The
very idea oI having a proIessional qualiIication carries with it some idea oI expertise: specialist
knowledge that is applied by proIessionals in the interests oI the people they are working with. To
question the validity or relevance oI that expertise is to question the validity or relevance oI the
qualiIication itselI, and hence the selI-concept oI the worker concerned. For many workers it is
important to identiIy with their qualiIications, and those qualiIications give the worker a sense oI
legitimacy and conIidence. It is thereIore only natural Ior such a worker to value highly their external
and usually universal knowledge, and hence to devalue the local knowledge oI the community.
The issue oI proIessionalism and community work will be discussed in chapter 16; the important
point here is that proIessional identity is one oI the Iactors that contribute to the devaluing oI local
knowledge, and this can aIIect many community workers.
Another Iactor contributing to the devaluing oI local knowledge is the way in which knowledge`
has been understood within the mainstream discourse. The positivist paradigm, which values
objective, scientiIic, veriIiable and measurable knowledge, has been dominant in many academic
disciplines, to such an extent that it is oIten not questioned, and this implies knowledge that is
independent oI its context, universally applicable and universally valid (Fay 1975). Usually, the
dominant construction oI knowledge is associated with the things we learn at school, at college or at
university, or the things we may learn Irom books or Irom the internet. This tends not to be local,
contextualised knowledge, but knowledge that is seen as universal in its application. This is Iurther
reinIorced by inIormation technology. The storing and access oI knowledge is increasingly done with
computer databases, and this means that knowledge has become equated with something that can be
digitally stored and retrieved. This is inevitably objective, positive, decontextualised knowledge, and
in such a world it is easy to Iorget that there are other Iorms oI knowledge that are not so readily
stored or accessed electronically (Bowers 2000, Baym 2010, Carr 2010).
Indigenous People Irom all over the world have continually emphasised the importance oI other
Iorms oI knowledge spirituality, magic, beauty, nature, storytelling and knowledge oI the land
(Diamond 2013, Knudtson & Suzuki 2006, Turner 2010, Wallace 2009) and this resonates with the
intuitive experience oI many non-Indigenous People as well, who realise that music, art, theatre,
poetry, mountains, oceans, Iorests, animals, dance, love, laughter, games and local Iolklore can be
proIound conveyors oI knowledge, in ways that deIy digital storage. This is knowledge that cannot be
reduced to electronic impulses so, in the digital age, it is readily marginalised and ignored. Yet this is
the very kind oI local knowledge, held by members oI a community, that is vitally important Ior any
process oI community development (Turkle 2011).
A third reason Ior the devaluing oI local knowledge is the prevalence oI top-down organisations.
Most organisations reIlect top-down assumptions: Ior example, those at the top oI the organisation are
paid more, have more prestige and more authority than those at the bottom (Weber 1970). Managers,
who are concerned with the big picture` (universal knowledge) and who determine overall policy
and procedures, are seen as having more wisdom, and are given more authority, than Iront-line
workers who are concerned with actually doing the work at the micro-level (local knowledge). The
Iront-line workers, especially those with experience, accumulate a great deal oI speciIic knowledge
that is vital to getting the job done, but this does not achieve the same recognition or reward as the
knowledge oI the manager, nor is it likely to be recognised through MBA degrees, salary packages,
expense accounts and attendance at conIerences. Thus the very organisations in which we work, and
which in their structures reIlect dominant values and world views, serve to reinIorce the privileging
oI universal knowledge over local knowledge.
Hence the valuing oI local knowledge, so important Ior community work, is made diIIicult by many
oI the taken-Ior-granted assumptions about the world that aIIect community workers no less than
others. The idea that the community knows best` is in many ways a radical notion, given that
proIessionals, politicians, academics, researchers, policy analysts, bureaucrats and others in
positions oI power have become used to the idea that thev know best, and that their proper role is to
Iind solutions Ior the problems oI others and iI necessary to impose them. The idea that the people
themselves might know better challenges the very structures and discourses oI power that are
responsible Ior their positions oI privilege, so it is an idea that will not always be warmly welcomed.
The ease with which local knowledge can be devalued is seen in the readiness oI many people and
communities to seek the services oI consultants, almost as the Iirst step in any process oI problem-
solving. Engaging an external consultant devalues local knowledge in two ways: Iirst, it assumes that
nobody Irom within the community has the necessary knowledge to apply to the problem; second, it
assumes that the expertise that is needed can be supplied by someone external to the local context,
thereby necessarily deIining the needed knowledge as universal rather than as local. A community
development approach, however, would see this as disempowering and as devaluing the wisdom and
expertise oI the community (Featherstone 2012, Clark & Teachout 2012). It would Iirst seek the
required expertise Irom within the community, identiIying what local wisdom and experience could
be brought to bear and the range oI knowledge and skills oI the people within the community. It is
only when it can be shown that the needed knowledge is not available Irom within the community that
a community worker should accept that external expertise is required; a consultant should be the last
resort, rather than the Iirst. And even iI it is necessary Ior such external expertise to be sought, it is
important Ior a community worker to consider the possibility oI someone Irom the local community
acquiring that expertise themselves. This may not always be possible, oI course, but a community
development approach, by realising the potential Ior empowerment or disempowerment, will apply
such an analysis to knowledge and expertise and will not rely on external expertise more oIten than is
There are times, oI course, when external knowledge, oI the kind that a community worker can
contribute, can be both useIul and necessary. It is also important to remember that community workers
do bring their own knowledge and expertise, and valuing local knowledge does not necessarily mean
that the knowledge and expertise oI the worker are ignored. The important principle is the idea oI
knowledge-sharing: community workers bring certain expertise and wisdom, as do members oI the
community. This means that each can learn Irom the other, so that the expertise oI both worker and
community is respected and validated. II the knowledge and wisdom can be shared, both worker and
community will be enriched by the process and, working together, they will be able to move Iorward
to appropriate action.
Valuing local culture
It is not only local knowledge that must be valued in the change Irom below` perspective. A
community`s local culture can also be eroded by the imposition oI dominant values Irom outside,
thereby devaluing and undermining the local community experience (Niezen 2004). And a community
worker can readily be part oI this erosion oI local culture. Assumptions (oIten unconscious) by the
community worker about the right way to do things, about what is important, about what is Iair or
right, about protocols in interpersonal communication, about the place oI women, about the proper
way to raise children, about the role oI the Iamily, about the place oI older people in society and
about the importance oI education, can conIlict with the values oI the community. The worker must be
careIul not to assume the superiority oI their own cultural traditions, and unless the worker is able to
acknowledge and work within a local culture, their attempts at community development will not be
To acknowledge and work within local culture, however, is not necessarily to agree with it or
accept all local values and practices. There are many instances in which a community`s cultural
values may not only conIlict with the worker`s but will also conIlict with human rights principles.
Examples might be a worker in a community where the subjugation oI women is justiIied as part oI
traditional culture, a worker seeking to engage with a community where racist values predominate
and where racism is both practised and tolerated, and a worker in a community where a culture` oI
excessive alcohol consumption is the direct cause oI signiIicant domestic violence and abuse oI
women and children. These instances amount to human rights violations, and a human rights
perspective, as discussed in chapter 3, clearly suggests that such cultural` values and practices are
unacceptable and cannot be condoned by a community worker (Niezen 2004).
It is important thereIore Ior a community worker to be clear about the human rights perspective
outlined in chapter 3, as this becomes a yardstick by which to distinguish between the case where a
community`s cultural values and practices amount to human rights abuse and the case where there is
simply a diIIerence in the cultural traditions oI the community and the worker. In the latter, it is
important Ior the worker to be able to remove their cultural blinkers`, and to accept and validate
local community culture; indeed this can become a major Iocus oI community development practice,
and will be discussed in chapter 11. The Iormer case, however, where the local culture is seen to be
counter to principles oI human rights, represents a particular challenge. There is little to be gained by
a community worker adopting an overtly conIrontationist position; this would simply result in the
worker being rejected by the community. Rather, the community worker needs to remember two
important things about culture. The Iirst is that a culture` is never static: cultural values and practices
are always changing, and the challenge is to help the community engage with the process oI cultural
change in a reIlective and developmental way. The second important thing to remember about
culture` is that no culture is monolithic. There will be people in the community who do not Iully
agree with the dominant cultural` values, and who do not engage in particular cultural` practices (or
who do so with misgivings). Cultural values and practices are contested within communities, and this
is one oI the reasons that cultures are dynamic rather than static. This cultural pluralism also allows
the community worker to engage with the community in such a way that does not necessarily validate
cultural values and practices that conIlict with human rights but rather that Iacilitates the community
itselI engaging in a process oI cultural change and development. There is a Iine line between such
practice and the imposition` oI values Irom outside the culture; to avoid crossing that line the
community worker needs a clear understanding oI a human rights perspective, and also must make
sure that the community itselI is in control oI the processes oI change and development, as discussed
The important point is that local cultural values are signiIicant in community development, and so
it is essential Ior a community worker to seek to understand and accept such local culture, and where
possible to validate it and to work with it. To seek to impose a diIIerent set oI values, simply because
the worker is more Iamiliar and comIortable with them, is to engage in a Iorm oI cultural imperialism
which is disempowering and which runs counter to community development principles. Even where a
community`s cultural values and practices raise signiIicant human rights issues, a community worker
needs to respect and accept the importance oI the local culture to the people oI the community, and
use that as a starting point Ior working towards change.
Valuing local resources
One oI the important principles oI community development is the principle oI self-reliance, which
derives directly Irom the ecological principle oI sustainability (Clark & Teachout 2012, Featherstone
2012, De Young & Princen 2012). As described in chapter 2, sustainability requires that structures be
developed that are able to be maintained in the long term, by minimising the extent to which they draw
on and consume external resources and the extent to which they create polluting or harmIul products
or outcomes. SelI-reliance means that communities are essentially reliant on their own resources,
rather than being dependent on externally provided resources (Kretzmann & McKnight 1993, 2005;
Haines 2009).
Community-based structures in so-called Western, Northern or developed countries are usually Iar
Irom selI-reliant. Resources especially Iunding are commonly obtained Irom the state, through the
institutions oI the welIare state in its various Iorms. One oI the contradictions oI much community
development that uses change Irom below` rhetoric is that it is oIten highly dependent on state
Iinancing, and hence on the very welIare state it is supposed to replace. This is Iurther reinIorced by
the Let`s get a grant` mentality oI many community workers, whose Iirst reaction to any problem is to
identiIy an external Iunding source in order to deal with it.
Although such dependence on the state may be necessary in the short term, the aim oI community
development must ultimately be selI-reliance, where the resources oI the state or oI other external
Iunding sources (e.g. churches, Ioundations) are reduced to a bare minimum or eliminated altogether.
There are two important reasons Ior this. One is that reliance on external resources comes at a price,
namely the price oI loss oI autonomy and independence; genuinely autonomous communities can
Ilourish only in the absence oI such external dependency, as the experiences oI those who have to rely
on government grants, with their corresponding accountability requirements`, can clearly testiIy. The
other reason is that, as suggested in chapter 1, the welIare state is not itselI sustainable. II community-
based structures are to replace the welIare state they must eventually be able to exist and sustain
themselves without such reliance on external resources. Hence, without substantial selI-reliance,
community-based structures will not be viable in the long term.
In this regard, community workers in the North have much to learn Irom their counterparts in the
South, who have had to develop models with only limited and insecure reliance on external sources.
Community development in such a context has developed models oI selI-reliance signiIicantly Iurther
than most projects in the North (Green 2012, Wheatley 2009, CampIens 1997), where the temptation
oI government grants has been strong. Such an approach to development concentrates on identiIying
and developing all the resources available within the community itselI, and seeking to maximise these
locally generated resources in the interests oI the community. This in turn enables a community to
operate autonomously, and to establish genuine alternatives to centralised services and programs.
With such autonomy and selI-reliance goes enhanced selI-esteem, community pride and independence.
Thus, to achieve selI-reliance, community workers and community groups need to explore the
possibilities oI creatively developing and using their own local resources, rather than those obtained
externally. Because oI the relatively easy availability oI government grants, this has not always been
a high priority, although in the current climate oI serious cuts in government expenditure there has
been more interest in such possibilities. It is becoming clear to increasing numbers oI people that
government Iunding is shrinking and in the current economic climate is likely to have even more
restrictive conditions attached, rendering it even less suitable as a resource Ior autonomous
community development.
Although resources` involve a variety oI things including skills, personnel, expertise, land and
buildings Iinancial resources are undoubtedly oI primary importance Ior community projects, and
lack oI Iunds, more than any other single Iactor, is the major obstacle to the successIul establishment
and development oI many community-based structures. For this reason the economic aspects oI
community development are critically important, to enable communities to explore other ways oI
becoming economically viable within a model oI selI-reliance. (Approaches to community economic
development will be discussed in more detail in chapter 10.)
Valuing local skills
One aspect oI valuing local resources that requires special mention is the valuing oI local skills. Just
as with other kinds oI resources, local skills can easily be passed over by an eager community
worker, yet the same argument applies to skills as was applied above to knowledge. Outside
expertise is oIten valued and sought, through consultants and others, when perIectly adequate skills
are available locally. Indeed, as with knowledge, local skills can oIten be more appropriate because
they are grounded in local experience. But the really important point about valuing local skills is that,
like valuing local knowledge, it empowers rather than disempowers. A community worker can value
local skills by taking a skills inventory`: simply Iinding out the range oI skills oI people in the
community. OIten this will result in a surprisingly rich and wide-ranging list oI available skills
acquired by people at diIIerent stages oI their liIe, perhaps through work, through spare-time interests
or learned Irom Iamily members. As a simple example, why pay an outside accountant to come in to
help set up an accounting system iI there is a retired person in the community with accounting skills
who would be willing to contribute these skills to a community group? OIten a community worker
and indeed many community members will be unaware oI the range oI available skills unless they
go looking Ior them, and they will as a matter oI course seek external expertise without stopping to
ask whether it is available locally. By using local skills, one is also valuing local people, providing
people with an opportunity to make a meaningIul contribution and strengthening the level oI selI-
reliance and social capital within the community itselI.
Skills, like knowledge, are brought to community development by a community worker and, as
with knowledge, there is the additional problem that a worker, because oI their own socialisation,
may tend to value their own skills and devalue those held by community members. As with
knowledge, it is important Ior a community worker to realise that many oI the people in the
community will have skills that the worker can never hope to acquire, and that successIul community
development will depend on the utilisation oI those skills to assist the community development
process. Again, as with knowledge, the idea oI skill-sharing becomes important; the community
worker can learn new skills Irom the community, just as community members may be able to learn
new skills Irom the community worker, and it is the mutual sharing oI skills, and the skilling` oI each
other, that is important. (This will be discussed in more detail in chapters 13 and 14.)
Valuing local processes
The processes that are used in community development need not be imported Irom outside, as there
may be local community processes that are well understood and accepted by the local community.
Again, however, the temptation Ior a community worker is to try to institute a process that might have
been learned in a course, read about in a book or used successIully in a diIIerent context. As with
knowledge and skills, the socialisation oI worker as expert` can result in the worker having a need to
be seen as knowing how best it should be done, and thereby Ieeling it is necessary to introduce
processes that have their origins outside the community. There might, oI course, be instances where
this is appropriate, but there will be other occasions where to do so is to bypass and devalue the
processes oI the community itselI. For example, the eager community worker may want to set up a
public meeting to discuss an issue oI concern, and may have a set idea oI what constitutes such a
public meeting, including the kind oI location (e.g. a church hall), the time (8 p.m.), the day
(Thursday), the Iormat (rules Ior debate, resolutions, voting etc), the Iacilitation (an independent
chairperson) and the seating arrangements. This may not work in the particular community concerned;
there may be a very diIIerent tradition oI discussion and participation, or 8 p.m. may be a time that
many people Ieel is unsaIe, or Thursday might be the regular night Ior other local activities, and so
It is important Ior a community worker to seek to understand local community processes how
things are usually done and work within this tradition. OI course local processes may be
exclusionary: Ior example, key decisions may be made in the pub by a small group oI powerIul men.
But the process set up by the community worker may well also be exclusionary, iI unintentionally, by
using structures and practices with which people do not Ieel comIortable, or by limiting the capacity
oI people to become involved and to have meaningIul input. As with culture, understanding local
processes does not mean that a community worker will necessarily want to accept and validate them,
but it is nonetheless essential to understand them, iI only to know where to start.
Working in solidarity
The above discussion, oI valuing local knowledge, culture, resources, skills and processes,
emphasises one oI the most important principles oI community development, namely that the
experience oI the local must be validated and used as a starting point by any community development
worker (De Young & Princen 2012, Clark & Teachout 2012). Barging in as the person with the
expertise, intent on intervening and bringing about change Irom a position oI superior knowledge and
skills, is to guarantee Iailure, and will simply perpetuate structures and discourses oI disadvantage
and disempowerment. Yet it is amazing how oIten this happens as well-meaning people, Irom many
diIIerent proIessional backgrounds, try to work Irom a community-based Iramework. It is very
diIIicult Ior proIessionals, and many others who would not give themselves a proIessional` label, to
be comIortable with the idea that they should not be busy, active, action-Iocused and outcome-driven
as soon as they start to work with a community. The community worker has to learn to step back, to
watch, to listen, to ask questions rather than provide answers, to learn, and to try to understand. The
community worker needs to acknowledge that the people oI the community know much more about the
community its problems, issues, strengths, needs and ways oI doing things and that any community
development process must be theirs, not the worker`s.
A key component oI community development work is the idea oI working in solidarity with the
people oI that community (Featherstone 2012). This implies that a community development worker is
not an independent actor who is Iollowing their own agenda but rather has taken the time and trouble
to understand the nature oI the local community, the aims and aspirations oI the people and the ways
in which that community works. As a result a community worker is able to join the people oI that
community in their struggle, and is going in the same direction`. The agenda is Iirmly under the
control oI the community concerned, and the community worker is not doing things Ior, to or on behalI
oI the community but rather with the community. Such a stance can be diIIicult Ior community workers
who are socialised into being experts oI whatever sort, and who believe that they have something
important to oIIer as a result oI that expertise. It can also be diIIicult iI the organisation responsible
Ior the community development program (e.g. the agency that pays the community worker`s salary)
uses a more top-down perspective, emphasising proper lines oI accountability`, speciIying
outcomes and objectives`, proper supervision oI the worker`, eIIicient management` and so on.
Nevertheless these obstacles have to be addressed iI community development is to be eIIective.
Ideological and theoretical foundations for change from below
The idea oI change Irom below is not new. It draws on several diIIerent ideological and theoretical
Ioundations, and community workers will vary as to the relative importance they choose to give to
each. The particular schools oI thought discussed below, all oI which have relevance Ior bottom-up
practice or change Irom below, are: pluralism, democratic socialism, anarchism, postcolonialism,
postmodernism and Ieminism.
In simple terms, as discussed in chapter 2, a pluralist position recognises that there is a diversity oI
interests in society, and that power is not concentrated in a single location but is distributed among a
number oI diIIerent groups. Moving beyond this essentially descriptive position, an ideological
pluralist would advocate the desirability oI a distribution oI power where no single interest group
would become all-powerIul but where, Irom the interplay oI diIIerent interests, compromises would
emerge that were likely to be in the best interests oI all. Thus, the concentration oI too much power in
any one location whether government, unions, business, the media or the military is seen as
dangerous, and society`s best interests will be served iI power is shared rather than concentrated.
Decentralisation, selI-reliance and change Irom below are thereIore Iully consistent with pluralism.
However, the pluralist position does not necessarily support a strong bottom-up perspective. The
various power groups need not be democratically structured, nor need they represent the views oI
their constituencies. This has, indeed, been one oI the principal criticisms oI corporatism, a position
that has been based on the principles oI pluralism (see chapter 1). Further, a purely pluralist position
takes no account oI structural Iactors such as class, gender and race/ethnicity, and its insistence on
treating competing interest groups as implicitly equal serves to reinIorce structural inequalities and to
preserve the status quo (which, Irom both an ecological and a social justice perspective, is the last
thing we should want to do). Indeed, the very notion oI competing interest groups is inconsistent with
the cooperative perspective that is implied in much ecological, social justice and post-Enlightenment
Pluralism has provided a useIul and popular Iramework Ior opposition to some oI the conventional
wisdom oI economic rationalism, and to the concentration oI media ownership, monopoly capital and
managerial` government. This is because it can be used to advocate diversity without necessarily
advocating Iundamental change in the economic, social and political order; by itselI, it leaves the
basic structures untouched. Thus it represents an acceptable Iorm oI legitimate opposition Ior the
mainstream media, and Ior others with an interest in maintaining the existing order, namely the
powerIul. Pluralism can be a potentially useIul position Irom which to articulate opposition to
particular trends and policies, and to legitimise the idea oI diversity within mainstream discourse. It
Iails, however, to provide an adequate Iramework Ior the kind oI social, economic and political
transIormation Ioreshadowed in earlier chapters, and cannot be accepted as a suIIicient basis Ior the
development oI a community-based alternative that addresses the ecological or social justice agenda.
To the extent that it both legitimises and encourages diversity, pluralism is an important idea within
community development, but Irom the perspective oI this book something Iurther is needed.
Democratic socialism
A stronger ideological justiIication comes Irom the stream oI democratic socialist thought, which
emphasises participation and bottom-up development oI socialist alternatives. This is in contrast to
the Stalinist position, which emphasises the imposition oI a socialist economy Irom above and
encourages central planning and regulation. This decentralised Iorm oI socialism is inIluenced by the
work oI such a writers as Benello (1992, 1997).
With the increasing development and strength oI global capitalism, governments have become
almost as powerless as individuals in relation to the economic Iorces that control our lives.
Governments must eIIectively operate within the parameters deIined` by global capital, or they Iace
a lowering oI their credit rating (determined by Moody`s or Standard & Poor`s, rather than by any
elected or publicly accountable body) and a sudden Ilight oI capital, leaving the nation`s economy in
ruins. Having surrendered most oI their ability to control their economies in the name oI deregulation,
Iree trade and the global market, governments are now unable to implement many oI the policies they
or their electorate may wish, and are eIIectively held to ransom by the Iorces oI global capital. This
consequent powerlessness oI governments can be clearly seen in the inability oI many so-called
socialist governments (such as Labor governments in Australia, Labour governments in Aotearoa and
the UK and provincial NDP governments in Canada) to implement even moderate socialist programs
or to achieve even minor reductions in class-based inequities. These governments have eIIectively
had no option but to adopt neo-liberal policies oI Iinancial deregulation, privatisation, tax cuts, Iree
trade and cutbacks in public services, regardless oI their ideological inclinations or the wishes oI the
electorate (see the Iuller discussion oI the impact oI economic globalisation in chapter 8).
This has important implications Ior democratic socialists. The election oI socialist governments
becomes a relatively pointless exercise, and an international perspective suggests that it is not
particular governments, premiers or prime ministers who are to blame Ior inequality, unsustainability
and injustice. They, indeed, may be as much victims as villains. A more proIitable direction Ior
democratic socialists is to look to more localised political struggle. At the local level, the potential
Ior democratic control is greater and the inIluence oI global capital less intrusive. While global
capital can hold national governments to ransom, and can require them to Iollow certain policies, it
has less direct inIluence on local interactions: social activities, the economic choices oI individuals
and households, community politics and so on. It is true that cultural hegemony is strong, and that we
are exhorted and persuaded (largely through the mainstream media) to live our lives in particular
ways. However, it is oIten more persuasion than threat, and the sanctions against rebellious
individuals, households and communities are nowhere near as strong as those Iacing governments.
From this perspective, the development oI strong community-based structures represents a more
likely context Ior the achievement oI a democratic socialist society than does the parliamentary
approach (Clark & Teachout 2012). It provides Ior the possibility oI social or communal ownership
oI the means oI production, although this requires production to be more locally based. Hence the
decentralisation and localisation oI the economy, oI political structures and oI human services
represent a promising direction Ior democratic socialists. Capitalism can be seen as more vulnerable
at the local level than at the national or transnational level, and it is Irom a bottom-up perspective,
rather than a more conventional top-down approach, that viable socialist alternatives are more likely
to develop.
Although anarchist thinking may not be commonly perceived as occupying a mainstream position in
contemporary political thought, it has a long history as a basis Ior opposition to the established order
(Marshall 1992a). The popular view oI anarchism oIten equates it with irresponsibility, a breakdown
oI social relations or even terrorism, and reIuses to accord it the standing oI a legitimate and
reputable political philosophy, yet in reality anarchist writing is Iar removed Irom this stereotype. On
the contrary, anarchist theory has a solid intellectual tradition, and is Iully consistent with the
ecological and social justice perspectives outlined in earlier chapters.
To risk gross oversimpliIication, an anarchist position opposes hierarchy, authority and the
intervention oI the state in people`s lives. It maintains that in conditions oI Ireedom Irom such
domination people are more likely to cooperate voluntarily with each other, as opposed to the
conventional view that sees authority and domination as necessary to maintaining control (Kropotkin
1972). Thus the relative absence oI hierarchy and centralised control is seen as a precondition Ior the
establishment oI an eIIective social contract (Ward 1988) and Ior people to be able to lead more
satisIactory and IulIilling lives. This view overturns much oI the conventional wisdom about the
desirability oI planned and coordinated central structures (whether state or private) and centralised
policy-making. It thereIore provides an interesting Iramework Ior understanding why so many oI those
traditional structures and processes do not work very well most oI the time.
Murray Bookchin`s social ecology (1990, 1991, 1995), which has been inIluential in the Green
movement, draws heavily on an anarchist analysis. For Bookchin, the domination oI people by
hierarchical Iorms oI organisation is at the heart oI the ecological crisis. Anarchist thinking has
similarly inIluenced other writers who have been concerned with establishing local economies
(Dobson 1993, Shuman 2012). The idea oI small is beautiIul` is also consistent with anarchist
thinking, and the move to develop structures, technologies, economies, production and decision-
making at a more human level is a central theme oI anarchist writers. Community development writers
in the social justice tradition have been less inIluenced by anarchist thought, because socialist,
Marxist and Ieminist perspectives have tended to dominate attempts to develop alternative
Irameworks. Where alternatives to the traditional workplace are considered, however, anarchist
thinking has been more inIluential. It is closely associated with the cooperative movement and the
cooperative projects in Spain that led eventually to Mondragon (Whyte & Whyte 1988, Morrison
1991, Craig 1993, Nadeau 1996), although socialist analysis was also important in this process.
Anarchist thinkers support notions oI decentralisation and community control, and would support
so-called bottom-up development, although they would be suspicious oI the up part oI that term, as it
implies the desirability oI more centralised structures emerging. Anarchism provides a natural basis
Ior the support oI grassroots community development, as it points strongly to the desirability oI local
autonomy, decentralisation and development that starts at the grassroots level. However, anarchism
remains a radical and, to many, suspect ideology. It is perhaps the most radical oI all ideological
positions, as it challenges in a Iundamental way some oI the most taken-Ior-granted assumptions about
politics, and it strongly criticises the notion oI political and bureaucratic power and control; it is little
wonder that it has been seen as a dangerous ideology, that its advocates have been demonised and that
it has been at times ruthlessly suppressed. Nevertheless it strongly resonates with the idea oI
community development. Community development workers are, to some degree at least, anarchists at
heart, with their belieI in the wisdom oI the local and the importance oI empowering communities to
articulate and realise their own destiny. Anarchism is thereIore an important ideological Ioundation
Ior community development, and deserves Iurther study and recognition by community workers.
Postcolonialism reIers to the body oI thinking and writing that seeks to move beyond colonialist
oppression, to Iind a voice Ior those who have been silenced by that oppression, and to challenge the
perpetuation oI structures and discourses oI colonialism (Larsen 2000, AshcroIt 2000, Venn 2006,
Huggan 2010).
Colonialism is associated with the attitudes oI colonising nations, which occupy the land oI other
peoples and subject those colonised peoples to domination in the interests oI territorial expansion,
Iinancial proIit, or both. But a more subtle Iorm oI colonising is evident in the contemporary world.
One does not have to march in with an invading army, or unilaterally grab land through the acts oI so-
called pioneers, to colonise another people. The Iorces oI global capital, and the globalised culture
that it has created, are imposing economic and cultural colonisation on societies throughout the world.
This has most commonly been associated with the inIluence oI the USA, as the most powerIul country
in the world. But global colonisation is driven by the global economy rather than the US economy,
and so it is not simply US colonialism to which the world is now subjected (Darby 2006, KempI
2009, Beder 2006). The decline oI the US economy, especially aIter the Global Financial Crisis, and
the rise oI China and other non-Western powers has radically changed the nature oI globalisation in
the Iirst decade oI the twenty-Iirst century.
Colonialism reIers to the attitudes and ideology that accompanies colonisation (Said 1993). It
represents a belieI on the part oI the colonisers in the superiority oI their own culture, values and
political or economic system over that oI others, and this justiIies imposing their own naturally`
superior system on others Ior their own good`. Colonialism, and the subtle and insidious way it
operates, will be discussed in detail in chapter 9, and its implications Ior community development
will be examined. For present purposes it is suIIicient to note that colonialist attitudes are alive and
well in today`s world. They can be seen in the operation oI many United Nations agencies and in the
work oI a number oI international aid and development agencies, as well as in the aid programs oI
national governments (Haug 2000, Panitch & Gindin 2012). Global corporations, oI course, are also
oIten guilty oI colonialism, in the interest oI proIits.
Postcolonialist thought seeks to recognise the pervasiveness oI colonialism, to validate the voices
oI the colonised and to recognise and reverse patterns oI colonialist domination. It identiIies how
powerIul the voices oI the colonisers have been, to the exclusion oI others, and how this has stripped
the colonised oI their identity and devalued their culture. Hence postcolonialism is potentially a very
important perspective Ior the understanding oI community development and Ior the aIIirmation oI a
change Irom below` perspective that seeks to validate other voices, and to allow space Ior the
colonised to aIIirm their own reality rather than be dictated to by the coloniser, even iI the coloniser
is a well-intentioned community worker. This will be Iurther taken up in chapter 9.
Postmodernism and poststructuralism
Another important source Ior thinking about change Irom below and bottom-up practice is
postmodernism. Postmodernism was discussed in chapter 4, so its characteristics will not be
reiterated here. However, the relevance oI postmodernism Ior a bottom-up perspective, or change
Irom below, is clear. It provides a strong argument Ior the questioning oI top-down practice, which is
characteristic oI modernity, and its valuing oI diversity and diIIerence allows Ior community
experiences to be validated and Ior alternative voices to be raised and legitimised. Postmodernism
has much to oIIer community development, and indeed the process oI community development can be
seen as a process oI allowing people to construct their own realities` at community level and to
engage in bottom-up development.
Foucault`s emphasis on discourses oI power, although not perhaps strictly within a narrowly
deIined postmodernism (authors diIIer on whether Foucault can be classiIied as a postmodernist, and
the term poststructuralist` is generally preIerred), also is relevant here. As discussed in chapter 3,
Foucault emphasised discourses oI power, and how power is deIined and redeIined through changing
discourses (Foucault 1972, 1979, 1980). A change Irom below` perspective oI community
development suggests that people in communities can engage in their own discourses oI power, and
can have a real role in the construction oI power relationships that aIIect them. Indeed, it is only with
an emphasis on the local and grassroots action Ior change that genuine discursive empowerment can
take place (GoldIarb 2006, De Young & Princen 2012, Green 2012).
The community worker who is interested in postmodernism, and who sees it as important in
inIorming community development practice, needs to think critically about what contribution
postmodernism can make. There are several lines such a consideration might take. One is to draw the
distinction between sceptical and aIIirmative postmodernism (Rosenau 1992). Sceptical
postmodernism accepts an extreme relativism, and can lead to a paralysis because oI inability to
move beyond the immediate context. AIIirmative postmodernism, on the other hand, emphasises the
celebration oI diIIerence and the emancipatory potential oI postmodernism to liberate and validate the
voices oI those who have been marginalised by an oppressive modernism. It thereIore sees
postmodernism as essential to genuine liberation and empowerment. This, clearly, has more
relevance Ior community development than the more introspective sceptical version oI
Another useIul direction Ior community workers is to value the contribution oI postmodernism
without necessarily accepting the complete relativism oI a postmodernist position. Hence
postmodernism is seen as increasing our understanding oI the world in which we live and work,
rather than as requiring us to accept a particular world view. This view is more usually Iramed in
terms oI some variety oI critical theory. In this sense, critical theory means an approach that validates
diIIerence and varying individual constructions oI reality, while at the same time locating them within
a more large-scale analysis oI the oppressive structures. It thus reIuses to see structure and
construction/discourse as dualistically in opposition but rather seeks a Iramework in which both can
contribute and where they can be held together. Critical theory emphasises the importance oI
understanding people`s reality (or realities) and oI taking action to bring about change through the
dismantling oI structures oI power and domination as well as the deconstruction and reconstruction oI
discursive power and social relations, and through opening up possibilities Ior people to take action
to meet their selI-deIined needs.
The issue oI postmodernism, poststructuralism and critical theory is complex, and there is not
space to explore it Iurther here. However, it raises some very important questions Ior community
development, and there can be no doubt that postmodernism is important Ior community workers, and
assists with the articulation oI change Irom below and bottom-up practice.
Feminism is another important perspective to inIorm change Irom below. The top-down, rational,
managerial approach is characteristically patriarchal, and Irom a Ieminist point oI view it perpetuates
structures and discourses oI patriarchal domination and oppression (Nicholson 1999).
It is not surprising that both the ecological and social justice perspectives, as discussed in chapters
2 and 3, draw heavily on Ieminism. From the ecological perspective, Ieminism identiIies patriarchal
domination as one oI the Iorces that has caused environmental devastation by emphasising the place
oI man` as dominant and his` role as to exploit the ecosystem Ior his` own beneIit. Eco-Ieminist
writers (Plumwood 1993, Shiva 2005, Warren 2000) have emphasised the links (Irom an eco-
Ieminist perspective, the necessarv links) between working Ior a genuinely sustainable ecosystem and
the dismantling oI patriarchal structures, processes and discourses. Similarly, Irom a social justice
perspective, Ieminist writers have emphasised the signiIicance oI gender as a Iundamental dimension
oI oppression (or, Ior some Ieminists, the Iundamental dimension oI oppression), and have
demonstrated that the achievement oI social justice will remain an impossible dream unless the issue
oI gender is adequately addressed as part oI any change process.
For present purposes, however, the importance oI Ieminism is its characterisation oI top-down
managerial structures as patriarchal, and hence its close identiIication with a bottom-up perspective.
Postmodern Ieminism reinIorces this argument, by emphasising the validation oI the voices oI the
marginalised and linking this to the construction oI alternative discourses oI power, as discussed
OI course there are diIIerent varieties oI Ieminism, and considerable disagreement between
advocates oI the diIIerent strands oI Ieminist thought. Not all expressions oI Ieminism are readily
identiIied with a bottom-up approach to change. Liberal Ieminism, indeed, runs counter to such a
view, as it does not question the structures or discourses oI patriarchal power but simply seeks to
help women to compete equally within those patriarchal structures. Thus, liberal Ieminism sees no
problem with top-down managerialism and hierarchical organisations where wisdom and authority
are supposed to reside at the top`; instead it is concerned with ensuring that women are as able as
men to reach the top`, and are equally able to exercise power and authority Irom such a position. The
argument that Ieminism is an important perspective Ior the understanding oI change Irom below
speciIically excludes such liberal understandings oI Ieminism, and instead reIers to more radical
Iormulations, such as structural Ieminism, poststructural Ieminism, radical Ieminism and eco-
Ieminism. These are all Iorms oI Ieminism that seek to change basic structures or discourses oI power
and oppression, and that seek the dismantling oI top-down patriarchy.
This chapter has outlined the importance oI the idea oI change Irom below, or bottom-up practice, Ior
community development. The idea oI valuing local knowledge, skills, culture, resources and
processes is important, but it is also radical, given the conventional wisdom oI modern societies that
accept top-down structures and practices as a matter oI course. Community development represents a
direct challenge to this taken-Ior-granted acceptance oI the top-down perspective, and this represents
one oI the greatest challenges Ior a community worker. First, a worker must overcome their own
socialisation within institutions that accept and reinIorce the top-down approach, including the
Iamily, the education system, the workplace and the helping proIessions. It requires a radical rethink
by many people in order to become eIIective community development workers and to move beyond
the orthodoxy oI top-down thinking. This is why the various perspectives outlined in the later section
oI the chapter are so important, as they provide Irameworks within which community workers are
able to reIormulate their ideas. Thinking bottom-up may be a radical position to take, but a community
worker is not alone in taking such a position; it can be linked to several important intellectual
traditions pluralism, democratic socialism, anarchism, postcolonialism, postmodernism or
poststructuralism and Ieminism and community workers can Iind much in the literature oI these
traditions to support their grassroots bottom-up perspective.
The other related challenge Ior community development work is that the uncritical acceptance oI a
top-down perspective is likely to be evident within the community with which the community worker
is engaged. People are likely to say that they don`t really have the expertise, that they should be
asking the outside expert`, that the knowledge oI external proIessionals is what is needed and so on.
Local skills, knowledge, culture and processes are likely to be devalued by the very people who own
them, and community development workers need to be able to engage with this learned
powerlessness` as part oI empowerment-based practice. OI course it is oIten not appropriate simply
to ask community members to read radical Ieminist or anarchist literature (although in some
circumstances this a possibility). What is required oI a community worker is the capacity to
understand the insights oI these various theoretical traditions and to reIrame those insights in such a
way that they relate to the lived experience oI the people in the community, and are grounded in their
reality rather than the reality oI academics and proIessionals. Thus community work can become a
genuine dialogue about power, about knowledge, about wisdom and about change, and can seek to
empower local community members to validate and use their own experience, knowledge, expertise
and skills to work towards change.
7 The process of community development
The bottom-up, change Irom below` approach discussed in chapter 6 is one oI the Iundamental
principles oI community development. In this chapter we will consider another Iundamental principle,
namely the importance and the integrity oI process. In the current climate, dominated as it is by a
concern Ior outcomes and objectives, the community development emphasis on process rather than
outcome is as radical as the emphasis on change Irom below discussed in chapter 6. It similarly
requires a major reorientation Ior many community workers, who have become used to outcome-
based thinking; and it can be diIIicult to explain to others who have accepted the commonly held view
that the end justiIies the means, and Ior whom where we end up` is more important than how we get
Process and outcome
There are two sorts oI journey we can take. One is the journey where the aim is to arrive at our
destination, usually as quickly and as comIortably as possible. We plan our journey, we work out the
best route to take, and we estimate how long it will last, so that we know when we have to start in
order to arrive on time. Everything is geared to the arrival, and it is a journey on which we want no
surprises. The journey Irom home to work, the journey to visit a relative and the trip to the beach are
journeys oI this type. II we encounter the unexpected a detour, an unexpected traIIic jam, a
breakdown, a late bus we become annoyed, as it has prevented us Irom reaching our destination on
time. The other sort oI journey is the journey oI discovery. Here we are not sure where we will end
up; we may have some idea oI where we would like to go, but typically it is ill-deIined. We do not
have detailed maps, and we cannot predict what is likely to happen. Indeed, we expect the
unexpected, and when the unexpected happens we welcome it as a new opportunity. It is the journey
itselI that is important, rather than the arrival.
In a world dominated by outcomes, by arriving, by achieving your objectives, the Iirst sort oI
journey is the appropriate metaphor. But community development is, essentially, a journey oI the
second type. The journey itselI (the process) is what is important. A community worker will not
really know where a community development process will lead so is not certain oI the outcome.
Indeed, the speciIication oI outcomes, so common in the human services, is the antithesis oI
community development. A community worker who is clear at the beginning about the outcomes they
hope to achieve is eIIectively disempowering the community, as this takes away Irom the community
the control oI the process and the determination oI the direction oI development.
The relative importance to be placed on process and outcome is determined in part by the way one
understands the relationship between means and ends. One view sees ends and means as separate. We
seek a particular end, then choose the best means by which to reach it. This is the traditional view in
conventional planning and policy analysis; the end is seen as value-laden, where there is a consensus
about a desired value, Ior example a high level oI education. The role oI the policy analyst is then to
decide the way in which that end might best (i.e. most eIIectively and eIIiciently) be realised, through
programs oI education, school-building, teacher training and resource provision. This is a role Ior the
expert; it is assumed that it can be done objectively and rationally, and that values do not come into
play. The role oI the public, oI democratic participation and oI public debate, is conIined to the
identiIication oI the desired end, and the wider community then allows the policy experts to determine
the best way Ior that end to be reached. This view is also reIlected in the conventional planning
process, where outcomes are speciIied and the planning is seen as an essentially technical exercise to
determine the steps required to reach that outcome. Such an approach to means and ends leads
naturally to the idea that the end justiIies the means, that it is the end that is everything and we should
use whatever means necessary to achieve it. Even violence and war can be readily justiIied iI they
are seen as reaching the ends oI non-violence and peace. Such an argument has been used Ior
centuries to justiIy wars, to excuse war crimes, to justiIy the death penalty, and to legitimise torture,
the denial oI human rights and the scapegoating oI minorities; all these may be seen as regrettable`
but they are justiIied in the interests oI achieving a greater good. On a less extreme scale, the same
sort oI thinking is seen in the reluctance to consider or consult communities about building a Ireeway,
in Alinsky`s (1971) controversial view that in community action ethics should be disregarded, and in
the loss oI jobs and industrial protection in the interests oI the health oI the economy, Ilexibility and
staying competitive.
An alternative view rejects the separation oI means and ends, on three grounds. The Iirst is that
ends can (and do) become means, and means can (and do) become ends, so that their separate identity
cannot be maintained. An end, Ior example, might be to reduce unemployment, but iI we ask why we
want to reduce unemployment the answer (e.g. to increase people`s sense oI wellbeing) becomes an
end, and what we thought oI earlier as an end has become a means instead. Similarly, we may identiIy
a means (better teachers) to an end (higher levels oI literacy), but then as soon as we ask how we can
produce better teachers our means has become an end, and we are seeking a means to achieve it. Thus
means and ends do not remain separate and distinct.
The second ground Ior rejecting a distinction between means and ends is that the choice oI means
is not necessarily a technical, value-Iree decision. The justiIication oI a means solely on the grounds
oI its eIIiciency and eIIectiveness in meeting an end can result in means that are unacceptable:
shooting all unemployed people would be an extremely eIIicient and eIIective way oI reducing
unemployment, but is hardly likely to be acceptable to the community. Choice oI means cannot be
value-Iree, but rather needs to be determined in the same way as choice oI ends; to imagine otherwise
is to create the possibility oI oppressive practices, oI which shooting the unemployed is an extreme
example, but which might also be seen in harsh imprisonment oI oIIenders, mandatory sentencing oI
juveniles, denial oI the rights oI asylum-seekers or immigrant workers, all in the name oI decisive
action to stamp out a perceived social problem. At the time oI writing, harsh treatment oI asylum
seekers, and the denial oI their basic human rights, is seen by the Australian Government and
Opposition alike as necessary in order to stop the boats arriving.
The third ground Ior rejecting the meansends dichotomy is the argument that ends and means are
morally connected; Iar Irom the ends justiIying the means, this argument suggests that the means can
corrupt the end, and thereIore that it is impossible to reach an incorrupt, non-violent end through
corrupt or violent means. It thereIore reIutes, Ior example, the argument that war is necessary to
achieve peace, that violent revolution is necessary to achieve a non-violent society, or that violent
means such as corporal or capital punishment are necessary to eliminate crimes oI violence. The
experience oI history is that such means are generally unsuccessIul in achieving their ends: instead
they normalise violence and thereby make things worse. AIter one war to achieve the great lasting
peace there is usually another one, a violent revolution to achieve a just society oIten results in
oppression, which is then overthrown by another violent revolution, and more violent Iorms oI
punishment send out the message that violent solutions to problems are acceptable and thereIore
institutionalise and reinIorce a culture oI violence. The Gandhian non-violence tradition (Zinn 2002,
Kumar 2002) has strongly argued that means and ends are linked in this way, and that one can achieve
genuinely peaceIul, non-violent and morally consistent ends only by adopting peaceIul, non-violent
and morally consistent means.
The perspective oI this book is grounded in the latter position, which rejects the separation oI
means and ends. It should be noted that not all approaches to community work share this view. Some
community workers, most notably Alinsky (1969, 1971), have taken the opposite view and argued that
the end will justiIy the means. The use oI military metaphors is widespread in the community work
literature: strategic, tactics, campaign, target, alliance and so on. These suggest at least an
unconscious attachment to ways oI thinking that tacitly accept violent means, and a corresponding
separation oI the end Irom the means employed to get there. From the perspective oI this book, such a
separation oI means and ends is unacceptable. It is in conIlict with the ecological and social justice
principles outlined in chapters 2 and 3, and with the process principles discussed Iurther here. The
process oI community development (and community development is, essentially, a process) cannot be
seen simply as a means to an end, but is an important end in itselI, so the process and the outcome, or
the means and the end, have become combined. To pursue the metaphor oI the journey discussed
above, community development is about setting out on a journey oI discovery, and about valuing and
trusting the process. This requires the community worker to abandon the idea oI knowing where they
are heading, and instead being prepared to have Iaith in the process and the wisdom and expertise oI
the community itselI.
The integrity of process
The idea oI the integrity oI process arises Irom the discussion above. II means and ends cannot be
separated, and iI one accepts the view that corrupt means can corrupt the end, then the process oI
community development has more than purely instrumental value. In other words, it is important not
just as a means oI getting somewhere but in its own right. Hence it is important to ensure that the
process itselI has integrity and does not contradict the ecological and social justice principles
discussed in earlier chapters. It is not suIIicient simply to seek the goal oI sustainability and social
justice; it is fust as important that the process itself reflect those principles. That will be the
assumption behind many oI the community development principles discussed in the remainder oI this
There are many temptations to cut corners about matters oI process. To engage in good process can
oIten be time-consuming, and it is tempting to try to bring matters to a conclusion without, Ior
example, consulting all those who are likely to be aIIected by a decision, or allowing everyone
concerned the opportunity to participate meaningIully. Sometimes a community worker has no choice:
Ior example when there is a tight deadline Ior a submission to a local government body regarding a
planning matter, and there is simply no time to engage in a broad participatory process within the
community to determine the content oI the submission and to give everybody a stake in its Iinal Iorm.
Here it may be necessary to compromise on process, but such a decision should always be taken with
reluctance, as it is eIIectively allowing the administrative processes oI local government to take
precedence over the decision-making processes oI the community. In such a case, it is oIten important
to take additional steps as well as simply making the submission. One approach might be to lobby the
council Ior more time, another might be to label the submission as a preliminary document with notice
that a Iuller submission will arrive aIter necessary processes have been undertaken. Another might be
to make an issue oI it with the council, seeking to ensure that adequate time is available to community
groups in the Iuture. And still another response might be to work with the local community to
determine an acceptable way to handle such an eventuality in Iuture, such as a small group oI people
entrusted by the community to make a rapid response should such action be necessary again. This is
an important principle Ior community workers; we learn by experience, and having been caught out
once, where it has been necessary to compromise the integrity oI process, it is important to ensure that
iI possible it does not happen again.
The most important aspect oI the integrity oI process is that the process must be owned by the
community itselI. Community development process cannot be imposed Irom outside, and cannot be
dictated by a community worker, a local council or a government department. It has to be the process
oI the community itselI, which is owned, controlled and sustained by the people themselves. This is
not always easy to achieve, as people are accustomed to having processes imposed, and to
responding to guidelines`. But there can be no such imposed process in community development.
Each community is diIIerent; it has its unique cultural, geographical, social, political and
demographic characteristics, its own leaders, its own problems and its own aspirations. What works
in one community will not necessarily work in another, and any attempt to impose something that
worked in one community onto another not only runs the risk oI Iailure but also disempowers the
people oI that community, because it is not their own process. OI course one can learn Irom
experience elsewhere, and one might wish to try out something that worked somewhere else, but it
must always be the community itselI that is in control oI the process.
This oIten results in a Ieeling oI Irustration Ior community workers. Because oI the necessity Ior
the process to be owned by the community, there is an element oI starting Irom scratch every time, and
oI allowing the community to determine its own processes, working at its own pace. For a worker
who has been through similar processes beIore, there is a temptation to speed up the process by
telling people how to do it. This seldom works, and results in a process that is not owned by the
community, thereby weakening rather than strengthening community development. As a simple
example, when a community group is established, it is important that someone take the minutes oI
each meeting. For a group accustomed to meetings, this is relatively straightIorward and someone
will arrange Ior this to happen. But with a group unaccustomed to meetings the community worker
may choose to resist the temptation to tell the group that they need a minute-taker, in order not to
hijack the process. The worker instead might simply ask people how they will be able to remember
decisions that were taken, or remind themselves at the next meeting oI what had been decided
previously. This could lead to the group deciding itselI how it might go about doing that. Or it may
even be appropriate Ior the worker not to say anything, but to wait Ior the group itselI to realise the
importance oI such record-keeping (say, aIter the Iirst two or three meetings). Either way, the
community group is able to set up a Iorm oI record-keeping that is its own, designed to meet its own
needs, and is not simply doing a prescribed process called taking minutes` that has been imposed
Irom outside.
This is a small example, but the same approach can be applied to many diIIerent tasks. The role oI
the community worker may be to ask questions to encourage thought and discussion about process
issues, or it may be to provide answers when asked; in the above example, someone in the group may
ask how other groups keep records oI decisions, and the worker can then provide an answer that
provides a number oI options or possibilities Ior the group to consider rather than deIining the right
way to do it. At a generalised level, there are no right or wrong ways to do community development,
although in any particular cultural and social context there will certainly be right and wrong ways,
and it is Ior the community, not the worker, to determine the ways that are right Ior it.
The remainder oI this chapter examines a number oI process principles oI community
The idea oI consciousness-raising is central to community development, and is an important part oI
the process. It will also be discussed in later chapters, when diIIerent aspects oI community
development, and diIIerent community development roles or skills, are considered. The simple idea
oI consciousness-raising is that, because oI the oIten unquestioned legitimacy oI oppressive structures
and discourses, people have come to accept oppression as somehow normal or inevitable, and will
oIten not even be able to acknowledge or label their own oppression; the experience oI oppression is
thereIore unconscious. Hence there is a need to raise levels oI consciousness, to allow people the
opportunity to explore their own situations and the oppressive structures and discourses that Irame
their lives, in such a way that they can act to bring about change. This is a much more diIIicult and
challenging process than it sounds. As Marxist (Freire 1972), Ieminist (de Beauvoir 1988),
postcolonialist (Spivak 1994) and poststructuralist (Foucault 1972, 1973, 1979) writers have pointed
out, one oI the important aspects oI oppression is the power oI the structures and discourses that
legitimise that oppression, Ior example through the media, the education system, advertising and
religious institutions. Indeed, such cultural hegemony`, to use the Marxist term, can be both more
powerIul and more subtle than the control oI the armed Iorces, police and security agencies, and is
much harder to identiIy and name, let alone challenge. Yet it is these very discourses and structures
that prevent people Irom exploring disadvantage and oppression eIIectively, and that leave them
We can identiIy Iour aspects oI consciousness-raising, although it needs to be emphasised that in
any consciousness-raising process they will all happen at the same time; they are not steps in a linear
progression. The Iirst is linking the personal and the political. The split between the personal and the
political is very marked in modern capitalist societies. We do not think oI our personal experiences,
joys, disappointments, needs, problems, suIIerings or Irustrations as being political; they are seen as
purely part oI our own individual experience and liIe space, and problems are seen as being solvable
by becoming a customer and purchasing something, such as a holiday, therapy, new clothes (retail
therapy`) and so on, and being a good consumer is the answer to everything. Similarly, we see the
political as being about a politics that is removed Irom everyday experience, to do with political
parties, elections, legislatures, economics, media and power exercised in the public rather than the
private domain. Consciousness-raising requires that the two be brought together. This has perhaps
best been achieved by Ieminist writers, who have emphasised that the personal is political` and that
the personal experiences and oppression oI women have to be understood in terms oI politics, namely
the discourses and structures oI power and patriarchal oppression that apply across the public/private
divide (Salleh 1997). The same perspective can be applied to other dimensions oI oppression, such
as class and race. In each case, personal experience oI disadvantage needs to be seen in its broader
structural context, just as broader structural issues need to be seen in terms oI the impact on the lives
oI people (Mills 1970). Helping people to make the connection between the personal and the political
is thereIore central to consciousness-raising, and oI course community workers can do this eIIectively
only iI they have an awareness oI the connection, and understands the way in which dominant
structures and discourses oI power deny the connection and make it diIIicult Ior people to make the
The second aspect oI consciousness-raising is the establishment oI a dialogical relationship
(Westoby & Dowling 2009, Saunders & Parker 2011, Van Til 2011). One oI the criticisms oI
consciousness-raising is that it can become simply a Iorm oI ideological indoctrination by the
community worker, whereby the worker imposes their values on other people, using the language oI
liberation, but in Iact in an oppressive and colonising way that betrays the idea oI bottom-up`
practice as described in chapter 6. This is a very important criticism, and it can be overcome only iI
the worker is able to establish a genuinely dialogical relationship with the members oI the
community. The idea oI a dialogical relationship is based on the educative work oI Paolo Freire
(1972), who is arguably most inIluential writer about consciousness-raising, and on the interpersonal
philosophy oI Martin Buber (Buber 1947, Kramer 2003) and Emmanuel Levinas (1998, 2006). It
requires that the community worker not enter into the relationship claiming to be the expert with
superior knowledge, instead adopting the position described in chapter 6 oI valuing local knowledge
and wisdom, and seeking an equal dialogue with community members whereby each can learn Irom
the other, so that they can together move towards collective action (Westoby & Dowling 2009,
Westoby & Shevallar 2012). This notion oI collaborative reciprocal learning, and deconstructing any
power diIIerential that may be inherent in the relationship between worker and community, is a
precondition Ior an eIIective consciousness-raising that is liberating rather than colonising and
The third aspect oI consciousness-raising is sharing experiences oI oppression. It is by exploring
each other`s experiences oI what oppression means, and how people understand and deIine it, that
collective consciousness can develop. OI course the word oppression` might be threatening Ior some
people not used to such a vocabulary, and it may be that some other word such as disadvantage` or
even need` might be more appropriate Ior a community process. The idea oI moving Irom individual
experience to shared experience, then to collective consciousness is central to consciousness-raising.
It challenges the dominant individualism and privileging oI the private experience that is so prevalent
in modern Western societies.
Although this sharing is oIten achieved through discussion, in either Iormal or inIormal groups, it
can sometimes be more powerIully portrayed by using other media. Theatre, art, Iilm, storytelling and
other Iorms oI expression can be particularly powerIul. Augusto Boal (1979), whose book Theatre of
the Oppressed is a classic in this regard, describes how when working with poor people in Lima he
gave each person a camera and asked them to photograph what they thought was oppression. There
were many diIIerent photographs, and these provoked lively discussion. Two children photographed
nails on a wall, and explained that they worked shining shoes, and at the end oI the day they had to
hang their shoe-cleaning bags on the nails; they were in addition required to pay rent` Ior the nail.
The photo oI the nails was thereIore, Ior them, a powerIul symbol oI oppression, and a wonderIul
Iocus Ior discussion.
As another example, the Australian Iilm director Peter Weir was once asked to produce a
documentary on Green Valley, a public housing area in Sydney`s western suburbs, popularly
portrayed in the media at the time as a problem area. Instead, he began by making a brieI satirical Iilm
about media coming to the valley oI doom` in search oI sensational stories, then worked with several
local residents helping them each to shoot, edit and produce their own Iilms oI what liIe in Green
Valley was like Ior them, including the positive aspects oI the community oIten ignored by journalists.
These Iilms were then shown at a public meeting, which allowed the people oI that community to
share their own experiences oI Green Valley and to begin to take control oI the way their community
was portrayed. Other community workers have used theatre, working with local people to produce
plays about the experience oI the community and setting it in a broader context oI the global economy
and economic exploitation (Van Erven 1992). Seeing the story portrayed on stage can be a powerIul
tool Ior sharing experiences as part oI the consciousness-raising process.
The Iourth aspect oI consciousness-raising is that it should open up possibilities Ior action.
Consciousness-raising will be empowering only iI it helps people not only to locate their own
experiences within broader structures and discourses oI oppression but also to move towards action
Ior change (Boal 1979). As described in other chapters, community power to deIine need is essential
in community development, but there is not much point in people being able to deIine their own needs
iI they cannot also identiIy ways in which they might act to have their needs met. Thus empowerment
Ior action is important in any consciousness-raising activity. It is not only about people understanding
the structures and discourses that contribute to their oppression or disadvantage but also about them
acting, in Freire`s words (1972), to transIorm the objective reality`, namely to act to bring about
change. Ideally, this will happen collectively, as a result oI the shared understandings that have
developed Irom the processes outlined above. Collective action can be much more powerIul and
eIIective than individual action, and the establishment oI a collective activist identity can be a
powerIul outcome oI the consciousness-raising process. For this reason, the exploration oI lived
reality and the identiIication oI discourses oI power and structures oI oppression are only one step
towards empowerment; although important, they need to be combined with the exploration oI ways in
which change might be eIIected.
However, this may not always be possible, at least in the short term. Some people and
communities live in such circumstances that, Ior good reasons, immediate action Ior change would not
be an option Ior them. In such a situation an unrealistic emphasis on action Ior change would simply
create Ialse hopes and lead to disillusionment; here it is more important to realise that sometimes
increased understanding may be all that will be achieved immediately, and that this itselI can be
important. It is also important to realise that opportunities Ior change can come and go. Just because
there is no opportunity Ior action now does not mean that such an opportunity will not arise in the
Iuture. Consciousness-raising could well lead to change at some Iuture date, as political, economic
and social circumstances change. But ultimately, as part oI a community development process, it is
the community itselI, rather than the community worker, that must make such decisions.
This process oI consciousness-raising can happen in a variety oI ways, and does not have to be a
Iormal, labelled activity. Rather, it represents a way oI working that pervades much oI what a
community development worker does. While it can be Iocused on a major activity, such as the Iilm-
making or drama described above, it can also be undertaken casually as part oI day-to-day practice.
In conversations over a cup oI tea, in a car driving to a meeting, or while discussing some particular
community project, there can be many opportunities Ior reIraming a problem or issue so that the
personal and the political are linked, Ior sharing experiences oI oppression and disadvantage, and Ior
dialogue. Consciousness-raising does not have to be a special program, but can simply be a way oI
working that seeks any opportunity to engage in dialogue and to explore paths towards collective
understanding, shared experience and action.
Participatory democracy
Democracy is an idea that is widely iI not universally valued, although it is signiIicant that its
achievement has been so diIIicult despite its widespread appeal. And there is an increasing
awareness that democracy is in crisis. Many people are turned oII by conventional politics, which
seems incapable oI addressing the issues that are most important. And the response both to the attacks
oI 9/11 and to the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) has been to reduce democratic control over
decision-making. So-called security issues are removed Irom public scrutiny and accountability, and
the response in Italy to the inability oI its government to respond to the GFC led to the appointment oI
unelected technocrats to manage the economy and run the country. Yet vigorous and resilient
democracy is vital to our Iuture. It is interesting to note that both Raj Patel, in his critique oI global
capitalism Iollowing the GFC (2009), and Clive Hamilton in his analysis oI the woeIully inadequate
responses to the imperatives oI climate change (2010), concluded that the only hope Ior a better Iuture
lies in the reinvention and revitalisation oI democracy, so that ordinary people can regain control oI
our collective destiny.
Democracy basically means rule oI the people`, but such a deIinition begs many questions. The
conception oI who are the people` has diIIered, and it has seldom, iI ever, meant all the people. In
classical Athenian democracy slaves were excluded Irom the process as a matter oI course. Until at
least the late nineteenth century women were excluded in Western democracies, and in a number oI
countries Indigenous People have had to Iight Ior representation in the democratic process. Even in
modern enlightened` societies, which might consider themselves above such arbitrary Iorms oI
discrimination, many people are still denied any Iormal democratic participation, the most notable oI
such groups being people under the age oI 18, and those who are not deemed to be citizens` oI the
country in which they are living (the same restriction as applied in Athenian times).
Another issue is the question oI what decisions will be taken by the people, and what will be leIt
to the individual, Iamily or inIormal group. Are there constraints that should be placed on any Iorm oI
rule, as anarchists would argue? II so, how does one determine those constraints? The rule oI the
people can easily become the dictatorship oI one segment oI the people and the denial oI Iundamental
Ireedoms. Making such a determination usually requires some Iorm oI deIinition oI the common
good`, national interest` or general interest`, as well as some Iorm oI deIinition oI human rights and
Ireedoms. These highly contentious questions, then, are inextricably linked to any consideration oI the
meaning and application oI democracy.
For present purposes, however, the most important issue in the rule oI the people is how that rule
will be exercised. In all but the smallest and simplest societies it is impractical to expect all the
people to be able to be actively involved in all the decisions that have to be made. Hence, some way
has to be Iound to delegate decision-making while retaining the democratic ideal, and this leads to the
notion oI representative democracy. Although democracy (either in theory or in practice) takes many
Iorms, and one can develop diIIerent models oI how democratic systems either do or should work
(Held 2006), these can be generally classiIied as varieties oI either representative or participatory
democracy, and the Iormer is more characteristic oI modern industrial and postindustrial societies. In
participatory democracy the people participate directly in decision-making, while in representative
democracy the role oI the people is to select (usually through elections) those who are then entrusted
to make the decisions on their behalI.
Some Iorm oI representative democracy is an inevitable consequence oI large, complex,
centralised societies, such as modern Western societies, and this has led to its being accepted as the
normal Iorm oI democracy and seldom questioned. Even at local government level, where
participatory models may be Ieasible, the representative model predominates, and there has been
little serious eIIort to develop participatory alternatives. There have been some notable exceptions,
such as the precinct system in operation in a number oI local government authorities, whereby
meetings oI local residents can contribute directly to council decisions.
There are signiIicant problems with representative democracy, which are highlighted by the
Green, social justice and post-Enlightenment positions described in previous chapters (see also
Rayner 1998, Clark & Teachout 2012). Representative democracy involves an eIIective transIer oI
power to an elite (those elected) and a consequent disempowerment oI the people in whose interests
democracy is supposed to work. It thus reinIorces pluralist and elitist Iorms oI politics, which are Iar
Irom the empowerment ideal. It also encourages such strategies as corporatism, where decisions are
made by leaders rather than as a result oI democratic processes. The checks on the abuse oI power,
such as independent media, open access to inIormation and rights oI redress through the law, do not
always work particularly eIIectively, and are themselves oIten criticised Ior being controlled by the
same elites and inaccessible to all but the wealthy and powerIul. In such circumstances the eIIective
power oI individual citizens is severely curtailed, and is largely limited to the oIten symbolic gesture
oI voting every Iew years (and unless one happens to live in a marginal electorate this too can
become a meaningless ritual). The nature oI representative politics is such that voters are oIten not
conIronted with an eIIective choice, such as when both major parties adopt similarly conservative
policies and where the media does not legitimise any alternative party, as is the norm in many
Western democracies. The supposedly democratic system then becomes a recipe Ior
disempowerment. Many critics, oI course, suggest that this is no accident, and see the apparently
democratic structures as an eIIective way oI maintaining the power oI dominant economic, social and
political interests, and oI legitimising the existing order.
In order to reverse this trend, a move towards a more participatory model oI democracy is an
important component oI a community development strategy. There are Iour important characteristics
oI a participatory democracy approach that are important Ior community development. These are
decentralisation, accountability, education and obligation.
1 Decentralisation
Participatory democracy requires decentralised decision-making structures, and decentralisation is a
major component oI an alternative vision based on the principle oI change Irom below. Although
recognising that Ior some purposes more centralised decision-making, or at least coordination, is
required, the principle involved is that no decision or function should occur at a more centralised
level than is necessarv. Thus, the onus is on those seeking to centralise to demonstrate the necessity
Ior such a strategy, and decentralisation becomes the norm rather than the exception. Centralised
Iunctions, where they exist, should preIerably be oI coordination, inIormation and resource provision,
and general support Ior decentralised activities and structures. Mechanisms need to be developed to
ensure that the perspective oI the periphery, rather than the centre, is given priority when disputes
arise, rather than the conventional view, which sees the perspective oI the centre as the more valid
because it is able to take an overview (Clark & Teachout 2012, De Young & Princen 2012).
It must be pointed out that decentralisation is not without its problems and, like all such policies, it
solves some problems and creates others. The problems oI decentralisation tend to be associated
with issues oI equity and the maintenance oI standards. These issues can be dealt with by more
eIIective networking, communication and coordination rather than necessarily by central control and,
as was argued in chapter 1, the claims oI the centralised state to ensure equity are oIten illusory. A
strategy oI decentralisation is not without its problems and challenges, but Irom the perspective oI
participatory democracy these are outweighed by its advantages.
2 Accountability
The conventional view oI accountability has been that oI accountability upward or to the centre,
within a traditional bureaucratic structure. From a participatory democracy perspective,
accountability downward or outward to the people directly concerned is much more important.
Indeed, such accountability is central to the idea oI participatory democracy, as not only does
participatory democracy involve the people in making decisions but also it requires that they be
responsible Ior ensuring that those decisions are carried out.
3 Education
II people are to participate in decision-making, they can be expected to do so successIully only iI they
are well inIormed about the issues at stake and the likely consequences oI particular decisions. To
ensure that people are equipped to make inIormed decisions requires a level oI awareness and
education (in its broadest sense, including consciousness-raising) higher than is generally understood
as being necessary Ior participation in currently existing Iorms oI representative democracy.
Otherwise, attempts at participatory democracy can become merely a Iorum Ior reinIorcing collective
prejudice, scapegoating, stereotyping and ignorance, as can be the case with citizen-initiated
reIerendums (IIe 2012). To embark on a program oI participatory democracy without an eIIective
education process is a recipe Ior Iailure, and would serve only to support the views oI those who see
participatory democracy as unworkable.
4 Obligation
As discussed in chapter 3, rights and obligations are linked, and participatory democracy can be
regarded as one instance oI rights, namely people`s right to selI-determination. With the exercise oI
this right goes a corresponding obligation to participate and to be well inIormed on the relevant
issues. An obligation to participate in community liIe is not highly valued in modern Western society,
where community has been signiIicantly eroded. But such an obligation is a key component oI
participatory democracy. One cannot Iorce people to participate (such coercion would in any case be
counter to a non-violent approach), but a climate can be created in which people Ieel a strong moral
obligation or duty to participate. One way to achieve this is to ensure that people`s participation is
genuine rather than token, as it is the tokenistic nature oI many participation` or consultation`
programs oI governments that alienates community members, who are easily able to detect tokenism
and who have better things to do with their time than to spend it on useless consultations` and on
making decisions with little import.
Deliberative democracy
One way to strengthen participatory democracy is through the idea oI deliberative democracy. The
way in which democracy is commonly understood is largely reactive; in a democracy we are allowed
to react to the decision oI government, and to seek to persuade the government to change its mind
(classic pluralism). Sometimes a government will ask the community to comment on a particular
proposal or plan, perhaps by inviting submissions or through a reIerendum. But in all these cases the
role oI the citizens is to react to a proposal that has already been developed, or to choose between
two or more speciIied alternatives. In such a case, the government has already determined the
parameters oI the choice, namely what options are acceptable, and has eIIectively set the rules Ior
citizen participation; people are asked to react to what has already been proposed rather than be part
oI developing proposals themselves.
Deliberative democracy, however, seeks to establish mechanisms that enable citizens to
participate in the deliberative process, so that they can be part oI actually Iorming the plan and
developing the proposal (Gutmann & Thompson 2004). This involves government community
consultation beIore rather than aIter the plan has been developed, and seeks to draw on the wisdom
and experience oI the community. Like community development, deliberative democracy values the
community`s expertise, seeks a role Ior the community in deIining the parameters oI the issue, and
does not place the government in a position oI being the expert with superior knowledge and wisdom.
Programs oI deliberative democracy necessarily involve community education; realising that the
problems are not easily solved, it is necessary to provide people with the resources and the
knowledge to engage with the problem and to share with the government the complexity and the
contradictions oI dealing with issues and problems in contemporary society. It also requires a
government to admit that it does not have all the answers (not easy Ior many politicians, at least in
public), and to be prepared to seek the wisdom oI the people. The agenda oI deliberative democracy
is similar to the agenda oI community development; it requires a more active engagement at
community level with the issues and problems Iacing the society, and active and inIormed
participation by citizens.
A strategy oI participatory democracy, then, is Iar Irom straightIorward, and involves more than
simply setting up diIIerent structures and expecting them to work. It cannot be achieved quickly, as it
involves reversing some strong trends in contemporary society. Rather, it must be seen as the result oI
a longer-term developmental process, and thus becomes one oI the goals, as well as one oI the
mechanisms, oI community development. Within community work, this has been seen in the long-
standing concern Ior participation, and how genuine citizen participation can be encouraged and
Problems of participation
Participation is a problematic concept (StieIel & WolIe 1994). This is partly because it is contrary to
the dominant individualist, consumer basis oI society, and contradicts the socialisation oI many
people (other than that oI certain white, upwardly mobile and ambitious men, who have usually been
well schooled in how to participate and to be active and eIIective in traditional community
organisations). Overcoming this socialisation into passive consumer roles is a major challenge Ior
community development, and hence consciousness-raising becomes a critical aspect oI any
participation approach.
Another problem with participation is the problem oI tokenism. Many apparent attempts to
encourage community participation amount to varying degrees oI tokenism, whereby people are
consulted or inIormed about a decision but really have little or no power to aIIect it. The history oI
community participation projects is riddled with examples oI tokenism, and people have rightly
learned to look on exhortations to community participation with extreme scepticism, as most people
have better things to do with their time than to spend it in token participatory exercises. Any serious
attempt to encourage and develop community participation must overcome this scepticism, and
demonstrate that it will indeed provide a genuine opportunity Ior people to participate meaningIully,
beIore it can hope to attract the broad involvement oI the people concerned. This will inevitably take
time, and it must be emphasised that genuine community participation cannot be achieved quickly; it is
a slow, developmental process. It is sometimes possible to achieve rapid and broad-based
community participation Ior a relatively brieI period around an issue about which people Ieel
strongly (e.g. the closure oI a school), but to translate this into ongoing participation in community-
based structures and decision-making requires more sustained work.
Closely related to the problem oI tokenism is the problem oI co-optation. Participants in a process
can Iind themselves co-opted by other Iorces and becoming part oI the power structure that at Iirst
they thought they were opposing. This has been the Iate oI many representatives oI citizens` groups or
disempowered groups when asked to participate on government or non-government boards,
committees or other bodies. It is easy in such circumstances to lose touch with one`s constituency and
to be seduced by the structures oI power. Thus, the radical reIormer suddenly becomes realistic,
reasonable and responsible, and abandons the causes Ior which they were elected.
As noted in chapters 2 and 3, the ecological principle oI equilibrium and balance needs to be
applied to the question oI citizenship rights and responsibilities, and one oI the problems with
conventional political philosophies is that they have tended to lose this balance (conservatives tend to
emphasise responsibilities and ignore rights whereas socialists tend to do the reverse). Essential to a
community-based perspective is an emphasis both on rights and on responsibilities, coupled with a
balance between them. Under a community-based approach, membership oI a community entails
certain rights to receive service, support and sustenance Irom community structures and to take
advantage oI community liIe. But at the same time it entails responsibilities to contribute to that
community, and this involves participation in community processes. Unless both the rights and the
responsibilities oI community membership are acknowledged, the community is unlikely to survive in
a viable Iorm. Thus, a community development program must encourage the recognition and
promotion oI both the right and the obligation to participate.
Encouraging participation
Despite the diIIiculties oI achieving genuine participation, there are a number oI ways in which
participation can be encouraged. It is important to emphasise that non-participation is not natural`,
nor is it necessarily inevitable. People will participate in community processes, under the right
conditions. These conditions are as Iollows.
First, people will participate if thev feel the issue or activitv is important. The way this can most
eIIectively be achieved is iI the people themselves have been able to determine the issue or action
and have decided its importance, rather than having someone Irom outside tell them what they should
be doing. One oI the keys to successIul community organising has always been the selection oI the
issue around which to organise, and the same is true in the broader domain oI community
development. This emphasises the importance oI a worker allowing deIinitions oI need and priorities
to arise Irom the community itselI, rather than Ialling into the trap oI seeking to impose them. For
example, a community worker trying to mobilise a community around the issue oI recreation (perhaps
because this is what the worker is paid to do) will have little success iI recreation is a low priority
Ior the people oI the community, who are really much more concerned about jobs and the local
The second condition Ior participation is that people must feel that their action will make a
difference. The community may have deIined jobs as the major priority, but iI people do not believe
that community action can make any diIIerence to local employment prospects, there will be little
incentive to participate. It is necessary to demonstrate that the community can achieve something that
will make a diIIerence and that will result in meaningIul change.
People must also Ieel that their actions will make a diIIerence on an individual level. A person
may believe the issue to be important and that community action could achieve something, but may
believe that other community members will be able to accomplish it and that he or she has no
contribution to make. This implies the third condition Ior participation, namely that different forms of
participation must be acknowledged and valued. Too oIten community participation is seen in terms
oI involvement in committees, Iormal meetings and other traditional (i.e. white, male and middle-
class) procedures. Such processes can be important, yet many other kinds oI community participation
can be equally valuable. In the broad range oI community development activity outlined in the
Iollowing chapters, there are many diIIerent roles that community members can and indeed must
play. These need to be recognised and valued, so that activities as diverse as child-minding, book-
keeping, dance, sympathetic listening, cooking, storytelling, painting, providing basic health care,
keeping records oI meetings, music-making, gardening and playing Iootball are all seen as important
Iorms oI participation, and are valued. Community participation must be something Ior everyone, and
people`s diverse skills, talents and interests must be taken into account.
The Iourth condition Ior participation is that people must be enabled to participate, and be
supported in their participation. This means that such issues as the availability oI transport, the
provision oI childcare (or the inclusion oI children in activities), saIety, a Iriendly welcoming
atmosphere, the timing and location oI activities and the environment in which activities will occur
are all critically important and need to be taken into account in planning community-based processes.
Failure to do so will result in some sections oI the community (oIten women or ethnic/racial
minorities) being unable to participate, however much they might want to.
The Iinal condition Ior participation is that structures and processes must not be alienating.
Traditional meeting procedures and techniques Ior decision-making are Irequently alienating Ior many
people, particularly those who are not good at thinking on their Ieet, do not want to interrupt others
and lack conIidence or verbal skills. There are alternative ways oI organising meetings and decision-
making processes and Ior structuring organisations, and these will be discussed in chapter 10 in the
context oI political development. The most important principle about these issues oI structure and
process is that the community itselI should control the structures and processes, and should determine
which Iorms it wants to adopt. DiIIerent styles will suit diIIerent communities, and there is no one
right way Ior everyone. A style imposed Irom outside will almost certainly not work, and although it
is both useIul and appropriate Ior a community worker to make people aware oI possible alternative
ways oI doing things, the decision must be made by the community itselI.
Many oI the dominant institutions oI modern society are based on the principle oI competition.
Capitalism itselI assumes a competitive market, and the implication is that unregulated competition
will work to the ultimate beneIit oI all. The competitive ethic is reproduced in other institutions, most
notably education, which is based on competitive examinations, individual achievement, prizes and
competition Ior the most prestigious jobs, and which acts to socialise people Ior their roles in a
competitive society. Competition pervades the workplace, and is seen as a primary Iorm oI
motivation Ior improved perIormance. Competitive sport and recreation Iurther reinIorce competition
as the basis oI society; whether at work or at play, one cannot avoid it. The strength oI the
competitive ethic can be seen in its application in areas that do not intrinsically lend themselves to
competition, where competition transIorms the nature and basis oI human activity. Thus, music-
making, an essentially pleasurable and expressive activity, is made competitive by a system oI graded
examinations, eisteddIods, talent shows and competitions at all levels, Irom interschool to
international, thereby transIorming the nature oI music-making Irom a convivial, communal and
participatory expression oI culture to a competitive and ultimately elitist activity. SurIing, an
exhilarating individual experience bringing one close to the Iorces oI nature and requiring one to
understand and harmonise with them, becomes deIined as something that can be judged (inevitably
subjectively) and given points so that it can become competitive with the inevitable consequences: an
international pro circuit, world rankings, superstars, iron men` and the transIormation oI the very
nature oI the activity itselI. There are competitions Ior gardening, Iishing, the Iamily pet, babies,
debating (an activity that itselI turns discussion into competition), writing a novel and so on. One is
not Iorced to enter such competitions, yet they have oIten become the only acceptable way to achieve
excellence` and to have one`s skill acknowledged and appreciated. Entering competitions is also
necessary iI one hopes to make a living Irom such activities.
The dominance oI competition in modern society has led to the commonly held view that it is both
natural and desirable, but the view that cooperation is at least as natural to human beings as
competition has been argued by a number oI writers (Sennett 2012, Sullivan, Snyder & Sullivan
2008, Nadeau 1996, Argyle 1991). Kropotkin, in his important work Mutual Aid (1972), examined
animal behaviour and the evolution oI human societies, and made a strong case that cooperative
assistance is the norm and the dynamic that has led to progress and success Ior both human and animal
societies. For anarchists such as Kropotkin, it is the imposition oI hierarchy, dominance and authority
that has extinguished the cooperative spirit and led to competition; dismantling that hierarchy would
allow the natural` cooperative ethic oI mutual aid to re-emerge. Even in the supposedly highly
competitive world oI big business, it is cooperation in the Iorm oI cartels, gentlemen`s agreements`
and joint ventures as well as competition that ensure the continuing operation oI the capitalist
system. Indeed, much oI the apparently necessary regulation oI business is aimed at preventing such
cooperation, which would otherwise threaten the competitive order on which capitalist economics
supposedly depends.
Challenging the competitive ethic, and basing social and economic structures on principles oI
cooperation, is an important component oI community development. There have been many
experiments with such structures, and the contemporary cooperative movement traces its origins back
to the planned cooperative community oI Robert Owen in the early nineteenth century, and most
particularly to the establishment oI the Rochdale Society oI Equitable Pioneers in 1844 (Craig 1993).
These cooperatives were essentially ways oI people organising Ior mutual economic beneIit, through
the pooling oI production and/or consumption. The speciIied principles oI Rochdale have become the
bases oI the cooperative movement: voluntary and open membership, democratic control, limited
return on capital, surplus earnings to be returned to the members, education Ior the members and
cooperation between cooperatives. Since Rochdale, many cooperatives have been Iormed, in widely
diIIering social, political, economic and cultural contexts. While many were not successIul, there are
many that have thrived, and this, in the Iace oI the dominance oI the competitive ethic, demonstrates
the viability and the adaptability oI the cooperative concept. They include worker cooperatives,
consumer cooperatives, housing cooperatives and cooperative or communal societies such as the
kibbutz. Cooperatives range in size Irom small inIormal groupings oI a Iew people through to
Mondragon, in the Basque area oI Spain, which encompasses a whole region including multiple local
communities (Whyte & Whyte 1988, Morrison 1991). Cooperatives have been established Irom
diIIerent ideological assumptions, and have Ilourished in nations oI both the North and the South
(Nadeau 1996); in each they have been seen as presenting a viable alternative to conventional
globalised economic development.
The ultimate Iorm oI cooperative is the commune, in which people share all aspects oI living on a
cooperative basis. Like other cooperatives, communes have come in diIIerent Iorms and sizes, Irom
the small group to the kibbutz, and the experience oI communes has been mixed; many have Iailed,
although some have proved successIul and long-lasting, perhaps most notably religious communities
such as monastries and convents. They clearly represent a viable alternative Iorm oI living Ior some,
although it is doubtIul whether the commune represents a realistic model Ior all human habitation, at
least in the relatively short term (and, consistent with the diversity principle, one would not wish to
advocate the overall adoption oI any one Iorm oI cooperative living, such as the commune).
Cooperatives have not been without their problems; maintaining a cooperative ethos in the midst
oI a competitive society is not easy, and many cooperatives have been unable to survive more than a
short time. Some cooperatives have grown so large over time that they have lost the Ieatures oI
democratic control, and have become little more than conventional corporations or public agencies
using a cooperative label; this is the case with some credit unions and Iarming cooperatives, which
have been established Ior many years and have evolved to become part oI the conservative business
Despite these diIIiculties, the lesson Irom the cooperative movement is that cooperative structures
are indeed Ieasible, in a wide variety oI social, economic, political and cultural settings. The
community-based alternative would most likely incorporate some iI not all aspects oI the cooperative
movement, and this would be more consistent with the ecological, social justice and post-
Enlightenment principles identiIied in chapters 25 than would a decentralised Iorm oI competition.
The challenge is to extend the cooperative concept beyond the economic (which has been the basis oI
most Iormal cooperatives) to incorporate social, political and cultural dimensions. This will be
explored Iurther in chapters 10 and 11, but the important point Ior present purposes is that community
development work should be seeking to establish and reinIorce cooperative structures and discourses
rather than competitive structures and discourses wherever possible; without at least some level oI
cooperation and commitment to a cooperative ethic there can be no community.
The pace of development
One oI the important aspects oI the community development process is that it cannot be rushed. For
the process to be a good one, it is necessary to allow it to proceed at its natural pace, and to rush the
process is to compromise it. This is a common source oI Irustration Ior a community worker, and it is
important to reiterate that the process is the communitvs, not the workers . Hence it has to go at the
community`s pace, which may not be the pace the worker would want. This is a natural outcome oI
the idea oI organic development discussed in chapter 2. The organic approach to change sees change
occurring on a number oI dimensions, through gradual processes oI development rather than imposed
radical change. The analogy oI a growing plant was used in chapter 2; one cannot really make a plant
grow any Iaster, although some growth can be achieved through the provision oI extra nutrients.
Similarly, a community development worker can help to create the right conditions Ior development
and help to secure resources, but beyond that the pace oI growth and development is really beyond
their control. Indeed, just as Iast-growing plants are likely to have less secure root systems and
weaker, more Iragile branches, so a strong resilient community is less likely to emerge Irom a quick-
Iix` process. Community development, iI it is to be successIul, is a long-term process oI organic
development and cannot be rushed (Clark & Teachout 2012). This does not mean to say that some
things cannot be achieved in the short term; some processes can be implemented quite quickly. But
these are only part oI the whole, and the community worker must always be aware that the process
needs to take its own time and work itselI out in its own way.
This can be challenging Ior a community worker used to a world oI deadlines, eIIiciency and
outcomes, where good process is devalued and simply seen as a means to an end. It can also be
Irustrating Ior a worker who has seen similar processes through beIore, and who can envisage the
likely outcome in advance, but has to sit with a long and (Ior the worker) tedious process. But there is
really no alternative. Sometimes, as discussed above, the constraints oI the external world demand
that processes be compromised in order to meet deadlines, and the community (not just the worker)
needs to make a decision to that eIIect. However, it is important always to be seeking to allow the
process to take as long as it needs to, and Ior development to occur at the pace with which the
community itselI is comIortable. The motto It takes as long as it takes` is an important one Ior a
community worker to bear in mind. It is also worth remembering that the perceived need Ior speed in
process seems to be a peculiarity oI Western culture. Other cultures, and especially Indigenous
cultures, have very diIIerent concepts oI process and oI time, where the phrase It takes as long as it
takes`, with the implication that the outcome can be postponed indeIinitely iI necessary, would be
obvious and would go without saying. The Australian Aboriginal process oI yarning, mentioned in
chapter 4, is a good example oI such alternative process, and is in sharp contrast to Western culture,
where slow process is oIten seen as a threat to the very eIIiciency oI society (with the associated
deadlines, timetables, outcomes, schedules and general sense oI rush). To be able to sit back, reIlect
and talk something through at length and in detail is a luxury that many Westerners cannot aIIord, but
Ior people in other cultures it is seen as a necessity.
Peace and non-violence
Although peace is a goal that would receive almost universal endorsement, it has proven extremely
hard to achieve at both global and national levels, even iI it is understood in terms oI its most limited
meaning, namely as absence oI war. II peace is given a broader deIinition, to include more positive
connotations oI personal and community wellbeing as well as absence oI stress and conIlict, it is an
even more elusive goal. Similarly, violence would be almost universally condemned, yet levels oI
violence continue to give cause Ior concern. Like peace, violence can be understood at a simplistic
level (physical violence by individuals and groups) and at a more Iundamental level, including both
emotional violence and institutionalised violence; iI conceived in this broader context, violence can
be seen to be strongly entrenched in modern society.
II such universally desired objectives as peace and non-violence cannot be achieved, two possible
conclusions can be reached. One is that the structural constraints and vested interests opposing them
are strong and entrenched, and the other is that the methods adopted Ior pursuing these goals are
inadequate and inappropriate. In the case oI peace and non-violence, it is clear that the interests and
structures opposing them are extremely strong (e.g. nationalism, sectarianism, the protection oI
privilege and global inequality, patriarchy, colonialism, proIit, the arms trade), and any peace and
anti-violence strategy must address them. The non-violent perspective, however, also suggests that
the conventional methods oI pursuing peace and indeed oI pursuing other social change agendas
are themselves at Iault. This view draws on an analysis oI the relationship oI means and ends, and on
the critique oI competition and competitive structures, as discussed earlier in this chapter (Schell
2003, Turner 1989, Zinn et al. 2002, Kumar 2002).
Perhaps the most inIluential proponent oI non-violence, at least in the twentieth century, has been
Mohandas Gandhi (1942). Gandhi used non-violent methods, which emphasised building consensus
and not polarising a community. His philosophy attacked ideas and structures, but did not attack
people. He sought to allow his opponents to change sides and join his movement while retaining their
dignity and selI-respect. This inclusive and consensus-oriented perspective is an important
characteristic oI a non-violent position. Consensus solutions are seen as preIerable to conIlict
solutions (conIlict, aIter all, can be seen as a Iorm oI violence), and non-violent approaches seek to
unite rather than to divide, to include rather than to exclude, and not to use or crystallise conIlict.
Such an approach may seem naive in the context oI modern Western society, but it is important to
remember that many traditional societies have embodied these traditions (Norberg-Hodge 1991), and
that these societies have been much more ecologically sustainable and community-based than Western
societies, which are the cause oI so many oI the critical problems Iacing the planet. Acceptance oI
such norms is achievable, although it would require Iundamental changes to the structures oI modern
Western societies.
The non-violent position also accepts a broader deIinition oI violence than is normally
understood, in that it includes notions oI institutional and structural violence. From this perspective,
structures that perpetuate inequality, poverty and oppression are by their very nature violent, and need
to be challenged. The way in which many social institutions operate is seen as violent in that it
perpetuates the structures and practices oI oppression. Hence the notion oI violence applies to more
than individual or group acts oI violence: it also incorporates institutions and mechanisms oI social
control. The welIare system, the justice system, the education system, the Iinancial system and large
central bureaucracies can be regarded as structures oI violence, to the extent that they support and
reinIorce an unjust, disempowering and oppressive social and economic order.
The non-violent perspective is both powerIul and radical, and it demands major questioning oI
accepted structures and practices. Its inIluence on community work has been signiIicant, and it
represents an important aspect oI the approach to community development described in later chapters.
The diIIering perspectives oI conIlict and consensus have been critical in the conceptualisation oI
community development. ConIlict is an inevitable part oI society, and especially oI processes oI
change. And it is naive Ior a community worker to assume that conIlict can always be avoided. The
capacity to deal with (and move beyond) conIlict is an essential part oI community work. But a
consensus perspective is Iar more consistent with the approach to community development taken in
this book and hence is, where possible, to be preIerred.
Many approaches to community work, however, are based on models oI conIlict rather than
consensus. In a conIlict model, the emphasis is on winning, outmanoeuvring an opponent (who might
be a local authority, a mining company, a landlord, a developer or some other enemy`), or achieving
something at the expense oI something or someone else. The quasi-military language oI much
community work campaign, strategv, tactics suggests the tacit assumption oI a conIlict model.
The problem with the conIlict approach is that it produces losers as well as winners, and the losers
will be marginalised and alienated as a result. This works directly against community-building,
against inclusion, against diversity and against a non-violent approach.
The consensus approach works towards agreement, and aims at reaching a solution the whole
group or community will own as theirs. It is an inevitable consequence oI non-violence and
inclusiveness. Consensus means more than simply agreeing to accept the will oI the majority, which
can leave up to 49 per cent oI the community dissatisIied. It also means more than mere compromise,
which can leave everyone dissatisIied. Rather, it implies that the group or community commits itselI
to a process that seeks to Iind a solution or course oI action everyone can accept and own, and where
people agree that what has been decided is in the best interests oI all. It requires that everyone be
able to contribute eIIectively to the decision and that they be part oI the talking through` oI the
decision, so that they are able to accept the outcome and Ieel a sense oI ownership oI it. Consensus
cannot usually be achieved quickly, and needs to be built. This will oIten take much longer than more
conventional Iorms oI decision-making, and can be very Irustrating Ior those used to voting and
getting the numbers`. However, in the long term it achieves much more satisIactory results, and
provides a stronger base Ior community development. It also implies a willingness and commitment
on the part oI community members to achieve a consensus, and a commitment not to block the
consensus being achieved.
As discussed earlier in relation to the pace oI development, consensus basically means working
through an issue, however long it takes, until everyone is comIortable with the outcome. Although this
might to modern Western ears sound a hopelessly naive and impossible prospect, it is worth
remembering that people in Indigenous communities have used such decision-making techniques Ior
centuries, and that to people Irom those societies the conventional Western Iorms oI decision-making
seem utterly inappropriate. Such Indigenous communities have been able to sustain much stronger
community structures, and more ecologically sound liIestyles, and the wisdom oI consensus decision-
making is one lesson the so-called developed societies can learn Irom them.
All community development should aim at community-building. Community-building involves
building social capital, strengthening the social interactions within the community, bringing people
together, and helping them to communicate with each other in a way that can lead to genuine dialogue,
understanding and social action. Loss oI community has resulted in Iragmentation, isolation and
individualisation, and community-building seeks to reverse these. Community-building is necessary iI
the establishment oI viable and sustainable community-level structures and processes are to be
Although community-building may in some circumstances be the primary or speciIic objective oI a
community process, it is more oIten a consequence oI some other activity. Indeed, people may Ieel
uncomIortable about being brought together simply in order to interact with each other; they are
generally much more comIortable about being brought together Ior a speciIic purpose. A recycling
project, a local currency system, a community arts project, an environmental campaign, the
establishment oI a community school and housing cooperatives are all examples oI community
projects that can bring people together around a common activity but where community bonds are
strengthened in the process, making Iurther development possible. In Iact, when asked why they
participate in a community project people will oIten say that meeting and getting to know other people
is the most important reason; they may have joined initially because they believed in the value oI the
project itselI, but it is oIten the social interaction associated with the project that keeps them
Thus, good community development will bring people together and will ensure that all community
activities can enhance community-building, by seeking to involve people as much as possible, to
increase their mutual dependence Ior the accomplishment oI tasks and to provide opportunities Ior
both Iormal and inIormal interaction. OIten it is the inIormal that is the most important: ensuring that
there is time, space and opportunity Ior people to have a cup oI tea together (or a glass oI wine, a
coIIee or a can oI beer, depending on the context), as well as to engage in the Iormal activity (Cox &
Caldwell 2000).
But community-building is about more than simply bringing people together. It involves
encouraging people to work with each other, developing structures that mean people become more
dependent on each other to get things done, and seeking ways in that every person can contribute and
be genuinely valued by others as a result. Group process, inclusiveness, building trust and developing
a common sense oI purpose are all critically important in community-building, and hence the idea oI
community-building can and should pervade all community development processes.
Community development is, at heart, a process. In evaluating community development projects one
must look at the process, and in planning and implementing any community development program it is
the process, rather than the outcome, that must be given primary consideration. Those who insist on
outcome statements` need to realise that, Ior community development, good process is the most
important outcome that can be achieved. The process, iI it is a good one, will enable the community to
determine its own goals, and to remain in control oI the journey as well as the ultimate destination.
For this reason community development does not always sit easily in the outcome-driven world oI
managerialism, which is why community development is so important.
It represents a signiIicant challenge to a way oI thinking and operating that has oIten bypassed the
people most involved, that has tended to accept a philosophy oI the end justiIying the means and that
has led to disempowerment. It seeks to establish a way oI thinking whereby people interacting with
each other is important, whereby the quality oI the collective experience is valued, and whereby it is
in the experience oI community processes that people are able to maximise their potential and achieve
their Iull humanity. Good process will achieve good outcomes, but speciIying outcomes does not lead
necessarily to good process. Allowing the process to determine the outcomes, rather than the perverse
approach oI allowing the outcomes to determine the process, is at the heart oI good community
8 The global and the local
With the advent oI globalisation, the global economy, electronic communication and accessible world
travel, the idea that we live in one world has become important in all Iields, including community
development. This chapter will explore issues oI the global and the local as they relate to the
principles and practice oI community development in a globalising world.
Globalisation has been made possible by technology. Air travel means that people can move Irom
where they are to the other side oI the world within 24 hours, and hence the experience oI the global
is much more common. Far more signiIicant, however, has been communications technology, which
enables messages to be sent quickly and inexpensively to anywhere in the world in a matter oI
seconds. And not only messages but also images, data in large amounts and, most importantly, money
can be easily and instantly moved around the globe. It is technology that is in the hands oI ordinary
people witness the amazing use oI social media as well as the powerIul. The impact oI this
technology is massive, and the world is still coming to terms with its uses and implications. One oI
the consequences, oI course, has been globalisation, the increasing interconnection oI people,
corporations, governments, small businesses, community groups and individuals, with the
understanding that we live in one interconnected world.
Yet the experience oI globalisation has been uneven. It has beneIited some and has disadvantaged
others. Perhaps inevitably, it is the powerIul who have gained most Irom globalisation, and the
powerless who have suIIered its negative consequences (Jeter 2009, KempI 2009, Madron 2003,
Therborn 2006, Beder 2006). As a result, the idea oI globalisation has been the Iocus oI political
protest, which has taken several Iorms: the anti-globalisation protests oI the 1990s and 2000s, the
World Social Forum (set up as an alternative to the global economic Iorums that work in the interests
oI business rather than communities), and the Occupy movement oI 2011.
We need to accept that globalisation in some Iorm is inevitable. The technology is with us and
cannot be undone; in Iact it can probably only become more eIIicient. The problem, rather, is how that
technology will be used. Globalisation may be inevitable, but the Iorm oI that globalisation is not. For
community workers it would be naive to deny the existence and the importance oI global
communications technology and oI globalisation; rather the task is to seek ways that globalisation can
serve the interests oI communities and oI community development.
To understand the inIluence oI globalisation it is useIul to think oI it has being multidimensional,
rather than as a monolithic movement. The dimensions oI globalisation that we can identiIy are the
economic, the cultural, the social, the political and the environmental. The problem with globalisation
is that it has developed Iar more strongly on some oI these dimensions than it has on others, as it has
become part oI the neo-liberal project. But there can be globalisation beyond neo-liberalism.
Globalisation, as currently experienced, is almost exclusively economic. It is about the integration
oI trade and Iinancial markets at a global level, and the breaking down oI national barriers. This
concentration on the economic is to the exclusion oI other international agendas, which Iormed the
earlier internationalist ideal and which suggested that the idea oI living in one world` meant
international agendas oI peace, social justice, human rights, environmental protection, education,
mutual understanding and cultural exchange. With the more recent maniIestation oI globalisation,
driven by neo-liberal ideology, these other agendas are seen as secondary to the needs oI the global
economy, with the implicit view that iI the global economy can be made to work, the rest will Iollow.
This is a global variation oI economic rationalism, or economic Iundamentalism, which has been the
core policy assumption oI many national governments: the idea that the economy comes Iirst, and that
everything else can and indeed must take second place to the needs oI the economy. Not only is
globalisation largely economic, it also represents a particular school oI economics, namely neo-
The economic domination oI globalisation as part oI the neo-liberal project is important, and
suggests that the experience oI globalisation is one-sided and in the interests oI the powerIul. It
represents an assertion oI the rights oI capital to move anywhere and do anything, in the interests oI
proIit maximisation, but does not carry with it a corresponding assertion oI the rights oI people to do
the same except, oI course, Ior the rich and powerIul (GoldIarb 2006, Jeter 2009). The wealthy are
proud to call themselves citizens oI the world`, and are welcomed wherever they wish to travel in
pursuit oI proIit, but that hardly applies to the poor, to reIugees, to asylum-seekers and to immigrant
workers, who Iind that any rights they may have as global citizens are very weak indeed. Unlike the
rich and powerIul, iI such people try to cross borders in search oI a better liIe, they are likely to Iind
themselves in reIugee camps or detention Iacilities, and oIten denied basic human rights. Global
Ireedom oI movement is a privilege Ior the powerIul, rather than a right oI all people. The
globalisation oI the economy has not been accompanied by the globalisation oI citizenship, and there
has in recent years been iI anything a reaction against the realisation oI global citizenship rights, with
a hardening oI attitudes towards reIugees, asylum seekers, immigrants and ethnic minorities.
It is instructive to note that we are oIten encouraged to interIere in other nations` economies
(overseas investment opportunities`) and to welcome others who want to interIere in our economy
(encouraging Ioreign investment and reducing trade barriers`). But when it comes to matters oI
human rights, national sovereignty suddenly becomes very important, and we are warned not to
interIere in the internal aIIairs oI another country and encouraged to be sensitive and cautious; nor do
we welcome those Irom outside who want to criticise our own country`s human rights record. This is
a clear example oI the unbalanced nature oI globalisation, and how it is in the interests oI global
proIits and not (unless by coincidence) in the interests oI the principles oI ecological sustainability
and social justice on which this book is based.
It is important to emphasise that governments, to a large degree, have little choice but to Iollow
policies that support the interests oI global capital. This is because the power oI the global economy
is such that iI a government were to institute policies that displeased the markets`, there would be an
instant Ilight oI capital, loss oI investment and a currency crisis. All governments, even including that
oI the USA, the most powerIul state on earth, have little option but to Iollow policies that are
consistent with the needs and demands oI global capital as expressed through the markets. Hence
governments are operating with a very narrow range oI policy options. This is one Iactor that makes
the current experience oI globalisation diIIerent Irom the older Iorms oI world trade; there has been
world trade Ior centuries, but it could always be controlled (and manipulated) by rulers or by
governments. Now, however, national governments are controlled and manipulated by the global
This is why it is unrealistic to expect too much oI governments in terms oI social expenditure.
Governments may want to spend more on education, health, housing, poverty alleviation, public
transport and so on, but while the orthodox view oI the markets is that such expenditure will erode
proIitability and that any increase in taxation will place an unbearable constraint on economic
perIormance, it is impossible Ior a government to Iollow such policies.
It is important to note that whether or not such assumptions are Iactually correct is immaterial; the
belief that they are correct is suIIicient to drive the Iorces oI the markets, and hence it is in the
discourse oI economic Iundamentalism that the power oI globalisation lies. That power was shown
clearly in the response to the Global Financial Crisis. The response by governments was to prop up
the Iinancial system, with heavy subsidies to banks, and to tighten social expenditure on the needs oI
people. The message that banks are more important than people and communities caused major
protests in many countries, but nevertheless governments did the bidding oI the Iinancial sector rather
than the bidding oI the people and, in the language oI the Occupy movement, they looked aIter the one
per cent at the expense oI the 99 per cent.
A useIul way to understand globalisation, with signiIicant implications Ior community
development, is through Manuel Castells` idea oI the network society. Castells (1996, 1997, 1998)
has described the emergence oI networks oI power, whereby power resides in networks that
communicate across national boundaries, linking powerIul interests in diIIerent countries. These
changing and diIIuse networks oI power thereIore claim no geographical or political location. They
may link, Ior example, interests in London, Tokyo, Mumbai, Toronto, Buenos Aires, Brisbane, Cape
Town, Cairo, Shanghai and Chicago, through electronic communication. One`s power in this society
is determined by one`s access to these networks oI power; there is a privileged minority with access
to power and wealth, and a majority that is excluded.
In their inIluential book The Global Trap, Martin and Schumann (1997) point out that the global
economy is able to get by very well by catering to just 20 per cent oI the world`s population; the
remaining 80 per cent are surplus to requirements`, and will be marginalised and ignored. There is
nothing new in this state oI aIIairs: since the Industrial Revolution the world has eIIectively been the
8020 society` described by Martin and Schumann, but until recently the lucky 20 per cent and the
unlucky 80 per cent have been separated by national boundaries; there were rich countries and poor
countries. With the network society this distinction is breaking down. Although some countries are
still clearly richer than others, there are now rich elites and poor majorities in most countries oI the
world. Those who live in the West have been used to having the poor 80 per cent living beyond their
nation`s boundaries, conveniently out oI sight and out oI mind. But one oI the eIIects oI globalisation
and the network society is that national boundaries are becoming less important as boundaries oI
inequality, and most Western nations are seeing the widening oI inequalities within their borders.
This has led to the creation oI marginalised communities in the North as well as the South. These are
typically communities that have relied on the old economy: Iormer industrial towns and cities, Iishing
and Iarming communities and so on, which are being bypassed by the global economy, perhaps best
symbolised by the closure oI bank branches in those communities, established banks being the
representatives oI the global economy at the local level, which now deem those communities not
viable and irrelevant to the needs oI globalised proIit.
Economic globalisation, then, has dominated the globalisation experience to date. But what about
the other dimensions oI globalisation mentioned above, the cultural, social, political and
environmental? While the globalisation oI the economy has not brought with it the globalisation oI
citizenship, oI human rights, oI equality and social justice, it has generated a strong globalisation oI
culture. The imposition oI a global culture, sometimes reIerred to as McDonaldisation or
DisneyIication, has been noted by many commentators, and can be seen in everyday liIe (Niezen
2004). People in diIIerent parts oI the world are increasingly wearing similar clothes, eating similar
Iood, watching the same movies, listening to the same music and playing the same games.
The imposition oI a culture, loosely based on mainstream US consumer culture, is oI course an
important aspect oI economic globalisation, in that it creates global markets. It is much easier to
manuIacture and market a product iI the whole world will buy it than it is iI the product has to change
according to regional and cultural variations, so the globalisation oI culture is eIIectively the creation
oI a global market Ior the beneIit oI global capital. This has a devastating eIIect on local communities
and cultural diversity, and it also has a powerIul controlling eIIect: iI one wants to be part oI the
global economy, or beneIit Irom the network society, it is important to eat, drink, dress, work and
play in more or less the North American way and, most important oI all, to speak English. Because
culture, and especially language, is so important to people`s sense oI identity, the globalisation oI
culture has a major impact on communities and local identity in many parts oI the world. (This is
Iurther discussed in chapter 9 in the context oI colonialism, and in chapter 11 in the context oI
community cultural development.)
By contrast with economic and cultural globalisation, however, we have already noted that social
globalisation has been much weaker. The inability or reluctance oI globalisation to address
inequality, injustice and human rights is clearly evident. The social programs oI the United Nations,
and oI international NGOs, are small-scale indeed compared with the Iorces oI economic
globalisation driven by the power oI global capital. This can be perhaps most clearly seen in relation
to reIugees and asylum seekers, who represent a global problem Ior which there are not adequate
structures to provide global solutions. ReIugees and asylum seekers are the consequence oI global
Iorces that result in poverty Ior many, oppressive regimes, civil wars and human right abuse. These
Iorces have multiple and transnational causes, oIten going back to the period oI decolonisation, when
newly emerging independent` nations were leIt impoverished and deskilled` (in terms oI the skills
required to administer a modern nation) by the departing colonising power, which has extracted the
wealth and had kept the native` population in a condition oI economic and political suppression
(Brendon 2008). Such a legacy is a recipe Ior instability, oppressive regimes, dictatorships,
economic crisis and civil war, which in turn lead to a Ilood oI reIugees seeking a better and saIer liIe.
Thus the causes oI the reIugee problem` are not conIined to the Iailure oI single nations states, but
are themselves global. Similarly, any solutions to the problem are beyond the capacity oI any single
nation state they require global action, and that action has been signiIicantly lacking. That the
reIugee crisis exists at all, and that it is seemingly insoluble within the existing order, is testament to
the weakness oI the globalisation oI mechanisms to address social problems. Social globalisation
the globalisation oI social concern and action to address social problems is indeed weak, compared
with the globalisation oI the economy.
Similarly, political globalisation has also been weak. Global political structures, largely through
the UN, have been unable to operate eIIectively as strong global regulators, and rely largely on moral
persuasion usually a small voice in international aIIairs. Yet the need Ior strong global regulation at
the political level is clear. One oI the lessons oI capitalism is that the market can only operate
eIIectively, and equitably, iI there are strong state regulatory mechanisms to control it. An unregulated
market ends in disaster, even in purely economic terms (monopolies and cartels, the cycles oI bubble
investments and boom-and-bust), and in terms oI social justice, as an unregulated market only serves
to exacerbate inequalities and enrich already wealthy elites. There is growing evidence that such
inequalities do not beneIit either the rich or the poor, as rising levels oI inequality are associated with
higher levels oI crime, violence, insecurity and mental illness (Wilkinson & Pickett 2010). For
capitalism to work, the market requires strong government regulation, in the public interest, as was
recognised even by the Iounding Iather oI capitalism, Adam Smith.
Yet at a global level such regulation oI the markets is weak. What regulation there is has been
established by the powerIul, in the interests oI the powerIul, such as the World Trade Organization,
which operates in the interests oI global capital and does not pay attention to social or environmental
consequences. The UN may be the global assembly oI governments, but it is powerless to regulate
global capital and global markets. Nor are national governments able to do so. Political globalisation
has not kept pace with economic globalisation, and the consequences were seen in the Global
Financial Crisis and in other economic crises that seem certain to Iollow.
The other dimension oI globalisation identiIied above is that oI environmental globalisation. II
anything demands to be taken seriously at a global level, it is surely the environment. Environmental
issues transcend national boundaries, both in their causation and in the means needed to address them.
Global attempts to address environmental issues have, however, been largely unsuccessIul. The
agreement to eliminate chloroIluorocarbon (CFC) emissions so that the ozone layer could be
preserved is a rare example oI globalised environmental action that was eIIective. More typical,
sadly, are the woeIully inadequate attempts to deal globally with climate change, exempliIied by the
Iailure oI the Copenhagen summit in 2009, despite years oI preparation and high expectations. The
Copenhagen summit is in sharp contrast with the amazingly quick and decisive action, involving the
expenditure oI many billions oI dollars, to bail out the global Iinancial system just two years later.
There have been a number oI reactions against globalisation, in the Iorm oI various maniIestations oI
localisation (Hines 2000, De Young & Princen 2012). Localisation has been driven by a sense oI
Irustration at globalisation and its impact, and the Ieeling that it is not meeting people`s needs. One
reaction has been economic localisation whereby the globalised economy is seen as having ignored
and marginalised local needs and attempts have been made to establish local alternative economies.
This includes community banks (as an alternative to the large impersonal globalised banks), local
currency and exchange schemes, cooperatives, micro-Iinance programs, establishing local business
and boycotting multinationals. (These will be discussed Iurther in chapter 10 as part oI the broader
consideration oI community economic development.) Another Iorm oI localisation is cultural
localisation: the attempt to reinvest meaning and vitality in local cultural traditions, the use oI local
resources, encouraging cultural and artistic productions at community level, celebrating local
histories, revitalising local languages and so on. (Community cultural development will be discussed
in more detail in chapter 11.) There is also political localisation, whereby people seek an alternative
Iorm oI politics based in the local, because oI the perceived irrelevance oI the traditional political
structures and parties that are responsive to the imperatives oI globalisation. Further, there are
movements to localise connection to the land and the environment, through community gardens, local
growers` cooperatives and initiatives to care Ior the land and to restore land that has been degraded
through industrialisation or unsustainable Iarming.
These Iorms oI localisation, as a response to globalisation, contain both dangers and opportunities.
The danger is that they can become exclusive, narrow, reactionary and parochial, not welcoming
those Irom outside, and encouraging racism and intolerance. The support Ior new political parties
based on populism and exclusion, using the rhetoric oI localisation and anti-globalisation, such as the
newly emerging right-wing racist parties oI Europe, can be attributed to a perception by many people
that globalisation has resulted in traditional parties having no relevance to their local needs. And such
narrow and prejudiced exclusion can oIten be at its most virulent at the local level. The emergence oI
Islamic political groupings oI a more Iundamentalist variety is another indication oI disaIIection with
cultural globalisation (although the origins oI such parties are oI course more complex than this).
Vigilante and citizens` militia groups in the USA represent a Iurther alarming local trend against
globalisation. Emphasising local culture can lead to racism and exclusion, and there seems to be an
alarming increase in racism and intolerance in many societies Iacing the threat oI globalisation.
Community workers at local level may have to contend with such negative maniIestations oI
localisation, which are a consequence oI insecurity, uncertainty and the perceived irrelevance oI the
traditional structures and processes oI politics and power.
However, there is also considerable positive potential in localisation, Irom a community
development perspective (Clark & Teachout 2012, Wheatley & Frieze 2011, Sitrin 2012, Ball 2011,
McKnight 2010, Green 2012, Featherstone 2012). Localisation can provide the opportunity Ior the
development oI more selI-reliant communities, as discussed in previous chapters. Many oI the
reactions to globalisation are, in Iact, community development: the establishment oI local currency
schemes and cooperatives, the validating and promotion oI local cultural traditions, local
communities seeking to empower themselves, and so on. As well as threats, localisation presents
opportunities Ior community development to occur, especially in the communities that have been
excluded Irom the networks oI power and marginalised by the new global economy. It is in Martin
and Schumann`s 80 per cent those surplus to the requirements oI the global economy that there is
great potential Ior community development. And iI the global economy does one day collapse, as
seems quite likely given its evident instability and unsustainability, it is Irom community-based
initiatives at the margins (among the 80 per cent) that viable sustainable alternatives are most likely
to be developed. When the value oI shares and investments collapses, and when paid employment
largely disappears, the local currency scheme that used to be marginalised can be the alternative that
Iormerly wealthy people will turn to as a way oI providing some Iorm oI economic security. When
there is no money Ior state or private schools, the community-based school becomes the only viable
option. When real estate becomes worthless, some Iorm oI cooperative housing becomes a necessity.
Such an economic crisis may not eventuate in the immediate Iuture, but simply thinking about the
possibility can help people to realise that community-based structures are ultimately more
sustainable, and have a more solid social Ioundation, than many oI the institutions on which we have
come to rely.
Thus globalisation, as well as apparently working against local community, has ironically also
created space Ior community development to occur. In the marginal communities, excluded Irom the
beneIits` oI globalisation and Irom Castells` networks oI power, community is both needed and
valued, and the reaction oI localisation has created a Iertile ground Ior community workers and a
resurgence oI interest in community development.
A move to the local has not been the only reaction against globalisation. The impact oI globalisation
has led to increasing protests since the 1990s, through the anti-globalisation protests that accompany
meetings oI the world`s Iinancial and political elite, through the establishment oI the alternative
World Social Forum, to the demonstrations against austerity measures in Athens, Madrid, London,
Paris and other European capitals, to the Occupy movement, which began with the occupy Wall
Street` protest but which rapidly spread to similar occupy` protests around the world. What Iorm
these protests will take Irom here is unknown, but it seems likely that the protests will continue, as
dissatisIaction with globalisation (in its present Iorm) continues. This has important implications Ior
community development. The student protest movements oI the 1960s and 1970s served to stimulate
activism, and many oI the student activists became activist community workers. Not only was it the
impact on individual activists that was important but also it put activism on the agenda and helped
people to believe that active involvement in an issue could make a diIIerence. Community
development has been closely linked with the politics oI protest (Lane 2013), and the resurgence oI
activism that seems to be stirring in the 2010s may serve to energise community development and
community workers. II the idea that activism is important and that it can make a diIIerence can be
accepted in more mainstream society, the Iuture Ior community development is bright.
The Occupy movement was not just a simple protest. The participants were also committed to
estblishing diIIerent ways oI doing things, such as horizontal organisations and consensus decision-
making. These ideas are discussed in this book, as they have been central to community development
Ior some time. Thus the Occupy movement was attempting (not always successIully, but these things
never work perIectly all the time) to model an alternative Iorm oI society, based on community
development principles, although they may not have been labelled as such. This is another way in
which the politics oI activism and protest have a synergy with community development. II the Iuture is
to be one oI instability and crisis, as seems likely, such activism and experimenting with alternative
community strunctures and processes will be vitally important.
Another example is the horizontalidad` movement in Argentina, Iollowing the economic and
political crisis oI 2001 (Sitrin 2012). People took to the streets, banging pots as a symbol oI their
resistance, and spontaneously began to organise themselves along the same lines as the Occupy
protesters: horizontal structures, democratic participation and consensus decision-making. This has
had an ongoing inIluence in Argentina in the years since 2001, with citizens groups operating
independently oI government, and seeking to establish themsleves the things that governments had
Iailed to provide. Such community-based alternatives have also been the goal oI the Zapatistas in
Mexico. These citizens` movements have inevitably had their problems it is hard Ior people to learn
and adjust to new ways oI doing things, especially those socialised into participation in the old
politics` oI conIrontation and quick decisions, rammed through iI necessary. Gender can be a key
issue in this regard, as it is usually the men who have to learn to be quiet and really listen, as well as
to present their views in a less conIrontational and more dialogical way, and to respect the process.
But it is Irom these initiatives that we can learn more about the creation oI community-based
alternatives Ior a just and sustainable world.
Global and local practice
The impetus Ior globalisation and the reaction oI localisation suggest that it is the local and the global
that represent the important sites Ior change and Ior practice (CampIens 1997, Karliner 2000). Most
oI the important decisions that aIIect people`s lives and their communities are made at the global
level: in boardrooms, stock exchanges, investment houses and at global economic Iorums Iar removed
Irom local reality (Bauman 1998). As we have seen above, national governments have little power to
aIIect these decisions, and little autonomy to implement policies that contradict global economic
interests. For example, the decision to close a manuIacturing plant, rendering thousands oI workers
unemployed with devastating results Ior the local community, could be made on the other side oI the
world with little regard Ior the wishes oI the national government, and the government is unable to
Iollow policies that would address the problem, such as providing tariII protection to the industry,
investing signiIicant public Iunds in the community or providing alternative employment Ior the
workers. To do so would invoke the wrath oI the global markets, as it would require rises in taxation
to meet the public expenditures involved as well as the breaking oI world Iree trade agreements; the
consequences Ior the national economy, and the survival oI that government, would be devastating.
National governments have become to some degree helpless bystanders in the decisions that really
matter. This is not to say that governments can do nothing; they can have some inIluence at the
margins, and they can create the space Ior such initiatives as community development to be
implemented, but they cannot be expected to solve all the problems oI modern society, however much
the rhetoric oI political parties and the conventional wisdom oI politics might suggest otherwise.
This suggests that working towards change at the level oI national government is unlikely to be
very eIIective. With globalisation and localisation, the sites Ior eIIective change have moved to the
global and the local, and it is these two levels that must constitute the Ioci oI action (Lawson 2000).
Community development is clearly a strategy that is aimed at change at the local level and, as
suggested above, localisation has created signiIicant space Ior community development to occur.
Although global capital may be able to intimidate national governments, its power to coerce local
action is much weaker; a group oI local people working to create a positive community in the local
school, setting up a local currency trading scheme, Iorming a local environmental action group or
organising participatory street theatre is unlikely to Ieel very threatened or intimidated by global
markets. At the local level the perceived power oI global Iorces is weaker, and communities can do
things that governments cannot.
However, in the era oI globalisation, to concentrate exclusively on the local is not enough. Key
decisions are taken at the global level, and iI a community development program is really serious
about ideas oI ecological sustainability and social justice it is necessary to see how it can link to the
global as well as the local. The Green motto, Think globally, act locally`, is no longer suIIicient. It is
necessary to think and act globally, and to think and act locally. Analysis and action must take place
at both levels, and the key to creative and eIIective community work is to be able to link the global
and the local in everyday practice.
The linking oI the global and the local is thereIore a major challenge Ior community development.
In order to see how this might be achieved, it is useIul to examine the idea that emerged in the 1990s
oI globalisation Irom below`, as advocated by Falk (1993) and Brecher and Costello (1994) among
others. This suggests that globalisation as currently experienced, and as described above, can be
characterised as globalisation Irom above`. It is in the interests exclusively oI the powerIul
controllers oI global capital, and is not in the interests oI ordinary people, communities and the vast
majority oI the world`s population. Its emphasis on economics at the expense oI social and
environmental issues means that it does not take account oI many things that directly aIIect the lives oI
people and communities. It is unaccountable, and undemocratic; indeed, not only is it undemocratic
but also it can directly work against democratic participation in important decision-making, so is also
The idea oI globalisation Irom below, however, is that globalisation does not have to be like that.
This view suggests that some Iorm oI globalisation is now inevitable, given the development oI
inIormation and communication technology and rapid travel, but that it does not have to be the
economic Iundamentalist globalisation Irom above as currently experienced. Indeed, some Iorm oI
global understanding, awareness and action the idea that we live in one world` is absolutely
necessary iI impending ecological disasters are to be avoided. Globalisation Irom below seeks to
implement a Iorm oI globalisation that is democratic and participatory, which is about issues oI direct
concern to people including social justice, human rights and ecological sustainability and which
seeks to empower rather than disempower local communities. The same technology that has made
economic globalisation Irom above` possible can be used to establish globalisation Irom below,
which is clearly more in accord with the principles oI community development as described in this
The process oI globalisation Irom below is already happening in a number oI diIIerent Iorms.
Local environmental groups have eIIectively used the internet and social media to share common
experiences, seek expertise and to join in global action campaigns. Until the advent oI the internet, a
local environment action group challenging a multinational oil company over a local issue was
engaging in an unequal struggle and could not hope to match the resources and expertise oI the
company. Now, through the internet, that group is quickly able to call on worldwide resources and
expertise, can learn oI experiences oI other groups that have dealt with the same company, and can
locate its local struggle as part oI a worldwide struggle Ior environmental sustainability, calling on
some very powerIul allies. Social media has enabled global action to be initiated Irom very small
beginnings, and the local can go global` very quickly. Indeed, social media might be seen as almost
the ultimate Iorm oI globalisation Irom below.
However, it is not only through the internet and social media that globalisation Irom below can be
achieved. Amnesty International provides a powerIul model oI how local people, working in their
own local communities, can be brought together as part oI an integrated global human rights
movement, and it was successIully established in the 1960s, well beIore the advent oI personal
computers and smart phones. As a Iurther example, Indigenous Peoples have been able to connect
with each other across the world, and have seen their local struggles Ior rights and justice as part oI a
global struggle oI Indigenous People against colonialist oppression. Continuing protests against the
meetings oI the masters oI the global economy, Irom the anti-globalisation movements oI the late
1990s onwards, up to the Occupy movement oI 2011, have been possible because oI the capacity Ior
activists to network globally.
The above examples are just some Iorms oI globalisation Irom below. There is no single model,
and in a postmodern world it is appropriate that globalisation Irom below be a varied and diverse
movement rather than a single tightly organised one. Community development can utilise such Iorms
oI practice, and indeed can pioneer other Iorms oI globalisation Irom below. A local community will
have much in common with other local communities, oIten geographically removed. For example, a
rural community in Australia suIIering the eIIects oI rural economic decline, the collapse oI
traditional markets and the withdrawal oI services will have more in common with similar rural
communities in Canada, India, South AIrica, Argentina or Ireland than with urban or suburban
communities in Australia. Such rural communities can be remarkably resilient and creative, and the
internet provides a ready opportunity to share experiences, exchange stories oI success and Iailure
and to dialogue about possible joint action at a global level. Such linking oI the local and the global
is now a major priority Ior community workers, and the two should not be seen as exclusive dualistic
categories. To paraphrase the Ieminist motto about the personal and the political, it is important to
emphasise that the local is global, and the global is local. Simply engaging with community members
in a dialogue about the implications oI such a statement can be a signiIicant starting point Ior creative
global and local community development.
Universal and contextual issues
The above discussion suggests that, with the importance oI globalisation and the need to link
community development across national boundaries, there are common elements to community
development wherever it is practised. This implies some universal principles oI community
development, but this seems to conIlict with the valuing oI the local, as discussed in chapter 6. Too
much emphasis on universal principles could undermine the local essence oI community work, yet
without some global understandings oI what community development is, and what it aims to do,
community development will not be part oI the important agenda oI globalisation Irom below. For
this reason, the issue oI universal and contextual issues needs to be addressed.
At a general level, there are some community development principles that apply universally and
can be seen to be necessary in any approach to community development, whatever the cultural, social
or political context. These are the subjects oI earlier chapters, namely:
the idea and experience oI community as being necessary Ior people to achieve their Iull
the principles oI ecological sustainability, diversity, holism, balance, interdependence and so on
the principles oI social justice and human rights, including an analysis oI oppression (e.g. class,
gender, race/ethnicity)
the principles oI change Irom below, bottom-up development, valuing local knowledge and
skills and so on, and
the principles oI the importance and integrity oI process, consciousness-raising, empowerment,
participation and cooperation.
These general principles apply to all community development, whatever the context. However, they
can be, and must be, contextualised very diIIerently in diIIerent locations. The experience oI
community may be important everywhere, but it will also be diIIerently constructed and experienced
in diIIerent cultural contexts; the idea oI community means something very diIIerent in an Inuit
community in the Arctic Irom an urban ghetto in Los Angeles, a township in South AIrica, a village in
India, an outer suburb in Sydney, a Iishing port in Ireland and a slum in São Paolo. The experience oI
community what is important about it, how it is experienced and how it can be nurtured will be
very diIIerent in those diIIerent locations. It cannot be imposed Irom outside, and must be deIined by
the people themselves. The principles oI ecological sustainability will also mean very diIIerent things
in diIIerent communities, and will imply diIIerent imperatives Ior community development. How such
ideas as human rights are understood will vary with cultural context. Structural oppression on the
basis oI class, gender, race and so on will be diIIerent in those diIIerent locations, and the struggle
against oppression will Iind diIIerent expressions. For example, the struggle Ior the liberation oI
women occurs in all cultural contexts, but it takes diIIerent Iorms, and addresses diIIerent issues in
diIIerent ways, in Beijing, Kabul, Toronto, Nairobi or Riyadh. And processes such as empowerment,
consciousness-raising and participation must oI necessity take very diIIerent Iorms in diIIerent
communities. The basic principles remain the same and provide an overall Iramework within which
community development can be understood and dialogue can occur, but they are deIined and
implemented very diIIerently.
Hence a community development worker needs to have an understanding oI both the local context,
within which any community development experience must be grounded, and the broader picture oI
community development processes that, in a general way, apply universally. A community worker
who loses sight oI the necessity Ior local contextualisation runs the risk oI adopting a colonialist
approach to practice, imposing a unitary world view on all communities regardless oI context. (Such
colonialist practice will be discussed in some detail in the next chapter.) On the other hand, a
community worker who is obsessed with the importance oI local context and loses sight oI universal
principles and the broader global context could develop a parochial practice that is likely to be
irrelevant in a globalised world. The important point to remember is that, as discussed above, the
context oI community development is both local and global and hence, when we seek to contextualise
our practice, to make it grounded in the experience oI people and communities, it must be
contextualised both locally and globally. Hence universal principles and locally speciIic realities are
both part oI the context, and must be held together. II the community worker is able to do that, it will
be possible to have locally grounded and appropriate practice that can nevertheless be part oI global
movements Ior change within the context oI globalisation Irom below.
This tension between local and global, or universal and speciIic, is a key element oI the
experience oI community work. Community work is neither a mechanistic occupation based on
universal principles that can be learned Irom a book or by doing a course, nor a wholly localised
context-speciIic activity in which there are no principles beyond what is Iound within the community
itselI. It is rather a dynamic and oIten contradictory mixture oI both, and the worker needs to be able
to live with that tension and hold both the universal and the speciIic together. The idea discussed in
the previous section that the global is local and the local is global can be applied to practice
principles as well.
This book is based on the idea oI community development principles. This is a middle-level
notion, between the macro analysis oI what is wrong with the world and how it should be Iixed` and
the micro prescriptions oI how to do` community development. Prescriptions oI the latter variety
have limited value, as community development takes place in diIIerent contexts; what works in one
community does not work in another, and what works Ior one community worker will not work Ior
another. The speciIics oI practice cannot be prescribed; they need to be worked out in diIIerent
contexts be individual community workers, or by community groups. However, the principles oI
practice, as discussed in the Iirst two-thirds oI this book, some oI which are listed above, are
essential to good community development, and apply in diIIerent contexts. How they are applied in
practice is a matter Ior the particular worker(s) involved, and this will be the subject oI the book`s
later chapters.
Having discussed globalisation, and the tensions oI global and local practice, it is now time to turn
to the important subject oI colonialism, and to examine the idea oI working internationally in more
9 Colonialism, colonialist practice and working internationally
For all community workers, the issue oI colonialism, and colonialist practice, is central. This applies
as much to people working with local communities in their own society as it does to people working
with communities on the other side oI the world. Colonialism is about imposing a world view, a set
oI values and ideas about how things ought to work, and an agenda Ior development, on a group,
community or society. All community development practice is in danger oI doing this, and it is always
a challenge Ior community workers to avoid the seduction oI colonialism. It is seductive because it
suggests to the community worker that they have the answers, have particular expertise Irom which
others can beneIit, and that the worker`s world view is somehow superior. These are very aIIirming
Ior a worker`s ego, but are counter-productive in terms oI community development process, and lead
to the undermining oI the principles discussed in previous chapters. For this reason, it is important to
examine the nature and dangers oI colonialism, and to explore ways to counter the temptations oI
colonialist practice. That is the subject oI the Iirst part oI this chapter, beIore we move to a more
general discussion oI working internationally.
Imperialism and colonialism are as old as human civilisations. Although the two terms are oIten
used interchangeably, they have slightly diIIerent meanings. In each case, the suIIix -ism` indicates
that we are dealing with belieIs and ideology, a set oI ideas associated with the processes oI
colonisation or imperial expansion. Colonisation involves the act oI colonising: invading,
conquering, moving in, then taking over another people`s land, resources, wealth, culture and identity.
Imperial expansion, on the other hand, is the establishment and expansion oI an empire, the
administrative apparatus oI ruling and maintaining control over diIIerent subject or conquered
peoples (Day 2005, Hart 2000, Ferro 1997). Colonisation may thereIore be undertaken Ior the
purposes oI imperialism, and imperial expansion may involve relatively little colonising. The two are
closely related, although with diIIerent emphasis: imperialism emphasises the expansion and glory oI
the dominating power whereas colonialism emphasises the invasion, domination and impoverishment
oI the colonised (Said 1993, 1995). In the Iollowing discussion, it is the ideology oI colonialism
rather than imperialism that is our concern in the context oI community development, and the word is
used with the implication oI an ideology, set oI values or world view. The process, as opposed to the
ideology, will be reIerred to as colonising or colonisation.
The history oI colonialism is the history oI the domination and subjugation oI one people by
another. It can be seen in the colonial powers oI the ancient Western world Persia, Greece, Rome
and Byzantium as well as in the Moghul, the Ottoman, the Inca and Aztec empires, and the Zulu
domination oI other AIrican tribal groups. There are many other examples in recorded history, and
more that can be deduced Irom prehistory, perhaps even including the colonisation and subsequent
eradication oI the Neanderthal civilisation by Homo sapiens; colonialism is not a new phenomenon.
The imperial adventures oI the nations oI Western Europe Britain, Spain, France, Portugal, the
Netherlands, Belgium, Germany Irom the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries have provided the
most extensively documented stories oI colonisation (Bouda 2007), and have resulted directly in
many oI the contemporary political, economic and social problems experienced by many nations oI
the South. It is important to remember that colonialism is not the exclusive domain oI the West (Ferro
1997): non-Western contemporary examples can be seen in Indonesia`s occupation oI East Timor and
annexation oI West Papua, and in the Chinese occupation oI Tibet. Nevertheless, it is the colonisation
oI much oI AIrica, Asia and Latin America by the European powers, in search oI imperial glory and
(more importantly) proIit Irom the expropriation oI land, wealth and resources, that has had the most
proIound eIIect on our understanding oI the processes and impact oI colonisation, and has placed
Western culture and the white race in positions oI power and assumed superiority. And it must be
emphasised that colonialism is not just a phenomenon oI the past, but that colonialism is alive and
well today. The so-called Northern Territory Intervention, whereby the Australian Government has
imposed Iorms oI control and surveillance on Indigenous communities, is a classic example, as are
similar policies towards Indigenous People in other countires, and the continuing interventions by the
USA and other Western countries in AIghanuistan, Iraq, various nations in AIrica, and anywhere else
where Western interests need to be saIeguarded.
Wherever colonisation occurs, the result is largely to the detriment oI the colonised. The wealth oI
the colonised nation (minerals, crops, arteIacts, treasure) is appropriated Ior the enrichment oI the
colonising power, and hence the colonised nation is signiIicantly impoverished (Galeano 2009,
Fanon 1961). The ideology oI colonialism, however, maintains that the process is in the interests oI
the colonised. The colonising power regards itselI (including its values, culture and political
traditions) as superior, and this justiIies its colonisation oI the culture and land oI the colonised
people; it is seen as being Ior their beneIit. The ideology oI the Enlightenment in Western Europe at
the end oI the eighteenth century (see chapter 4) was particularly signiIicant in this respect: the
assumption that European civilisation had reached a stage oI enlightenment provided a ready
justiIication Ior European colonisation oI other, supposedly inIerior or unenlightened cultures in their
best interests. The ideology oI nationalism also reinIorces colonialism: iI one believes that one`s own
nation and culture are the best in the world (as we are repeatedly told by political leaders and other
celebrities), there is a ready justiIication Ior imposing one`s cultural values on others, as this is seen
as being in their obvious interests. Hence an ideology oI colonialism is seductive; it Ilows naturally
Irom a nationalistic valuing oI one`s own national identity, culture and experience. The British
colonialists, Ior example, Ielt Iully justiIied in imposing British cultural values, systems oI
government and legal processes on their colonies; it was to them selI-evident that the British system
was the best in the world, and they were doing the natives` a Iavour by introducing them to such a
superior Iorm oI civilisation (Fanon 1961, AshcroIt 2000, Said 1993, 1995).
This example emphasises an important point about colonialism: colonisation is oIten pursued with
the best oI intentions, with a sincere belieI that one is doing the right thing, and that there are selI-
evident beneIits Ior the colonised who are being introduced to civilisation`. The reality oI
colonisation, however, is Iar Irom the rosy picture in the mind oI the colonist (Mander & Tauli-
Corpuz 2006, Galeano 2009). Whatever beneIit there may be in the culture and technology oI the
coloniser, the result is that the colonised are stripped oI their identity and their wealth, their cultural
heritage is denied and marginalised, and they are labelled as primitive, second-class citizens who
need to be educated in the ways oI the more advanced civilisation oI the coloniser. The colonisers
would be horriIied, dismayed and oIIended iI they were to be subjected to a similar process, yet the
colonised are expected, according to the ideology oI colonialism, to accept with a smile colonisation
as being Ior their own good, and to be duly grateIul. II they are not and react against colonisation, they
risk being labelled unreasonable, are pathologised (What more could you expect Irom people so
ignorant?` or They resist modern methods that are proven to be more eIIicient`), and oIten coerced
into acquiescing to the new apparently superior culture through, iI necessary, violence, imprisonment
and the Iull Iorce oI law (deIined, oI course, Irom the perspective oI the coloniser). At worst, they
risk being labelled terrorists and treated accordingly, as was the case, Ior example, with the Indian
rebellion in 1857 (previously called the Indian mutiny` a telling term with its implication oI
seeking to overthrow legitimate authority), or the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya in the 1950s, to take
t wo particularly shameIul examples Irom Britain`s colonial history, where the rebellions were
ruthlessly suppressed and thousands massacred in the name oI order. So much Ior the good
intentions` oI the coloniser; the good intentions apply only iI the recipients are suitably grateIul and
Colonisation, oI course, is motivated not only by good, iI misguided, intentions. Throughout
history, colonisation has brought beneIits to the colonisers (usually in the Iorm oI wealth and proIits),
and although it may have been implemented by well-intentioned and sometimes naive settlers,
missionaries and teachers, the underlying motives have usually been greed, proIit, prestige and
power. This inherent exploitation has in most cases been the direct result oI colonisation; the nations
oI AIrica that gained independence in the postwar period were leIt in a state oI economic
underdevelopment and with many inherited problems, while the colonising nations oI Europe were
able to walk away, aIter having exploited the people and resources oI those nations Ior an extended
period, with all oI the proIit and bearing little oI the cost (Brendon 2008).
Colonisation has been a particularly brutal Iorm oI oppression, because it exploits the colonised
people and appropriates their natural resources and wealth and denigrates their identity, devalues
their traditional culture and denies them basic human rights and even the capacity to deIine their
humanity in their own terms. Colonisation is not only about exploitation and oppression; it also
involves the invasion oI the colonised people and their land, culture and institutions, the denial oI
their identity and the taking over oI the society. The lives, culture and identity oI the colonised are
redeIined and reshaped by the coloniser in order to Iit in the coloniser`s view oI the advantages oI
their apparently superior civilisation, despite the Iact that the very humanity oI the colonised people
is diminished, iI not destroyed, in the process.
The impact oI colonisation on the colonised is thereIore both material and psychological. It leaves
the colonised oIten with no viable identity or dignity. Typically, the culture and identity oI the
colonised are devalued and marginalised by the colonisers, so that the colonised in their natural
state` are deIined as less than human. But at the same time the colonised are denied Iull access to the
apparently superior` culture oI the colonised, through systemic barriers oI racism. This is the Iate oI
many Indigenous Peoples throughout the world: the dominant culture denies the legitimacy oI their
traditional culture and identity, but they are prevented Irom enjoying the Iull beneIits oI the dominant
culture through racist exclusion (Mander & Tauli-Corpuz 2006). EIIectively denied both cultural
identities, it is little wonder that Indigenous communities represent some oI the most oppressed
people oI the world, and that they are experiencing a whole range oI social problems. This is then
Iurther compounded by the dominant ideology oI individualism, which leads to the pathologising oI
those who have been stripped oI their identity and to the resultant blaming the victim. Having been
denied an identity and oIten access to their traditional land, the people concerned are labelled,
victimised and, in the ultimate irony oI colonialism, blamed Ior their own misIortune.
Colonisation is thereIore not just a case oI simple exploitation Ior economic beneIit, although this
is an important aspect oI colonial domination. It is also the imposition oI an ideology, or world view,
which values the culture oI the coloniser and devalues the culture oI the colonised, and thus
represents a psychological and cultural assault on the victims. The ideology oI colonialism is one oI
racial and cultural superiority, Ied by the apparently benign Iorm oI nationalism and patriotism, which
encourages people to believe that their nation is somehow superior to all others.
The ideology oI colonialism does not, however, belong only to the coloniser. A particularly
insidious aspect oI colonialism is that the ideology can also be adopted by the colonised. Part oI the
colonisation process is to impose the ideology oI colonialism on the colonised, so that they too come
to believe in the superiority oI the colonising power. The ideology does not have to be Iorcibly
imposed on the colonised iI they will take it up oI their own Iree will, and such is the power oI
colonialism that this oIten happens. The view in many nations oI the South that the expertise oI the
North is what is needed Ior social and economic development is a classic example oI this. The one-
way Ilow oI development wisdom, Irom the North to the South, or Irom the developed to the
developing, is perpetrated both by development experts Irom the North and by many Irom the South,
who seek such aid rather than relying on their own cultural and economic resources (although these
may already be depleted as a result oI colonialist exploitation) (Haug 2000). The power oI
colonialism, and its capacity to perpetuate itselI, rests on its remarkable ability to persuade the
victims, as well as the perpetrators, oI the selI-evident beneIits oI the colonial project.
It should be noted that this persuasion is never complete; there has always been some Iorm oI
resistance by the colonised, although it is oIten conveniently omitted Irom the oIIicial history as
recorded by the colonisers (Mander & Tauli-Corpuz 2006, Featherstone 2012, GoldIarb 2006).
Similarly, not all the colonisers will totally accept the ideology oI colonialism and cultural and racial
superiority; there have always been objections and protests Irom within the colonising nations,
although these too are oIten written out oI the oIIicial history oI the great exploits` oI the courageous
pioneers`. In the case oI the European colonisation oI Australia, both oI these exceptions have been
well documented by, among others, Henry Reynolds (1981, 1998).
Community development has been part oI the process oI colonisation, and has been inIluenced by
the ideology oI colonialism. Community development programs, oIten sponsored by UN agencies or
NGOs, have been (oIten unwittingly) used to Iurther colonialist ends, by helping people to accept the
wisdom oI conventional development aid, by encouraging Iorms oI pseudo-participation and by
legitimising international development projects (Norgaard 1994, Chambers 1993, 2005). They also
can displace pre-existing systems oI local health and community care, education, justice, land use and
so on, which have been established over the centuries within the local geographical and cultural
context. Community development oI this type can be regarded as the benign or warm Iuzzy` side oI
development (and can be seen as selI-evidently beneIicial, even when projects such as dam-building
are under challenge), and can reinIorce the message that development is undertaken with the best oI
intentions and only Ior the beneIit oI the people concerned. Hence it is no coincidence that mining and
oil companies, seeking legitimacy Ior their projects in developing nations, have instituted community
development programs and Iunded community development workers. It sends a message that the
company cares and that development is good Ior the local community, despite the Iact that the actual
impact can be exactly the reverse. This is not to suggest that there is no beneIit in such community
development programs, or that the companies` motives are only proIit-driven: the reality is usually
more complex, with a mixture oI motives, and with both social beneIits and social costs resulting
Irom the overall development. The colonialist implications oI such community development
programs, however, must always be identiIied and made explicit.
Thus Iar, colonialism has been discussed speciIically in relation to the imposition oI a colonising
culture on a colonised culture, in the context oI international exchanges and imperialist expansion. But
the importance oI the analysis, Ior community workers, extends well beyond this. It is not only in
visiting a diIIerent culture in a Ioreign country that one can be aIIected by the ideology oI colonialism.
Whenever a community worker comes Irom a background that is in any way diIIerent Irom the
community (e.g. through education, social class, culture, race, ethnicity or age), and that can be
consciously or unconsciously privileged as a result, there is the potential Ior colonialist practice. For
this reason, this discussion oI colonialist practice must be seen as applying to all community work,
not only to community work across national or cultural boundaries. Every community development
setting has the potential Ior colonialist domination, although perhaps not in so obvious a Iorm as is the
case with international work, where cultural diIIerence and colonising processes are more evident.
But this extra subtlety renders it all the more potentially dangerous. The colonising oI another person,
or a community, can occur across the Iull range oI community development. All it needs is Ior a
community worker to believe that they in some way have a superior world view, are more
enlightened, have more education, more wisdom or more expertise, and that their opinion counts more
than those with whom they are working. Such a view may not be consciously held; it can be
unconscious, and be Iormed and reinIorced by education and socialisation, especially iI one is a
member oI a dominant culture, class or proIession. In chapter 6 we have already seen the importance
oI the worker not privileging their knowledge and expertise over those oI the community, yet the
worker`s background will most likely encourage them to do just that, albeit unconsciously. Any
practice that does privilege the worker`s knowledge and expertise becomes colonising practice; the
process colonises the other`, erodes their identity and reinIorces relationships oI diIIerential power
and domination. And, as we have seen, a colonialist ideology can also be held by the colonised, who
thereby acquiesce in the process oI colonisation and reinIorce the colonising practice oI the
community worker.
The temptations oI colonialist practice can be both subtle and seductive. All community workers
like to Ieel that what they have to oIIer is worthwhile, and that they can contribute something
important to a community; why else would they be doing community development? The ideology oI
colonialism is thereIore intuitively appealing; it suggests to the worker that they can oIIer something
worthwhile, which will beneIit the community, and hence appeals to the worker`s need to be wanted
and to be relevant. It is very easy Ior a community worker, engaged in colonialist practice, to Ieel that
they are doing a good job and are working purely Ior the beneIit oI the community, while in reality
that worker is reinIorcing colonisation and is acquiescing in the perpetuation oI colonialist
oppression on class, race, ethnic or educational dimensions. OI course it is not necessarily either one
or the other; more oIten the worker`s practice will have both liberating and oppressive elements.
Guarding against colonialist practice
How then can a community worker guard against the temptations oI colonialist practice? First, it is
important that a community worker have a high level oI critical selI-awareness and reIlection. The
reasons we go into community work are complex and are seldom purely altruistic; it is only natural
Ior community workers to be meeting their own needs through their work, and this need not be seen as
problematic. But it is important Ior a community worker to realise this, and to be aware oI their own
needs that may be being met in the process. As soon as a worker substitutes their own agenda Ior the
agenda(s) oI the community, colonisation is likely to take place, as the autonomy and identity oI the
community are no longer respected. It is naive to assume that the worker will have no such personal
agenda, but it is realistic indeed necessary to expect that a community worker will be aware oI
personal agendas and needs, will be aware oI the dangers oI colonising practice and will seek to be
As noted above, colonialism is an ideology oI which its perpetrators are usually unaware, and
colonialists will usually have the best oI intentions. For this reason it is oIten diIIicult to challenge a
worker who may be perceived as engaging in colonising practice; such a worker will undoubtedly
resent the questioning oI their motives, and a discussion oI colonialism among community workers
must be handled with care and sensitivity iI it is to progress beyond simple recrimination.
Nevertheless, a critically aware community worker needs to be mindIul oI the dangers oI colonialism,
and should try to be receptive to such a critique coming Irom others, whether community members,
Iellow workers, Iriends or supervisors. One way to maintain an awareness is to discuss such issues
openly with other community workers, or with community members themselves. Sometimes a worker
may be able to establish a close Iriendship with a community member who can Ieel comIortable in
giving honest and, iI necessary, conIronting Ieedback. This can be diIIicult, especially iI there are
signiIicant cultural diIIerences involved, and where cultural norms would regard such honest
Ieedback as rude and insulting.
Colonialists will generally Irame their work as doing things to or Ior others, rather than with
others. They will also believe that what they are doing is Ior their own good`. They will talk about
what this community needs` (without reIerence to the voices oI the people themselves), about what I
would hope to do or achieve` (not we`), and so on. They may Irame their work as their own agenda
in which they want the community to participate (How can I get people to come to my meeting?`,
How can I persuade people to cooperate?`, How can we get people on board?`, How can we keep
them involved?` and so on). Language that separates the community worker(s) Irom the community
itselI, and that eIIectively privileges the worker`s agenda over the community`s, is a sure indication
oI colonialist attitudes. Whenever community workers Iind themselves using such language, and
assuming that they know what is best Ior somebody else, alarm bells should ring loudly, and hence it
is a good idea Ior workers to give close attention to the language that they, and others, use to describe
community development.
More than personal selI-awareness is needed, however. In reality, it is usually the case that the
community worker will represent in some way the dominant or colonising culture. It is thereIore
important Ior the community worker to be able to locate themselves within that culture, and to see that
as a result they represent structures and discourses oI oppression and colonisation. However
sensitive that worker may be to colonialist attitudes, the worker`s very location within such structures
and discourses means that the worker is part oI the colonialist project. The very presence oI the
community worker can itselI colonise the identity oI the people with whom they are working. Hence it
is not only an awareness oI personal attitudes and values that is important but also a critical
awareness oI the structures and discourses within which the community worker is located, and the
inIluence these have on the processes oI colonisation and on the colonialist ideology oI both
coloniser and colonised.
For this reason, it is important Ior community workers to allow space Ior the expression and
validation oI the culture, values and identity oI the colonised, and Ior a critique oI the dominant
structures and discourses oI colonisation (Freire 1972). This idea oI allowing space is critical in
practice that seeks to counter colonialism. In allowing rather than colonising such space, the
community worker is validating a critique oI the colonialist ideology and the practice oI colonisation.
Characteristically, this also allows space Ior resistance to be expressed to the colonising structures
and discourses, thereby questioning their legitimacy and validating an alternative. Community
workers thereIore, however selI-critical and well inIormed about colonialism, still need to step back
and allow space Ior a critique, a reaction, resistance and an alternative to be articulated and
validated. This can be diIIicult and at times painIul. It may involve a community worker being on the
receiving end oI criticism and anger directed at the entire colonising culture, oI which the worker is
seen as a representative. But the expression oI this anger is oIten a necessary precondition Ior moving
Iorward in a spirit oI dialogue. It is part oI the recognition and the naming oI structures and
discourses oI oppression that is a necessary part oI consciousness-raising. With the acknowledgement
oI the oppression, it is only natural Ior there to be anger, resentment and, at times, violence. The
important thing is to be able to move on Irom this stage, towards dialogue and counter-oppressive
community development practice.
To avoid colonialist practice, community workers must Iirst listen and learn, to allow the people
with whom they are working to claim the process as their own and to set the agenda. It is only by
stepping back, not rushing in with plans and intervention strategies but allowing time and space Ior a
process to be established that is truly owned by the community, that genuinely anti-colonialist
community development can be initiated. This is easy to say, but much harder to do. As discussed in
chapters 4 and 6, it runs counter to the dominant Enlightenment world view oI certainty, plans,
objectives and the need to be busy. It requires instead patience, a capacity to live with uncertainty, a
readiness to trust the process and the people, and an admission that community workers are neither
all-knowing nor all-powerIul. This is Iar Irom the assertiveness, selI-promotion, goal-setting,
achievement and competitiveness that is so dominant throughout the Western world and that has
served the ends oI colonialism only too well.
Following the creation oI space Ior dialogue and action, the next important principle oI anti-
colonialist practice is the idea oI working in solidarity with the community (Featherstone 2012).
Working in solidarity implies working with, not Ior, the people concerned, and that there is a real
sense oI a shared vision. It means that community workers have been able to listen to and understand
the agenda oI the community, and are able to work alongside the people oI the community in the
process oI community development. Working in solidarity implies that there is no conIlict oI agendas
between community and worker, and that the two are working together in a dialogical praxis
relationship as described in chapter 13 (Westoby & Dowling 2009, Westoby & Shevallar 2012). The
idea oI working in solidarity is Iamiliar to those with a background in the trade union movement, and
in other social movements based on collective action Ior change, but it is not so Iamiliar to those who
come Irom the more individualistic world oI middle-class academic and proIessional discourses,
which is oIten (although certainly not always) the background oI community workers.
The perspective oI working in solidarity can thereIore be a challenge Ior many community
workers, as it is another way oI moving beyond the colonising consequences oI the dominant
ideologies oI practice. It suggests that the struggle is Ior worker and community to work together to
critique and deconstruct the ideology oI colonialism, which, as we have seen, can aIIect coloniser
and colonised alike. This has been a particular concern oI liberation theology, deriving Irom the
experience oI priests, nuns and lay missionaries working Irom an empowerment perspective
(Rowland 1999). The analysis oI colonialism becomes, Irom this perspective, a Iramework Ior
consciousness-raising and dialogue.
A Iinal guard against the dangers oI colonialism Ior a community worker is what can be called a
test oI reciprocity`. Simply put, this requires the worker to ask: How would I Ieel iI the situation
were reversed?` Workers need to imagine themselves in the place oI the people with whom they are
working, and to ask how they would Ieel about the process. Put another way, it requires workers to
ask whether they are prepared to experience development in the same way as it is being practised on
the people oI the community. This is an important test oI colonialism. With international development
work, Ior example, one might ask whether the Iarmers oI the USA would be prepared to welcome
rural experts Irom AIrican countries to teach them sustainable, bioregional agricultural methods
(knowledge oI which has been lost in the USA, but which AIrican Iarmers have been practising Ior
many generations), whether social workers in central Birmingham (UK) would welcome the
development advice oI social workers Irom Pakistan about health, nutrition and Iamily support
(especially given the high proportion oI people Irom Pakistani backgrounds living in Birmingham),
whether community workers in maritime Canada would welcome the expertise oI Brazilian
community development workers about dealing with poverty, and whether human rights activists in
Australia would welcome visiting delegations Irom Indonesia criticising the Australian treatment oI
Indigenous People.
Resistance to such ideas oI community development experts` Irom the South coming to provide
expertise on development in the North is an indication oI the extent to which colonialist ideology has
been internalised. Whether we can imagine, let alone accept, the validity oI such role reversals is a
good measure oI the inIluence oI colonialism, and community workers can guard against colonialism
by applying such a test to their everyday work, in whatever setting. OIten, on reIlection, it will
become clear that workers may be expecting Iar more oI a community, group or individual than those
workers would be prepared to give should the roles be reversed, and that should be cause Ior those
workers to ask serious questions about colonialist ideology.
Working internationally
The issue oI colonialism, while it applies to community work in any location, is obviously oI
particular relevance Ior people working in international community development. Many international
aid and development agencies see community development as an important aspect oI their work, and
a number oI people who decide to take up a career in community development have a particular
interest in working in another country.
From the point oI view oI an analysis oI colonialism, community workers Irom the developed`
North going to work in the developing` South should set alarm bells ringing loudly. Community
structures and processes are generally stronger in the Global South, where traditional communities
still survive, unlike in the Global North where community has largely been eroded by the Iorces oI
industrialisation and modernisation. How dare people Irom the Global North go to the Global South
to develop community! This is surely the perpetuation oI colonialism, and a recipe Ior yet more
disasters imposed on the people oI the Global South in the name oI development. This is a question
that should deeply trouble anyone Irom the Global North planning to work in community development
in the Global South; indeed any such worker not troubled in this way should choose another career.
Indeed, there is much about conventional international development work that is counter to
community development principles as discussed in this book. International projects are oIten so
concerned with targets, outcomes and deliverables that they lose sight oI any more process-oriented
organic approach. Accountability is oIten largely, iI not exclusively, to managers and Iunders, rather
than to the communities in which the work is being undertaken. Workers are oIten required to work to
log Irames whereby achievable objectives are speciIied and expected to be reached at certain stages
oI the process. KPIs (key perIormance indicators) are seen as important Ior workers, and community
projects are seen as suIIiciently similar to each other to be generalised in terms oI the project cycle`.
International development students are oIten taught stages oI the project cycle, an approach that makes
community development practice a case oI Iollowing the rules oI how to do projects. This is classic
modernity, trying to impose order, predictability, certainty and generalisability, and is the antithesis
oI community development as discussed in this book. Such an approach is almost an open invitation
to colonialist practice.
However, it is not quite as simple as this, and it would be wrong to suggest that international work
is not worthwhile. Indeed, in a globalising world, where we are all connected with each other,
community development, like any other work, needs an international Iocus. Further, it must not be
assumed that all aid or development agencies and their work are colonialist, as this is not the case.
Many (although Iar Irom all) international development agencies are well aware oI the issues and
dangers oI colonialist practice, and work Irom an analysis that seeks to address the structures and
discourses oI colonialism. There is much oI value that can be accomplished by international
community development Irom such a perspective. Indeed, the signiIicance oI globalisation requires
the kind oI global or local practice described in the previous chapter, so that communities can begin
to address the issues oI globalisation and work towards the ideal oI globalisation Irom below. Thus
in a real sense all community development is international community development. It is international
Iorces that cause many oI the problems Iaced by communities and that shape their destinies, and it is
international solutions that are required. International community development is no longer conIined
to those who choose to work in another country and a diIIerent culture, but is part oI the work oI all
community workers.
Global inequality is one oI the major problems Iacing the planet. Community development has
much to contribute in addressing global inequality, through the strengthening and empowerment oI
communities, selI-reliance and change Irom below. It is simply insuIIicient Ior community workers to
withdraw Irom international practice because oI the challenges and dangers oI colonialism; rather it
is important Ior them to work out ways oI practising internationally that will help to conIront
colonialist practice and will Iurther the cause oI globalisation Irom below.
In order to achieve this, it is perhaps more appropriate to talk about internationalist community
development than about international community development. As we saw with colonialism, the
adding oI the suIIix -ist` or -ism` suggests more than simply a description oI a process; it suggests
also values and ideology. Internationalist community development involves not only working
internationally, but also working Irom the perspective oI internationalism, which implies ideas oI
international solidarity, the realisation that we live in one world, the necessity Ior the Global North to
learn Irom the Global South, and the need Ior all people to work together in peace and harmony. This
approach to global issues has been consistently analysed and promoted by the important publication
New Internationalist; a subscription to New Internationalist should be a requirement Ior anyone
wishing to work internationally in community development.
Internationalism does not, however, imply a world oI uniIormity. It allows Ior and indeed
encourages and celebrates cultural diversity, in accordance with the principle oI diversity
discussed in chapter 2. Indeed, it is through diversity rather than uniIormity that we can learn Irom
each other, experience important cultural exchanges and develop together. Internationalism is a
movement with a long history, longer than that oI globalisation. Its agenda has not been one oI
economic Iundamentalism, or oI imposing cultural uniIormity. Rather than the pursuit oI proIit and
economic growth, it has sought to address issues oI world peace, human rights, international
understanding, education, housing, health, poverty alleviation, care Ior the global environment and so
on. It was the motivation behind many international agencies, including the League oI Nations and the
United Nations, although sadly many aspects oI the UN have been used Ior the imposition oI more
colonialist agendas by powerIul Western interests. It also resulted in the Iormation oI many
international NGOs, Irom the Red Cross and the Women`s International League Ior Peace and
Freedom, to Amnesty International and Greenpeace. This represents the embryonic Iormation oI a
global civil society` another important maniIestation oI a globalised world that needs to be placed
alongside the economic Iundamentalism oI conventional globalisation.
One important way in which internationalist community development can be advanced is by
requiring the Ilow oI expertise to be two-way, consistent with a dialogical approach to community
development. It is still the case that the majority oI international aid and development workers are
Irom the North, and are working in countries oI the South. While the Ilow oI expertise is one-way,
Irom developed` to developing`, it is inevitable that it will be aIIected by colonialist ideology and
practice. To counter this, those engaged in international community development could work towards
ensuring that Ior every worker Irom the North who travels to practise in the South, a worker Irom the
South is sponsored to practise in the North. An internationalist perspective maintains that people and
communities in the North have at least as much need oI consciousness-raising and community
development as do people and communities in the South, and, as pointed out in chapter 2, iI the world
is to be saved Irom ecological catastrophe, it is the societies oI the North that need radical change,
not those oI the South. Indeed, iI we are interested in truly sustainable, relationship-based community
development, the North has more to learn Irom the South than the South has Irom the North, and it is
the North that most needs community development. II we are genuinely committed to international
solidarity, there should be at least as many community development workers Irom the South practising
in the North as there are workers Irom the North practising in the South.
But one can also argue that the simple North/South, or developed/developing, binary is unhelpIul.
The world does not neatly divide itselI into two; rather there are diIIerent regions with diIIerent
issues and challenges. Ultimately, we share one world, and iI there is to be genuine community-based
sustainability we cannot aIIord to perpetuate that binary, but rather must understand the importance oI
working together in solidarity. Reasserting the importance oI an internationalist agenda, and seeing it
as a basis Ior international community development, requires understandings oI international
solidarity that rise above colonialism. It sees dimensions oI oppression, such as class, gender and
race, as extending across international boundaries, requiring the people oI the world, respecting each
others diIIerences, to work together in seeking collective solutions. International community
development workers can address their task Irom this perspective oI internationalism, which does not
privilege the culture oI the West or the economic power oI the North, but which seeks to link people
on the basis oI their common humanity and to Iind a Iramework Ior people to work together.
10 Community development: Social, economic and political
The purpose oI community development is to re-establish the community as the location oI signiIicant
human experience and the meeting oI human need, rather than to rely on the larger, more inhuman and
less accessible structures oI the welIare state, the global economy, bureaucracy, proIessional elites
and so on.
The nature oI that human experience and interaction, however, is complex. Many programs oI
community development seek to establish a stronger community base Ior only one aspect oI human
existence while ignoring others. OIten community development workers Irom a social work
background, Ior example, will concentrate on the provision oI community-based human services (such
as health, housing, a women`s reIuge, recreation, childcare) while ignoring the community`s
economic base. On the other hand, many projects oI community economic development proceed on
the assumption that Irom economic development all else will Iollow, so they ignore social needs.
Indigenous People have consistently reminded non-Indigenous community workers that they ignore the
spiritual dimension oI human interaction and oI community, which Indigenous people regard as
Such one-dimensional community development is likely to be oI limited value. It derives Irom
linear thinking, rather than adopting the holistic approach that is at the basis oI the ecological and
post-Enlightenment perspectives. By concentrating on one dimension, it ignores the richness and
complexity oI human liIe and oI the experience oI community.
In this chapter and the next, eight dimensions oI community development are identiIied, and all
eight are seen as critically important. They are not always distinct, and interact with each other in
oIten complex ways. It might also be argued that some are more Iundamental than others; Ior example
many people (particularly including Indigenous People) would argue that spiritual development is the
basis oI all the others, and many economists would argue the primacy oI economic development as
the basis Ior all others. But Ior the purposes oI building an approach to community development, and
oI thinking clearly about the role oI the community worker, it is useIul to consider all eight as
Iundamentally important. The eight dimensions are:
social development
economic development
political development
cultural development
environmental development
spiritual development
personal development
survival development.
In a particular situation, not all oI these will have equal priority. Any community will have developed
these eight to diIIering levels; Ior example, one community might have a strong economic base,
healthy political participation and a strong cultural identity, but also have poor human services, a
degraded physical environment, low selI-esteem and a high level oI alienation. In such a community
thereIore social, environmental and personal and/or spiritual development will be the highest
priorities in a community development program. Another community, however, will reIlect a diIIerent
picture and call Ior diIIerent priorities within a development process.
The critical point is that all eight aspects oI community development are important, and to have a
truly healthy and Iunctioning community it is necessary to achieve high levels oI development on all
eight dimensions. Any community worker, or anyone connected with a community development
program, must take all eight into account, and the aim must be maximising development on all these
dimensions. By adding these eight components we can develop another stage oI the approach to
community development derived in previous chapters. This is illustrated in Iigure 10.1, overleaI.
Figure 10.1 Integrated community development
Social development
Much oI what is traditionally regarded as community development, in occupations such as social
work, youth work, education and the health proIessions, can be understood as social development.
Although there is considerable variety in the activities that constitute social development, they can be
grouped into Iour as Iollows: service development, the neighbourhood house/community centre,
social planning and social animation (see Iigure 10.2, overleaI ).
Figure 10.2 Social development
Service development
Process issues
Much traditional community development activity is essentially social service development,
involving the identiIication oI social needs and the provision oI structures and services to meet them.
This typically involves the Iollowing process:
1 the identiIication oI a concern, either among service providers or in the community at large
(e.g. a lack oI recreation Iacilities Ior youth, lack oI emergency shelter Ior women in
crisis, inadequate housing, loneliness among the aged, increase in vandalism)
2 a more detailed or systematic study oI the need or problem to determine its nature and extent,
through, Ior example, discussions with service providers, a needs survey, looking at what
happens in other places, examination oI relevant statistics (e.g. crime rates)
3 a public meeting, Iorum or consultation, with all interested people encouraged to attend and
participate. This body decides on some course oI action (e.g. establishing a committee to
examine the matter Iurther, reIerring the matter to an existing organisation, or establishing a
new community-based agency, such as a women`s reIuge, community centre, youth centre)
4 iI such a new body is to be established, the necessary Iormalities need to be completed, such
as the drawing up oI a constitution, legal incorporation, opening a bank account, possible
registration as a cooperative. These essentially determine the structure oI the new
organisation: who will be its members, how its oIIice bearers will be elected and so on
5 the development and ongoing operation oI the new body, including encouraging people to
become actively involved, seeking Iunding (whether Irom government, the private sector,
the membership or the local community or through Iund-raising projects) or possibly
employing staII
6 ongoing monitoring and evaluation oI the new body and its services, including ensuring that
it remains accountable to the local community and/or its constituency.
Each oI these steps is itselI a complex process, which raises many important issues and diIIicult
problems. They are not unique to social development, but occur to some degree in the other Iorms oI
community development discussed in this chapter and the next.
Social service development does not always Iollow the stages outlined above. In some instances
the order oI the Iirst two steps is reversed, and it is a broad-based consultation, study or survey oI
community needs, undertaken as a community planning process, which then highlights speciIic areas
oI concern. Sometimes a diIIerent Iorm oI consultation is used in step 3, where the more traditional
public meeting would be inappropriate; Ior example in a widely dispersed rural community a series
oI smaller meetings, or electronic communication, may be more realistic.
Sometimes the initiative is taken by a larger body such as local government or a church agency,
and the development oI the new program takes place within its structure, rather than independently.
This can have important advantages, by providing the program with an existing legal Iramework oI
incorporation, management expertise, service expertise, a Iunding base and access to various other
resources (e.g. reception, phone, copier, computers, meeting rooms). The program may still have its
own management committee, although the question oI autonomy and independence could be an issue.
However, it is worth noting that some oI the most radical and innovative community-based social
development programs have taken place under such auspices. At other times a larger agency will
establish a program, then encourage it to become independent once it has been properly established.
Alternatively, an initiative that began as an independent community action will be taken over by a
larger agency because oI its resources and inIrastructure.
In many cases, however, the initiative comes directly Irom government. In a reversal oI the
process outlined above, government will decide that a service is needed, and will invite tenders,
using a purchase oI service` model, whereby the government provides the Iunding and speciIies how
it is to be spent. This undermines a community development approach, and leads to agencies
responding to government Iunding initiatives, rather than engaging with the community and responding
to the community`s expressed needs or concerns. Using the analysis oI need outlined in chapter 3, this
relies on inIerred need rather than population deIined or consumer deIined need, which are central to
community development. It also means that community agencies are oIten competing with private
corporations or with large NGOs Ior the tender, and such organisations oIten have the advantage oI
skills in tender preparation and oI economy oI scale; all too oIten the process is eIIectively biased
against a small community group with strong local connections. The other problem with the tender
process is that it speciIies precisely what outcomes` are to be delivered`. This again is counter to
community development principles as it means that there is little or no room Ior a process to develop
and Ior the program to respond to community needs as they emerge. The diIIiculties this raises are
common Ior community workers, and will be discussed in more detail in chapter 15.
Another variant oI the process is the development oI a selI-help group. This is where the primary
instigators oI the action are people directly aIIected by a particular problem, such as those suIIering
Irom a particular illness, or those with relatives with a speciIic disability. Such groups tend to rely
less on support Irom the rest oI the community, although they will oIten seek it in the Iorm oI Iinancial
Sometimes the aim oI social development is not to establish a new community service but to help
the existing ones to operate more eIIectively through better coordination and planning. Hence the
outcome oI the process may be the establishment oI new planning and coordination structures, ideally
(although Iar Irom invariably) incorporating broad-based citizen participation and the representation
oI the views oI the most disadvantaged.
Structural issues
The above discussion has Iocused on the provision oI human services, as this has been a traditional
concern oI social development. Many important community agencies were created through such
processes: it is doubtIul, Ior example, whether there would be many women`s reIuges in Western
countries iI processes such as these had not been initiated at community level. However, the view that
community problems can be solved by the provision oI social services, whether or not they are
community-based, is problematic. While social services are oI course oIten oI crucial importance, an
exclusive reliance on service provision can divert attention Irom some oI the more Iundamental
structural issues, such as class, race and gender oppression. This can be seen in the typical
community processes described above: public meetings, committees, constitutions and so on. These
have been characteristically the domain oI the white middle-class male, and it is small wonder that
such people are oIten overrepresented in such community-based structures. Hence this approach to
social development can in Iact reinIorce structural inequalities oI class, gender and race/ethnicity,
unless these issues are speciIically addressed.
There is a Iurther conservatism inherent in these processes. Services established in this way
become part oI the existing constellation oI human services, organised along Iairly traditional
patterns, and, through reliance on government Iunding, they take their place within the larger
structures controlled by the welIare state. They do not necessarily represent an alternative to the
welIare state, and there are many examples oI agencies that were started through such processes
becoming extremely conservative and reactionary (it is worth noting that many oI the most
conservative, old-style` non-government welIare agencies started liIe in this way). Thus this Iorm oI
social development can simply reinIorce existing welIare state mechanisms, rather than becoming the
genuinely community-based alternative to the welIare state advocated in chapter 1.
This is not to deny the value oI such service-based social development: many worthwhile results
have been achieved through this process. Rather it is to emphasise that this approach to social
development by itselI is insuIIicient, and that an awareness oI broader structural issues must be
incorporated so that the process can be seen within a broader context.
The neighbourhood house or community centre
An alternative model is the neighbourhood house or community centre. A major Iorerunner oI this
approach to community development is the university settlement movement in the late nineteenth
century (WoodrooIe 1962), whereby settlement houses were established in low-income areas oI
Britain and the USA and supported a variety oI programs, using the energy and skills oI socially
committed undergraduates. They served a dual purpose oI providing both social programs Ior
disadvantaged people and valuable experience Ior students who went on to occupy positions oI
leadership the society. Other settlement houses were not attached speciIically to universities, but
were run by committed citizens interested in seeking an alternative to traditional Iorms oI charitable
relieI. They were the Iorerunners oI today`s community centres and neighbourhood houses.
However, there were other historical origins Ior community centres. Well beIore the establishment
oI settlement houses, in Western societies the local church oIten played the role oI community centre
a place where people could meet, discuss important matters, interact socially and engage in
organised community activities. In many places churches still play this role, and the church hall is
oIten a centre oI local community liIe. In other cultures, mosques, temples or synagogues play a
similar role. Adult education institutions, such as workers` education associations, women`s institutes
and the extension departments oI universities, have also helped to create community centres, and local
government has played an important role in such initiatives.
The community centre, then, is hardly a new concept, and has always been an important component
oI community development. The simple idea oI providing a central meeting place, with some degree
oI resourcing (staII, volunteers, Iunds, equipment etc.) is still an essential ingredient oI much
community development work. Such a location can be used Ior a variety oI activities recreational,
educational, political, cultural, health, advocacy and can become the Iocal point Ior the other kinds
oI community development described in this chapter and the next. The idea oI a neighbourhood house
a relaxed, inIormal setting serving as the Iocal point oI neighbourhood activity has been a more
recent maniIestation oI the community centre, at an even more localised level. Neighbourhood houses
can be used as a basis Ior childcare, education, skills development, inIormation and reIerral, group
discussions, local activism and so on.
The initiative Ior developing a community centre or neighbourhood house can come Irom a number
oI quarters, including local government, state government, non-government agencies, churches and
local community groups. Experience has shown that it is critical Ior the local community to be Iully
involved in the planning. A community centre imposed Irom above, by a well-intentioned government
or non-government agency but without genuine community involvement, will more than likely be
located in the wrong place, have an inappropriate physical design, and not meet the most important
Ielt needs oI the community. In the interests oI cost-cutting, or oI trying to do something useIul with
the old church hall`, decisions can easily be made without adequate local involvement, which render
the resulting community centre` virtually useless.
Similarly, there are diIIerent sources Ior support in the Iorm oI Iinancial and people resources.
More oIten than not, these involve government Iunding, whether directly or indirectly, and this poses
problems in terms oI autonomy. For a community centre or neighbourhood house to work eIIectively,
within the approach to community work outlined in earlier chapters, local people must have primary
control over its operation and over the utilisation oI the available resources. In practice this is oIten
not possible with government Iunding, which represents a major obstacle to a progressive approach
to community centre work. These problems can oIten be minimised by seeking a variety oI Iunding
sources, Ior example Ioundations, service clubs, business or churches. This, however, raises another
problem common to many community projects. The ongoing search Ior Iunds, and satisIying the
requirements oI the various Iunding bodies, can take so much time and energy that a community
worker has little leIt Ior the actual program.
These diIIiculties aside, some Iorm oI community centre or neighbourhood house is an essential
component oI many oI the other aspects oI community development discussed in this chapter and the
next. Without such a Iocal point (whether or not it is Iormally designated as a community centre) it is
hard to see how a good deal oI other community development could take place.
Social planning
In the context oI community development, the term social planning should not be taken as implying
the imposition Irom above oI a grand plan, or the essentially technical activity implied in Rothman`s
model B in his much-quoted typology oI community organisation practice (1974). Rather, it implies
the process oI the people oI a community deIining their needs and working out what has to happen in
order to have them met, as well as how the existing services and resources can be coordinated and
utilised to best eIIect. It is planning and coordination at a grassroots level, and the role oI the expert`
is to Iacilitate this process and provide such technical expertise as may be necessary in order to help
people make their decisions on community priorities.
Such planning processes, oI course, apply to other aspects oI community development, such as
economic development or cultural development. In the speciIic context oI social development, the
planning process is oIten carried out by non-government agencies, such as a local council oI social
service, a council oI social development or a social planning council. Sometimes local government
bodies will also establish mechanisms by which these processes can occur at community level, and
this has been an important role Ior community development workers employed by local government.
This local participatory planning is another vital aspect oI community development, and any
community development strategy must incorporate some mechanism, whether Iormal or inIormal, Ior
local people to have a genuine role in the making oI such priority decisions. There are oI course many
potential problems associated with such processes, which were addressed in the discussion oI
participation in chapter 7.
Social animation
Social development can also Iocus on the actual quality oI social interaction within a community,
rather than directly on the provision oI human services. Thus a social development program might
simply seek to Iacilitate people in the community talking to each other and interacting more in their
everyday lives. Such community development is less goal-directed, at least in the initial stages,
although speciIic service goals may subsequently develop out oI the interaction. Many community
workers will see this as an important part oI their role, in addition to the work Ior which they are
Iormally employed.
The community worker who lives in a community, simply trying to bring people closer together in
a stronger experience oI community interaction, is adopting such a role. There are many examples oI
such work (Ior an outstanding example see O`Regan & O`Connor 1989), where what begins as
simply an experience oI community living can end up providing a Iocal point Ior a wide variety oI
human interactions, with signiIicant political, economic and social consequences Ior the quality oI
community liIe.
With social animation the role oI the community worker is more one oI catalyst, simply aiming to
bring people together and to help them unlock their potential Ior an experience oI community and Ior
action. Community work concentrates on process rather than outcome, on the assumption that iI the
process is sound (and based on inclusive, non-violent and aIIirming principles), outcomes will be
achieved based on the genuine needs and aspirations oI the people concerned. Consciousness-raising,
dialogical relationships and critically reIlective practice (discussed in other chapters) are
particularly important in such an approach to community work. Many community workers, whatever
might be their Iormal employment, will spend time networking, introducing people to each other,
motivating and generally supporting and enabling community processes. Again, this mode oI practice
is relevant to other aspects oI community development, discussed below.
Economic development
The globalisation oI the economy, under the inIluence oI neo-liberalism and the power oI global
capital, has resulted in increasing numbers oI people Ieeling that the mainstream economy is no longer
meeting their needs. This is seen in high levels oI unemployment in many communities, boosted by the
hidden unemployed; namely those who are not counted in the oIIicial statistics, who would like to
have some kind oI paid work, or who have only casual part-time employment and would like more. It
is also seen in the growing numbers oI people in poverty, reIlected not merely in oIIicial poverty-line
statistics but also in the number dependent on emergency relieI in one Iorm or another (Iood vouchers,
emergency cash, Iood banks etc). Whole communities can become economically disadvantaged, as
industry relocates Iollowing the logic oI the global market and Iree trade`, leaving behind closed
Iactories, lost jobs, devastated communities and personal despair; conventional economics does not
normally measure these personal and social costs; but even iI it does, industry is not required to take
them into account. Even where industry has not relocated and there is still moderate local
employment, much oI the proIit (or, in Marxist terms, surplus value) is immediately taken out oI the
local community and may be moved halIway around the world, maintaining low living standards Ior
workers and their Iamilies. These mechanisms are justiIied by the rhetoric oI economic rationalism
and neo-liberalism reducing deIicits, increasing competitiveness, Iree trade, levelling the playing
Iield, wealth creation and so on. The problem with this perspective is that the needs oI individuals,
Iamilies and communities are eIIectively sacriIiced in the interests oI global capital (Ior a Iurther
analysis see KempI 2009, Jeter 2009, Therborn 2006, Panitch & Gindin 2012, Castells Caraça &
Cardoso 2012).
From a community development perspective, the response to this economic crisis is to develop an
alternative approach that seeks to relocate economic activity within the community, to work towards
the community`s beneIit, to revitalise the local community and to improve the quality oI liIe. The
current economic crisis has Iorced increasing numbers oI people and communities to seek such
alternatives, in the realisation that the mainstream economy is no longer doing a very eIIective job oI
meeting their needs hence the heightened interest in community economic development (Boulet
2009, Shuman 2012, Tasch 2008, Hallsmith & Lietaer 2011, Eisenstein 2011, Honeywill 2006).
Community economic development can take a variety oI Iorms, but these can be grouped into two
categories (see Iigure 10.3, overleaI). The Iirst, the more conservative approach, seeks to develop
community economic activity largely within conventional parameters, while the second, the more
radical approach, seeks to develop an alternative community-based economics.
Figure 10.3 Community economic development
Conservative community economic development
Attracting industry
The more conservative approach to community economic development seeks to Iind new ways in
which the community can more eIIectively participate in the mainstream economy, by taking local
initiatives. At its most conservative, this involves seeking to attract new industry to the locality by
providing a good environment Ior investment. Persuading a Iirm to locate a new plant in the
community, Ior example, can provide direct jobs and also allows opportunity Ior more jobs in local
service industries. In order to attract this new industry, the local community may need to seek
assistance Irom a central authority in providing inIrastructure (roads, railway etc), and may need to
make other generous oIIers: Ior example the local council may make a land grant to the new industry,
or allow it concessions on local rates.
The problem with such an approach is that industry is increasingly mobile, Iollowing the dictates
oI the market, and there can be no guarantee that the new industry will remain in the local community
or that the proIits will be invested locally. In order to attract the industry in the Iirst place, the local
community, Iacing competition Irom other communities, may have had to oIIer such generous
concessions that the nett community beneIit was minimal. Once the industry is established, it may seek
to wring even more concessions Irom the community on the threat oI closure or withdrawal, and the
ultimate economic beneIit to the community could be even Iurther reduced (while, depending on the
nature oI the industry, the environmental impact may be great). This strategy is, in Iact, seeking to
solve the community`s economic problems by relying on the same economic system that has caused
them in the Iirst place. In many cases its beneIits are likely to be limited, short term and illusory.
Initiating local industry
There is more potential in using local resources, initiative and expertise to develop a new locally
based industry, which will be owned and operated by people in the local community. Many local
community economic development programs take this Iorm, and they can be successIul in regenerating
economic activity and pride in local achievements. This involves taking an inventory oI local
resources, talents, interests and expertise, together with an assessment oI the natural advantages oI the
particular locality, then deciding what kind oI new industries might succeed. Local people who have
ideas Ior new businesses can be helped to turn their vision into reality with some Iinancial assistance
(e.g. Irom local government) and with advice on how to run a small business. There are now many
successIul examples oI such community economic development, especially in rural areas, where
dynamic leadership Irom local government and the community has resulted in the establishment oI a
number oI small businesses as diverse as popcorn-making, Iurniture restoring, wildIlower growing,
wine-making and tourism, giving the community both an economic liIt and a sense oI achievement and
solidarity. This can be accomplished with relatively little expenditure, by assessing the resources
available in the region and acting as a catalyst to turn ideas into action (Shuman 2012, Hallsmith &
Lietaer 2011).
Although this kind oI community economic development has been successIul, some cautionary
points need to be made. Such initiatives are still relying on the mainstream economic system, which is
part oI the problem rather than part oI the solution. II a locally based industry becomes successIul, the
logic oI the system requires that it continue to grow, to compete with other businesses and expand to
other localities; iI too successIul, it is liable to be taken over or squeezed out by more powerIul
players. The beneIit to the local community will decline as this process continues; it may initially be
thought that the expansion oI the local industry is a beneIit to the local community, but in the longer
term this is not always the case. From the perspective oI this book, it is essential that such initiatives
remain essentially local and community-based and are not seduced by the lure oI the beneIits oI
This is more likely to be achievable iI the local industry has a clear local identity (e.g. a craIt
industry based on local culture and tradition), or iI an industry can take advantage oI uniquely local
Ieatures (e.g. a restaurant in a picturesque location, or tourist projects taking advantage oI local
heritage areas). Such projects are likely to remain more genuinely community-based than is the
establishment oI a business that might just as well be anywhere.
At this point it is important to consider the place oI tourism in community economic development.
Communities Iaced with economic crisis, the closure oI local industry and high unemployment will
oIten look to the potential oI tourism, especially iI they happen to be located in a region likely to
attract tourists by reason oI its landscape, history or proximity to potential attractions. Promoting
tourism can be an attractive alternative: it is a potential source oI income (to which there can seem to
be no limits), it is a clean industry that does not pollute, it can support a variety oI occupations, it can
bring beneIits to a variety oI businesses creating many jobs, it can put the community on the map` and
so on. Hence many communities have attempted to solve their economic problems by creating tourist
councils and seeking to create a tourist market or to expand an already existing one. The aims oI such
a tourist promotion strategy oI economic development are: (1) to attract more tourists to the
community, either as a primary destination or en route to somewhere else; (2) to encourage them to
stay as long as possible in the locality (the longer they stay the more money they will spend); and (3)
to persuade them to spend as much money as possible while they are there.
Tourism can sound like an attractive option, but communities considering such a strategy should do
so with caution, because Irom a community perspective it presents major problems. Tourism may not
be as secure an economic Iuture as it might seem. With so many areas courting the tourist dollar there
could easily develop a problem oI insuIIicient demand; there are, aIter all, only so many tourists to go
around, and hard economic times mean that there will in Iuture be Iewer tourists than the more
optimistic might predict, and those tourists will be likely to have less spare money to spend. For
example a recession in the Japanese or Chinese economy could, Ior many popular tourist destinations,
mean an economic crisis over which local people would have no control.
More signiIicantly, tourism can have a disastrous eIIect on the Iabric oI the community itselI, and
rather than being the saviour oI the local community tourism can be the monster that destroys it. The
tourist industry will inevitably have an exploitative relationship with tourists, as the aim is to relieve
them oI as much money as possible. Being courteous, Iriendly and helpIul to tourists is done Ior
economic beneIit, rather than because oI the intrinsic value oI such interactions. It is Ior the most part
not a case oI being genuinely proud oI one`s local community, culture, heritage or natural
surroundings and wishing to share these with visitors, but rather a case oI using these to proIit at the
expense oI others. In doing so, not only does one enter into an exploitative relationship with the
tourist but also the local culture, heritage and environment themselves become instrumental in
extracting proIits, rather than having value in their own right. The most positive Ieatures oI the
community become commodiIied and packaged Ior tourist consumption, which strikes at the very
heart oI what made these things special in the Iirst place. A virile local culture is transIormed into the
sterile artiIiciality oI a museum, with such phenomena as period costume, restored pioneer villages
(inevitably in a very sanitised Iorm), careIully graded paths to where scenic wonders can be seen
Irom behind saIety Iences, and old churches or cathedrals that can no longer be used Ior worship
because oI the constant Ilow oI tourists. Indeed any unique local culture must be careIully separated
Irom the real world in which the tourist actually lives, as the tourist industry requires standards oI
hospitality that eIIectively mean that tourists must be able to stay in a sanitised hotel environment
wherever they are in the world. II a community does not provide this homogenised cultural
experience Ior the mainstream tourist, who presumably wants to see exotic sights but to eat and sleep
in Iamiliar surroundings, then the package tours and the busloads oI wealthy visitors with bulging
wallets will not materialise. UnIortunately, the sort oI tourists who might actually appreciate visiting
and experiencing a real community and an unspoiled natural environment are likely to be the ones
who do not tend to spend much money, and so Irom an economic point oI view are not as useIul.
The economic beneIits oI tourism thereIore may be achievable only at enormous social cost. This
is especially true in communities involved in big league` tourism, where large-scale private
investment is attracted Irom outside but where services to the actual local community are meagre in
comparison to the services provided to the tourists. Indeed it is an axiom oI tourism that the
community`s needs must take second place to the needs oI the tourists and the tourist industry, and this
is a high price to pay Ior economic development. These Iactors need to be careIully considered by
any community considering a tourist-led recovery, and by any community worker involved in
community economic development.
Radical community economic development
The above approach to community economic development seeks to improve the economy oI the
community by helping it to operate more eIIectively within the existing economic order. The analysis
oI the earlier chapters, however, suggests that the existing economic order is part oI the problem, and
is unsustainable in the long term (or even Iairly short term). The nature oI the existing order is such
that not all communities can hope to beneIit Irom such a strategy; those that win will do so at the
expense oI others, because oI the essentially competitive nature oI the market.
A more radical approach to community economic development involves attempting to establish an
alternative, locally based economy (Cortese 2011, Hallsmith & Lietaer 2011, Shuman 2012, Benello
1997). This is in line with the perspective oI chapter 5, embodying the principle oI autonomy. It
requires a community to be more dependent on its own resources, and suggests that conventional
economic wisdom oIten results in these resources being unrecognised and underutilised. It also
ensures that the surplus value Irom local productivity remains in the community where it was created,
rather than being exported.
The establishment oI cooperatives is one way in which strong local economic alternatives can be
initiated, and cooperatives, as discussed in chapter 7, have proven eIIective in various locations.
Cooperatives also have the potential to strengthen rather than weaken community solidarity, and the
experience oI many cooperatives bears this out (Craig 1993, Nadeau 1996).
A particularly interesting example oI the strengths oI cooperatives is in the Cape Breton region oI
Nova Scotia, where there has been a long history oI cooperative structures, initiated largely by the
work oI the extension department oI St Francis Xavier University and its director, Father Moses
Coady, in the 1920s and 1930s (Melnyk 1985, Macleod 1991). These eIIorts were aimed at
counteracting economic hardship, such as the 1930s depression, but have resulted in a strong
cooperative tradition and many cooperative structures that leave the people oI the region in a better
position to tackle their present economic problems (caused by the collapse oI the Iishing and steel
industries). This is a good example oI the potential long-term beneIits oI alternative community
economic development; Father Coady`s work had implications well beyond the immediate economic
crisis Iacing communities in Cape Breton at the time.
There has been worldwide interest in the worker cooperatives oI Mondragon (Morrison 1991,
Whyte & Whyte 1988), and it appears that, at least in some circumstances, cooperatives do represent
a viable alternative to more conventional economic structures. Although there are certain Iundamental
principles oI cooperatives (see chapter 7), they can take many diIIerent Iorms, depending on local
needs and local culture. As with all community development, the imposition oI a detailed plan oI
how to do it` is almost bound to Iail, as each community needs to work out its own Iorm oI
cooperative to suit its unique situation.
Community banks and credit unions
Large national or transnational banks are an important part oI the global economic system, and
inevitably operate primarily in the interests oI global capital (iI they were to attempt otherwise they
would not survive at national or global level). Hence they are not always well placed to meet the
needs oI a local community and its citizens. Indeed, they provide an important mechanism Ior the
export oI proIits Irom the local community and the control oI the local economy by external Iorces. In
recognition oI this, some community initiatives have established local banking structures so that the
community can have more control over its economy. This allows Ior local community control over,
Ior example, what kind oI businesses should receive loans, the rescheduling oI mortgages Ior those
unable to pay and interest rates on investments.
Credit unions are perhaps the commonest Iorm oI community banking. A credit union is simply a
group oI people who agree to invest their money together and to make loans to members. It operates
like a local, small-scale, community-owned bank. Some credit unions, however, have grown so large
that they have lost the characteristics oI a small organisation, namely eIIective community or
membership control and operation primarily in the interests oI the membership. This is even more so
with building societies, which also started Irom a community base to provide people with an
alternative mechanism Ior saving Ior and buying a home; many building societies have become
indistinguishable Irom the major banks, and some have changed their names accordingly.
The lesson to be learned Irom this is that in establishing a community bank or credit union it is
essential to ensure that its community base is maintained, and that it is unable to grow and join the
national or international economies but remains a central Ieature oI the local economy. II this can be
saIeguarded, such localised banking structures can be a very important component oI alternative
economic development.
Micro-finance and micro-credit
The best-known exponent oI micro-credit has been the Grameen Bank oI Bangladesh. However, it is
just one oI many micro-Iinance or micro-credit programs operating in many parts oI the world
(Schreiner & Woller 2003, Schmidt & Koldinski 2007). The idea is that a small loan, oI perhaps only
a Iew hundred dollars or even less, could be all that someone needs to bring themselves out oI
poverty; the loan might be used to buy equipment to set up a small business, Ior example. Micro-
credit is simply the giving oI a small individual loan, while micro-Iinance can also involve small
loans to communities Ior collective projects, and the provision oI other Iinancial services such as
small business advice. OIten it is done within a community context, so that community processes are
used to support and monitor the person receiving the loan. The conventional approach to micro-credit
has been to make loans to women, on the grounds Iirst that women are particularly likely to
experience poverty than men, and second that experience has shown that women are more likely to
repay their loans on time. In this way micro-credit seeks to help reverse gender disadvantage in
relation to Iinancial resources. Micro-Iinance schemes certainly have the potential to make signiIicant
changes in the lives oI people and in communities.
However, like other measures, it is oIten the case that too much has been expected oI micro-
Iinance; it is not a miracle solution to the problem oI poverty, but rather one initiative that in many
cases can help. There is evidence to suggest that micro-credit by itselI is oI limited use; it needs to be
accompanied by a range oI other measures, such as Iinancial advice, community support and
inIrastructure support, otherwise it can lead to Iailure (Mahajan 2005). There is no point in setting
someone up with a loan unless they also have access to the necessary resources, expertise, advice and
support to make a success oI a small business venture.
Another problem with micro-Iinance is that in many cases it has ceased to be a community-based
initiative and has been taken over by large banks and Iinancial institutions, which have used it to
increase their proIits and improve their brand reputation, at the expense oI the people the scheme is
supposed to help. This also detracts Irom the value oI the scheme, and moves it into the realm oI
conservative economic development as discussed above. These problems should not be taken as a
reason to abandon micro-Iinance, but rather to ensure that it is used appropriately, in conjunction with
other services and anti-poverty measures, and is not seen as the simple miracle cure.
Local currency schemes
Local currency schemes have oIten been reIerred to as LETS schemes. The name LETS is applied to
community-based schemes that create an alternative community-based currency. There is some
conIusion about what the letters stand Ior: local employment and trading scheme, local energy transIer
scheme, local exchange and trading system and so on. In other places, diIIerent terminology is uses,
such as the term green dollar in Aotearoa.
In times oI economic crisis, there is generally an increase in the inIormal economy or the barter
system, whereby people will exchange goods and services without money changing hands. There is
always some level oI such activity, much to the annoyance oI conventional economists, who cannot
count it in the gross domestic product, and oI politicians and treasury oIIicials, who cannot tax it.
Conventional modernist economic wisdom Irowns on the inIormal economy, but Irom a community
development perspective it can be understood in a diIIerent light. II the Iormal economy is Iailing
increasing numbers oI people, the use oI the inIormal economy can be seen as a way Ior people to
regain control over economic activity, and to devise an economic system that does meet their needs.
The inIormal economy can be an indication oI a community`s strength. OI course some parts oI the
inIormal economy are less desirable, such as bribery and corruption, protection rackets and so on, but
here we are concerned with the more positive and developmental aspects oI the inIormal economy,
built around cooperation and mutual aid.
Local currency schemes seek to Iormalise the local exchange economy, by creating a community
currency. Members oI the scheme (who could be individuals or local businesses) have accounts that
are kept at a central point, and a directory oI the services or products that members are oIIering is
distributed regularly among the membership. A member wanting to purchase a service or product
contacts the other member direct and arranges the transaction, aIter which the appropriate amount in
green dollars` (or whatever local name is being used) is transIerred Irom the account oI the
purchasing member to the account oI the provider. There are several possible variations on the basic
scheme: sometimes there are actual tokens or alternative coins that change hands, sometimes payment
is made partly in hard currency. Proponents oI such schemes do not necessarily see themselves as tax
evaders, and are oIten happy to make arrangements with the taxation authorities Ior the appropriate
collection oI taxes (this is one reason Ior businesses oIten accepting only part-payment in local
currency). (For more details about the operation oI LETS and similar schemes, see Shuman 2012 and
Hallsmith & Lietaer 2011.)
There are many potential advantages to local currency schemes. They enable people to engage in
economic transactions even iI they do not have a regular income. They value and reward any
contribution people can make to the community, not simply the skills that are valued in the traditional
labour market. People can buy needed goods and services even iI they have no money. The system has
the potential to strengthen community solidarity and provide an economic Iocus Ior community
interaction. And the proIits Irom economic activity stay in the local community.
There is no doubt that LETS and similar schemes represent a very signiIicant development and can
provide the basis oI an alternative community-based economy. They are certainly worth serious
exploration by any community worker or community group interested in alternative economic
development, and the widespread establishment oI such schemes would represent an important
challenge to the mainstream economy. The general enthusiasm about LETS in some quarters,
however, has led to an assumption that LETS is the answer to everything, which it is not. It can
represent an important component oI alternative community development, but expecting it to solve all
oI a community`s problems is to Iall into the trap oI linear thinking, seeking a single answer and
ignoring the other aspects oI the complexity oI community development. There are, in Iact, some
signiIicant questions that need to be raised about LETS and about the other Iorms oI alternative
economic development outlined in this section.
Issues and problems
A major question concerning community banks, cooperatives, credit unions, micro-Iinance schemes
and local currency schemes must be their adequacy at coping with issues oI structural inequality, such
as class, gender and race/ethnicity. There is a danger oI establishing alternative systems that
challenge the existing economic order and provide alternatives but do so primarily Ior articulate
white males and thereIore perpetuate oppressive structures at community level. There is nothing
inherent in the schemes themselves that means this will necessarily be the case but, as pointed out in
chapter 3, unless such issues are explicitly addressed, social and economic structures will tend to
accept and reinIorce the existing Iorms oI structural oppression. Some oI the most enthusiastic
supporters oI LETS, Ior example, take little account oI such Iactors and, although gender issues have
been addressed in many local currency schemes, there is oIten limited participation by people Irom
cultural and ethnic minorities. It is also sometimes the case that many oI the services traded in such
schemes would be seen as marginal by many people, and reIlect the interests oI Green trendies`
rather than the population at large; when a listing oI services available through a LETS scheme is
dominated by reIlexology, tarot readings, herb Iarms, aromatherapy and essential oils, one must
question its relevance to the broader community and the possibility oI LETS being exclusive rather
than inclusive (whatever one may think oI the value oI the services traded). OI course, many local
currency schemes are not like this, but the critical point is that Ior them to be acceptable within the
community development perspective oI this book, they must explicitly address such issues oI
From a socialist perspective, many oI these community-based economic schemes are open to
question. II one accepts the Marxist position that the structures and relations oI capitalism are the
Iundamental problem, little will be solved by replacing the large-scale structures oI capitalism with
smaller-scale versions oI the same thing; they will simply perpetuate domination, inequality and
exploitation on a community level rather than on a larger scale. They do not challenge the basic
structures oI capitalism, and thereIore become part oI the hegemony maintaining the existing order.
This criticism is not as signiIicant Ior cooperatives: the cooperative can be a mechanism Ior changing
the ownership and control oI the means oI production, and has been an important component oI
socialist programs. Local currency schemes, however, might be considered a reaIIirmation oI the
primacy oI the market, which Irom a socialist perspective is, to say the least, a cause Ior concern.
From a Green perspective this need not be such a proIound objection. II one accepts that the issue
oI scale is the major problem, then the mechanism oI the market is quite acceptable as long as it is
maintained at a human scale. Indeed, markets are a necessary and important mechanism Ior the
distribution oI goods and services, and some Iorm oI market is essential iI we are to live in a
collective society with a division oI labour. Markets work well when thay are embedded in
community and operate at community level, reIlecting community values. It is when they are taken to a
larger level, out oI community control, that they create massive inequalities and inequities, and the
neo-liberal obsession with markets as the answer to everything creates many problems. From this
perspective the problem with big business is not that it is business, but that it is big. Indeed, some
Iorm oI localised market transaction and entrepreneurship is probably unavoidable, and a socialist
objection to the local market can be seen as unrealistic.
Rather than attempting to resolve this ideological issue here, it is simply worth noting that local
economic schemes can be problematic, in that they raise signiIicant ideological issues. This is not to
say they should not be pursued, but rather that they should not be regarded as a magic solution to all
community problems, and that they should be implemented only in the context oI a wider analysis and
other community development initiatives that address Iundamental structural issues.
Political development
Much oI the literature on community work or community organisation has been concerned essentially
with political development. This is closely related to the notion oI empowerment, which was
discussed at some length in chapter 3, because political development is essentially about issues oI
power. In order to undertake a program oI political development, it is necessary to locate the program
within an analysis oI power, both at the macro-level, in terms oI structures and discourses oI
inequality or oppression, and at the more local level. Hence it is important to analyse power within
the community itselI, looking at how power is distributed and how it is maintained and exercised.
This will, to some extent, vary Irom community to community, although it is likely to reIlect the
broader structural inequalities oI class, gender and race/ethnicity, as well as local Iactors.
Altering the distribution oI power within a community so that it can be more equitably shared is
thereIore one goal oI political development. The other goal is to empower that community to operate
more eIIectively within the wider arena. Just as people can be disempowered within their
communities, communities can be disempowered within the broader society. Hence the analysis oI
power has to include an analysis oI the power oI the community itselI, relative to other communities
and to other institutions. It is the relative lack oI power oI communities that lies at the heart oI the
need Ior community development, and political development is an essential component oI a
community development strategy.
Political development thereIore seeks to enhance a community`s capacity to operate in the
political arena, and is aimed at increasing the power both oI the community as a whole in its relation
to the wider society, and oI individuals and groups within the community to contribute to community
processes, activities and decisions. There are two arenas oI political development, which can be
designated as internal and external. Within these two arenas there are three key processes oI political
development: consciousness-raising, organising and social action (see Iigure 10.4).
Figure 10.4 Political development
Internal political development
Internal political development is concerned with the processes oI participation and decision-making
within the community. It seeks to maximise the eIIective participation by community members, and
this is achieved through two oI the three key political development processes: consciousness-raising
and organising.
Consciousness-raising was discussed at some length in chapter 7, so it need not be considered in
detail here. Consciousness-raising applies to all aspects oI community development, but it is perhaps
particularly signiIicant in relation to internal political development, covered in this section. The
ability to link the personal and the political, and to help people to share their experiences and reIlect
on their situation in such a way that it opens up the possibilities Ior action, is oI major importance in
political development; indeed eIIective political development at community level cannot proceed
without it.
Organising in the community
The other aspect oI internal political development is the way in which the community organises itselI
in order to deal with its problems and, in the longer term, to develop alternative and autonomous
structures oI the type envisaged in chapter 5. There is nothing about localisation and community
control that necessarily implies that procedures will be democratic and that women and men oI
diIIerent cultural, ethnic and class backgrounds will be able to participate equally in community
In order to achieve such participation, it is oIten necessary to redeIine the traditional decision-
making processes, such as Iormal meeting procedure. Conventional procedures can be very alienating
and excluding, especially Ior people who are not accustomed to working in that way; this is
especially a problem Ior Indigenous People, whose culture embodies diIIerent Iorms oI decision-
making based on consensus (see chapter 4). In order to be more inclusive, alternative Iorms oI
decision-making could be adopted, most notably consensus-oriented processes, where discussion
will continue until not just a majority but everybody is satisIied with the result. There are ways to
limit the domination oI particular people: Ior example, by allowing each person the right to speak
only twice in the course oI a discussion. Another way is to ensure that a lot oI inIormal discussion has
taken place beIore the actual decision-making meeting, so that people have had time to consider the
issues and talk it through in their own way and in their own time. Other alternatives include allowing
Ior periods oI silence so that people can think through an issue, allowing people to write or draw
their ideas on butcher`s paper, then allowing others to add to them, or discussing an issue with the
deliberate aim oI not making a decision that day to give people time to think and talk it over among
themselves (Gastil 1993).
At a more Iormal level, there are possibilities such as rotating the role oI Iacilitator or chair
(naming that role as Iacilitator` can be an important symbolic gesture), ensuring that everyone is able
to come to a meeting rather than relying on elected representatives, and so on. Care in planning the
timing and location oI meetings, and the making oI adequate transport and childcare arrangements, are
also critical in ensuring maximum participation. Many oI these possibilities will in all likelihood
emerge as a result oI an initial consciousness-raising process, and hence the two aspects oI internal
political development are linked.
II a more community-based system is to replace traditional welIare state structures, as was
suggested in chapter 1, local communities will have to assume extra responsibility Ior the planning,
organisation and delivery oI their own human services, such as health, education, Iinancial assistance
and care oI people with special needs. To do this, local management structures will need to be
established, and they will need to be integrated into an overall Iorm oI community governance. In
some areas existing local government structures can provide a good basis Ior such a development, but
even in such locations a community will need to come to terms with how it manages its own aIIairs.
This approach requires the active participation oI a large number oI people iI it is to work
eIIectively, and such participation would be seen as one oI the obligations oI citizenship in a society
based on community-level structures. Engaging citizens in the building oI these structures, and
ensuring that broad-based participation is not only possible but also encouraged, is a major role Ior a
community worker.
External political development
External political development reIers to empowerment oI the community in its interactions with the
wider social and political environment. This is more commonly reIerred to as social action, which
has been seen as an important component oI community work. However, Irom a developmental
perspective, the empowering oI a community to take such action is as important as the action itselI.
Although consciousness-raising, as discussed above, is an important precondition oI such
empowerment, the main community development Iocus in external political development is on
organising and social action.
Organising for social action
By contrast with the internal organising discussed in the previous section, organising in the external
context eIIectively means organising Ior social action. It involves the community in establishing
structures that will enable it to operate in an inclusive, democratic manner ensuring maximum
participation and assist in increasing its eIIective power in the wider arena.
These two aims can sometimes be in conIlict. An important principle oI organising Ior social
action is discipline: people must not be allowed to do their own thing`, but must act in accordance
with the agreed plan oI action. This can conIlict with the aim oI maximum participation and selI-
determination, which is important in internal political development, and in community development
more generally. When a community delegation is meeting a political leader, Ior example, it is
important that there be selected spokespersons (or oIten only one spokesperson), who should be the
most articulate and IorceIul people available and the people most likely to inIluence the politician;
issues oI gender, race and so on will take second place to political objectives in the selection oI the
people to speak. Even iI the politician is sensitive to such issues, and a gender and race balance is
included among the spokespersons, this is done as a tactical decision and is not one based on
principle. In an internal community meeting, one might want to encourage everyone to speak when
they Ieel like it, but in a delegation or public meeting, where discipline is essential, this could be
Because oI such potential conIlicts, the development oI a political strategy Ior use in the external
arena is a critical process. Ideally, one would seek to use the more inclusive developmental
structures that have been established within a community to determine external strategy and tactics.
Thus the decision that only certain people will speak in a delegation, that only speciIic people will
try to get themselves arrested by lying in Iront oI a bulldozer, or that only certain people will speak to
the media, is one that is taken and owned by the whole community.
Such conIlicts reIlect the diIIiculty oI operating in a wider competitive and conIlictual system
while seeking to operate through principles oI non-violence, consensus and cooperation (see chapter
7). This is a major dilemma Ior a community worker, and indeed must be dealt with at the community
level. Sometimes, indeed, it is better not to take the pragmatic political option but to remain true to
the principles oI consensus, non-violence and cooperation in the wider arena, as this itselI can be a
powerIul statement. It may be that particular incidents, such as a delegation meeting, are not as
eIIective as one would like, but the overall impact may be greater.
This approach was used with devastating eIIect by Gandhi (1942), and a Iirm adherence to
principles oI non-violence would suggest that in the long term one`s ends are better served by
retaining such principles in all actions, rather than making a pragmatic compromise. In practice,
however, most communities and community workers will Iind themselves making some compromises,
and the critical question is when to compromise on tactics and when to hold Iirm to process
principles. This will be answered diIIerently by diIIerent workers in diIIerent situations, but it will
never be an easy or straightIorward decision.
Organising Ior external action is essentially a practical matter oI getting things done, and helping
the community to get itselI organised to implement eIIective action plans. Small, task-centred groups
or cells are oIten the most eIIective Iorm oI organisation (e.g. one Ior media relations, one Ior legal
issues, one Ior publicity material, one Ior letter-writing and petitions, one Ior lobbying politicians,
one Ior logistical support and one Ior recruiting membership). These groups would report to a
coordinating group or collective, which may be the community as a whole or some smaller group
directly responsible to the community in some way. There are manuals or handbooks available with
suggestions oI how this could be achieved, but there is no single right way to do it, and each
community needs to make its own decisions based on its unique circumstances.
Social action
The goal oI this sort oI community organising is the achievement oI some Iorm oI change in the
external environment: Ior example, stopping a Ireeway or high-rise development, gaining
representation on a particular authority, achieving better public transport, reducing violence in
television programs, preserving the natural environment or stopping the closure oI a local industry.
This commonly involves some Iorm oI social action and has long been seen as a critical component in
community work.
The radical community work movement oI the 1970s, relying heavily on the writings and Iilms oI
Saul Alinsky (1969, 1971), tended to see social action as perhaps the only legitimate Iorm oI
community work, and community work became synonymous with organising action campaigns Ior
radical social change. This limited perception led to the rejection oI other Iorms oI community work
as not radical`, and thereIore conservative and not worth doing. Although such campaigning is
clearly important, community work suIIered Irom this limited perception oI its nature and scope.
More recent approaches have sought to incorporate social action within a broader context oI
community development; it is simply one aspect oI developmental work among many. It is also
important to emphasise that other Iorms oI community work can be radical and challenge the existing
order, while an approach oI action Ior action`s sake` can in Iact be quite conservative. Alinsky,
indeed, can be criticised Ior his inherent conservatism, in that he simply helped certain disadvantaged
groups to operate more eIIectively within the existing order rather than challenging that order itselI
(see chapter 7).
Social action campaigns, however, remain an important part oI community development, and can
be seen as an expression oI broader social and political aspirations and oI social movements. Such
campaigns can cover a wide variety oI issues, and incorporate a variety oI strategies Ior change. To
be successIul, the selection and development oI campaigning strategies must arise Irom a careIul
analysis oI the social, political and cultural context, and must result Irom a developmental process
within the community concerned rather than being imposed Irom outside. There are a number oI
source books that describe speciIic community action campaigns (e.g. Ingamells et al. 2009, Butcher
et al. 2007, Green 2012, Sitrin 2012, Featherstone 2012, Westoby & Shevallar 2012, Sen 2003).
These can be used to provide some creative ideas, but simply copying somebody else`s techniques is
almost bound to Iail; what worked Ior Alinsky in Chicago or Ior Bob Brown in Tasmania is unlikely
to work in a diIIerent place, time and culture. At a more general level, however, there are some basic
principles that can be applied to social action and are common to other aspects oI community work
practice. These will be considered in chapter 12.
11 Community development: Cultural, environmental, spiritual,
personal and survival
I n chapter 10 the social, economic and political components oI community development were
discussed. This chapter deals with the remaining Iive components listed at the beginning oI chapter
10, namely cultural development, environmental development, spiritual development, personal
development and survival development.
Cultural development
The globalisation oI culture has Iollowed the same pattern as the globalisation oI the economy
(Niezen 2004, Adams 2002). A universal culture is emerging, propagated increasingly through global
media, which are largely controlled by, and work in the interests oI, global capital. Television,
music, architecture, Iood, drink, clothing, Iilm, sport and other Iorms oI recreation are becoming
increasingly (and, Ior many, depressingly) similar wherever in the world one happens to be. One is
never Iar Irom McDonald`s, Coca Cola, iTunes, Facebook, Western popular music, American
television extravaganzas or a pizza shop. One city is very much like another, hotels have become the
same the world over, and television, advertising and computer technology seem to work relentlessly
to bring about uniIormity.
In the Iace oI this globalisation oI culture it is very diIIicult Ior communities to preserve their own
unique local culture, yet this is a critical component oI community development. The principle oI
diversity requires that diversity oI culture be retained; it is culture that gives people that critical sense
oI identity and belonging, so cultural development is oI paramount importance Ior community.
Not only is culture becoming globalised, it is also becoming increasingly commodiIied. Cultural
activity becomes something that is produced, packaged, bought and sold, rather than something that is
the property oI the whole community and in which people are Iree to participate. Conventional
analysis sees culture as split across class divisions, into so-called high culture and popular culture,
but both are inIluenced by this process. Music, drama, art and sport are becoming activities that are
done by the Iew Ior the consumption oI the many, rather than being widely participatory. Instead oI
making music, we listen to the elite perIormers on our hi-Ii systems or through our headphones.
Instead oI playing sport we watch it on television. Instead oI acting, we watch a movie. Even iI we go
to concerts, theatre or sport, our role is as passive and paying consumers; any attempt to participate in
more than the prescribed acceptable ways (such as polite applause) is likely to lead to our Iorcible
ejection Irom the event. More oIten, through technology, the activity itselI will be Iar removed Irom
our own reality, in both time and place, and our participation is non-existent. These are activities that
are reserved Ior the elite proIessionals; most oI us are just not good enough, and our occasional
amateur eIIorts are looked on with at best tolerance and at worst scorn. We become embarrassed and
are not inclined to continue to participate. The message is that such things are really the domain oI the
proIessional, and our role is primarily the passive one oI consumer oI the packaged product.
This is a historically recent phenomenon. Until the twentieth century, such cultural activities were
largely local and highly participatory, and regional diIIerences were signiIicant and important. This
cultural diversity helped to provide a sense oI identity and community, and the globalisation and
commodiIication oI culture is an important part oI the loss oI community that was so widely
experienced in the twentieth century. Cultural development is thereIore an important component oI a
community development approach.
Within the context oI community development, cultural development has Iour components (see
Iigure 11.1): preserving and valuing local culture, preserving and valuing Indigenous culture, cultural
diversity and participatory culture.
Figure 11.1 Cultural development
Preserving and valuing local culture
Local cultural traditions are an important part oI a sense oI community, and help to provide a
community with a sense oI identity. Community development thereIore will oIten seek to identiIy the
important elements oI the local culture and to preserve them. These might include local history and
heritage, locally based craIts, local Ioods or other products, and in some cases local languages.
Communities may have particular traditions, such as local Iestivals or Iairs, a town band, a reputation
Ior skill in Iootball or links to a particular ethnic community.
External inIluences can eIIectively break down these local cultural traditions, and retaining them
requires a deliberate community strategy. As with other aspects oI community development, there can
be no simple recipe oI how this can be achieved. The initiative must come Irom the community itselI,
and the way in which this will be done will vary Irom community to community, according to local
conditions, culture, economics and so on. The community needs to identiIy what are the unique or
signiIicant components oI its cultural heritage, and to determine which oI these are worth preserving.
Then a plan can be established as to how this might be accomplished, through Ior example activities
at the local school or community centre, establishing a local industry based on local culture, Iestivals,
publications, local radio, establishing a website or making a video. The most eIIective plan will be
one that involves many members oI the community, rather than just a small group or an elite, and one
that integrates the cultural traditions within the mainstream liIe oI the community, rather than setting it
Care must be taken that this Iorm oI cultural development does not create an artiIicial museum`
approach to local culture, which sets the traditional culture aside Irom day-to-day reality and
maintains it in a static rather than a dynamic Iorm, as an oddity to be observed rather than as a way oI
liIe. The separate pioneer village` or annual Iolk-dancing Iestival, Ior example, can be so Iar
removed Irom local community liIe that it in Iact separates the community Irom its cultural heritage,
rather than the reverse. As discussed in chapter 10, a local tourist industry can easily reinIorce such
an artiIicial separation. For cultural development to be eIIective within a wider community
development context, it must not be separated in this way but must be seen as a real part oI community
liIe. II this is achieved, the local cultural tradition can become a Iocal point Ior social interaction,
community involvement and broad-based participation, and can become an important process in other
aspects oI community development, such as social development, economic development or political
Local cultural heritage can be emphasised in a variety oI community contexts. As an example, a
community health centre located in a community with a strong history oI organised labour and
working-class struggle through union solidarity might signiIy this with relevant wall posters, perhaps
emphasising the important contribution oI trade unions to occupational health and saIety. It might be
named in honour oI a local union pioneer. It might have direct links with local unions, through union
representation on its board oI management or through active participation in union aIIairs, particularly
those with a health Iocus. It might organise a good deal oI its health promotion work using union
structures. It might allow union-based groups to meet in the building, and so on. In all these ways, the
health centre would be helping to reaIIirm the signiIicance oI this aspect oI the local cultural
tradition, and to strengthen its identiIication in the community.
Not all local cultural traditions are worth preserving. For example, one would not want to
encourage a community with a tradition oI racism, domestic violence or alcoholism to perpetuate
these with pride and to protect them on the grounds that they are important local traditions giving
people a sense oI identity. Although cultural diversity is important, a cultural development strategy
must also be inIormed by the social justice principles outlined in chapter 3. This asserts the
importance oI Iundamental issues oI human rights, and the importance oI class, gender and
race/ethnicity, which in eIIect circumscribe the Ireedom oI relatively autonomous and decentralised
communities to develop as they wish. Such issues should be Iundamental to all community
development, and must not be lost sight oI in the interests oI cultural relativism and diversity. They
are essential in helping to determine which aspects oI a traditional community culture should be
strengthened and preserved as part oI the community development process.
Another potential problem with the valuing oI local cultural heritage is the danger oI exclusion. II
a community is proud oI its cultural traditions it is all too easy to be unwelcoming to the new arrival
Irom a diIIerent cultural background. A reIugee Iamily Ior example may Ieel unwelcome in a
community that is so Iocused on its own history and traditions as to be unable to accept others.
Barriers can thus be erected around the community, which can be even more excluding than the
physical barriers oI the gated communities created by private developers. Balancing cultural tradition
and heritage with the need Ior inclusion is a major challenge Ior community cultural development. It
can be easier iI there is a cultural tradition oI welcoming the stranger (as is the case with many
cultural groups), although usually this also requires strangers to respect and value the culture to which
they have come; many Indigenous groups, Ior example, have traditional protocols to enable this to
happen. As with many issues in community development, the answer lies in dialogue: creating the
space Ior people to talk to each other and learn Irom each other, in a two-way process based on
mutual respect.
Preserving and valuing Indigenous culture
Preserving and valuing the culture oI Indigenous People is a critical issue Ior community
development. Although it might be argued that Indigenous culture is simply a particular case oI local
culture as discussed above, the diIIerent dynamics surrounding Indigenous culture mean that it has to
be treated as a separate case. There are two principal reasons Ior this. One is the special claim that
Indigenous People have to the land and to their traditional community structures, which developed in
harmony with the land over a Iar longer period than that oI European colonisation (Diamond 2013,
Wallace 2009, Turner 2010). Community and the integrity oI traditional community are essential to
Indigenous cultural and spiritual survival; in this important sense the preservation oI traditional
culture is a more vital need Ior Indigenous People than Ior many others. The second reason is that a
good deal oI harm has been done and in many cases is still being done to Indigenous People in the
name oI community development (Mander & Tauli-Corpuz 2006), which has at times been simply a
euphemism Ior control, domination, colonialism, racism and the imposition oI dominant (usually
Western) cultural values and traditions at the expense oI those oI Indigenous People. Because
Indigenous People are oIten labelled as having a critical need Ior community development, yet at the
same time have been the victims oI community development, there is a major contradiction that needs
to be identiIied and thought through. While this contradiction exists Ior others as well, it is much
stronger and more polarised in the case oI Indigenous People, which makes community development
with Indigenous People a special case that deserves special treatment and careIul consideration.
There are, in practice, two diIIerent contexts Ior community development with Indigenous People.
One is the case oI Indigenous communities, where the community members are all or predominantly
Indigenous People and the community itselI is thus identiIied, and the other is the case oI Indigenous
People belonging to a community along with people oI other cultural backgrounds.
Indigenous communities
Community development with Indigenous communities makes sense only iI it is undertaken within
Indigenous cultural traditions. To attempt otherwise is to participate in the Iurther colonisation oI
Indigenous People, and to reinIorce structures and discourses oI domination. The issue oI colonialism
and colonialist practice has already been discussed in chapter 9, and some important themes oI the
Indigenous experience, Irom which community workers can learn, have been identiIied in chapter 4;
the paragraphs below should be read in conjunction with these earlier discussions.
The primary aim oI community development is to legitimise and strengthen Indigenous culture,
through an eIIective empowerment strategy that enables Indigenous People to have genuine control
over their own community and their own destiny. Indigenous People themselves must set the agenda
Ior development and have complete control over processes and structures. For this reason there are
limits to the eIIective and appropriate participation oI non-Indigenous community workers. Such
workers, although they may be genuinely sympathetic to the needs and aspirations oI Indigenous
People, nevertheless represent the dominant non-Indigenous culture, and are themselves part oI the
structures oI colonisation and oppression. They must always be aware that it is not their` community,
and that they will never Iully understand or appreciate the culture and traditions oI the people with
whom they are working.
This is not to say that there is no role Ior non-Indigenous community workers. Such workers, iI
they approach traditional culture with genuine humility, respect, goodwill and sensitivity, can make a
signiIicant contribution to the community development process in several ways. Indigenous People
are some oI the most oppressed, disadvantaged and powerless in modern society, and it is simply not
good enough Ior the dominant society and non-Indigenous community workers to ignore them, using as
an excuse It is really their struggle, and we should not be telling them what to do`. As part oI the
structures oI racist oppression, non-Indigenous community workers must be prepared to accept that it
is indeed their problem and that they have a responsibility to support Indigenous People in their
struggle to reverse these oppressive structures. A particularly important point here is the idea oI
working in solidarity (Featherstone 2012), as discussed in chapter 9. Working in solidarity means that
workers do not impose their own values or objectives, but rather seek to work alongside Indigenous
People, seeing their struggle as important, and indeed seeing that struggle as part oI the liberation oI
non-Indigenous People as well. An important part oI the philosophy oI non-violence (see chapter 7)
is that structures and discourses oI oppression oppress both oppressor and oppressed and that the
liberation oI the oppressed also liberates the oppressor.
Non-Indigenous community workers can sometimes, by their very presence, act as a catalyst Ior
community development as described in the previous chapter on social development. In a more
activist role, they can play an important part in helping Indigenous People with their political
struggle, by assisting them in developing their strategies Ior social action. OIten a community worker
will have a more extensive understanding oI the political processes oI mainstream society, which is
vitally important knowledge Ior Indigenous People. A signiIicant example is Hawke and Gallagher`s
account oI the Noonkanbah conIlict in Western Australia (1989); their role as eIIective political
advisers to the community was very important in helping Indigenous People to Iight Ior their land, but
it always remained the struggle oI Indigenous People themselves.
It is also important in such struggles Ior Indigenous People to know that they have the support oI
people and groups in the non-Indigenous community, and community workers can have a vital role in
demonstrating and organising such support. Church groups, such as the social justice units oI the
mainstream Christian denominations, have been particularly important in this respect.
Support Ior the struggle oI Indigenous People is critically important, yet it must be emphasised that
in the end it is the Indigenous People`s struggle, and non-Indigenous community workers and activists
should never seek to own that struggle or to see it as theirs. Ultimately, non-Indigenous community
workers are representatives oI the colonising culture and, with very Iew iI any exceptions, cannot
expect to become Iully identiIied with Indigenous People in their struggle against that oppression.
They can be supportive and can provide a good deal oI important assistance, but in the end it is
Indigenous People themselves who must provide that leadership (see also the discussion oI internal
and external community work in chapter 16).
Many oI the skills oI a community worker (see chapters 13 and 14) are those that Indigenous
People themselves will need iI they are to achieve successIul community development; hence
community workers have an important role to play in skill-sharing as part oI the empowerment
process. This, however, must not be done in such a way as to devalue the community work skills that
Indigenous People themselves have developed, and community workers have much to learn Irom the
wisdom and skills oI Indigenous People, as discussed in chapter 4. Skill-sharing thereIore must be a
two-way process, with each learning Irom and valuing the others experience, expertise and wisdom.
The ideal, oI course, is Ior Indigenous community workers to take the lead in this Iorm oI
community development. In many instances this is already the case; it is just that non-Indigenous
society does not always recognise the existence oI such people within Indigenous communities, and
does not validate their expertise. But there is also a need Ior more Indigenous People to be involved
in community development training courses, both as educators and as students, and Ior these courses
to take more account oI both the needs and the wisdom oI Indigenous People. These trends are
certainly evident in many countries in recent years, and will in the course oI time transIorm the very
nature oI community development, not only with Indigenous People but also in all contexts.
Another important role Ior non-Indigenous community workers is working to counteract racism and
racial oppression in the wider society. Structural racism is at the heart oI the problems oI Indigenous
communities, and community workers are in an important strategic position to help challenge it. This
is perhaps the way in which non-Indigenous community workers can be oI most help to Indigenous
Working with Indigenous communities can raise important issues oI gender . OIten traditional
culture may seem to non-Indigenous People to reinIorce the oppression oI women, but this assumption
needs to be careIully examined. As discussed in chapter 4, traditional Indigenous communities will
have complementary roles Ior men and women, and are able to work on the basis oI diIIerent but
equal, whereby complementary roles do not imply that one is somehow superior to the other. Western
modernity, with its privileging oI the public domain over the domestic domain, and its assumption that
diIIerence implies inequality (see chapter 4), does not readily validate the Indigenous experience oI
gender. It is usually because oI the unsettling oI these cultural traditions around gender, and the
imposition oI the patriarchy that is inherent in the Enlightenment view oI humanity, that there can be
serious issues oI domestic violence and other Iorms oI women`s oppression in Indigenous
communities trying to adapt to the Iorces oI colonisation and cultural domination. This needs to be
understood in any program attempting to address such issues; rather than simply dealing with
something like domestic violence at Iace value, it is important to look Ior traditional cultural ways oI
understanding gender and gender diIIerences, and to Iind ways in which this can be utilised.
Working with Indigenous communities requires a sensitivity to what is an essentially alien culture
Ior non-Indigenous workers. It is obviously important Ior workers to be as well inIormed as possible
about the culture, and this can be accomplished through discussion with Indigenous People
themselves, discussion with others who have worked in the community (although it is important to
realise that not all such people will be well inIormed), and through the reading oI relevant
publications. It is most important that workers approach the community with genuine humility,
respect, goodwill, sensitivity and selI-awareness. However well inIormed a worker may be, a
worker who does not have this prerequisite will never be successIul.
Although the diversity among Indigenous communities makes generalisation hazardous, there are
three critical elements that pervade all community work with Indigenous People; namely land, Iamily
and spirituality. The crucial relationship oI Indigenous People to the land, the importance oI
(extended) Iamily and kinship obligations and Indigenous understandings oI spirituality and the sacred
are Iundamentally diIIerent Irom those oI Western non-Indigenous People, and pervade all aspects oI
Indigenous society and community. It is around such issues that many oI the most important conIlicts
with non-Indigenous society arise, prime examples being land rights, the need Ior people to be away
Irom work because oI (extended) Iamily commitments, and the desecration oI sacred sites through
mining or development. These also, however, provide a potential basis Ior a genuinely Indigenous
alternative to the conventional Iorms oI structures and services that have so conspicuously Iailed
Indigenous People in the past, as discussed in chapter 4.
A particularly important initiative is the establishment oI programs using Indigenous spiritual
values and traditions as a way oI organising alternative approaches to social problems and human
services, such as health, alcohol, housing and justice issues. Such alternatives, although very much in
their inIancy, are showing a potential to be much more eIIective and appropriate in locating a
problem within its community context and Iinding relevant solutions. Programs have been established
in North America, Aotearoa and Australia along such lines, seeking to utilise the strengths oI
Indigenous cultures instead oI denying their legitimacy or potential. These represent an important step
in the general development oI a community-based alternative, as such Indigenous societies are by
their very nature community-based.
Indigenous People in other communities
Where there are substantial numbers oI Indigenous People Iorming part oI a wider community group,
a diIIerent set oI issues conIronts community workers. Here the goal oI community development is not
only the enhancement and protection oI Indigenous culture but also the legitimising and acceptance oI
that culture within the wider community. This requires working towards the countering oI racism, the
acceptance by non-Indigenous People that the Indigenous group has something legitimate to contribute
to the community, and the integration oI Indigenous culture in such a way that it is acknowledged by
the wider community at the same time as not compromising its integrity Ior Indigenous People.
This is an extremely complex and delicate task, requiring cultural sensitivity, political
sophistication, communication skills, the capacity to negotiate and advocate, a strong personal
commitment to social justice, time, patience and a thick skin. It is perhaps one oI the most diIIicult
challenges that can Iace community workers. On one side, entrenched racist structures, attitudes,
habits and practices, which have been reinIorced Ior decades, need to be challenged and broken
down. On the other side, the suspicion, mistrust and anger caused by decades oI oppression,
exploitation, discrimination, broken promises and well-intentioned but misguided charity` need to be
acknowledged and overcome. Each group needs to learn to trust, value and respect the other, which
means that the patterns oI a liIetime must be broken. This cannot be accomplished immediately, and
those who seek to achieve instant reconciliation are bound to be disappointed.
This Iorm oI community development needs to work on a number oI Ironts at the one time. One key
component is to work closely with the people who are at the interIace between Indigenous and non-
Indigenous People, and who are crucial in deIining relationships between the two groups: police,
teachers, social workers, lawyers, magistrates, health workers, publicans, clergy and so on. Such
people are crucial in any change strategy. A second component is to create public awareness, by
utilising every opportunity Ior consciousness-raising (see chapter 7) among both Indigenous and non-
Indigenous groups. Another is to work closely with community leaders, both Iormal and inIormal, in
both groups. This includes local media, local government, employers, union leaders, inIluential
citizens, power brokers and Indigenous elders. A Iurther strategy is to look Ior every opportunity to
bring people Irom the two groups together, around as wide a variety oI community activities as
possible. Another is to make the most oI every opportunity Ior education: the more people can learn
about other people`s culture and liIe experience, the easier it is to challenge racist stereotypes.
Such a multi-strategy approach (the details will inevitably vary according to local Iactors) can
bring results, but it is a long and painIul process. It involves the building oI trust, encouraging people
to change and take risks, and negotiation and diplomacy oI the highest order. The role is essentially
one oI an active catalyst; the community itselI must be the ultimate source oI change, but good
community work can help to bring about the conditions that will make it possible.
Cultural diversity
With increased global travel and personal mobility, massive migrations Iollowing the wars oI the
twentieth century, and continuing increases in the movement oI reIugees, a multicultural experience
has become the norm in most societies. The days oI relatively homogeneous cultures appear to be
gone, and people and communities are having to come to terms with living in a multicultural society.
For some this is a cause oI enrichment, diversity and the embracing oI new opportunities Ior cultural
experience whereas Ior others it is cause Ior Iear, threat, suspicion and racial and cultural tensions
and exclusions. The issue oI multicultural policy and politics is complex, and outside the scope oI the
present discussion, but a diversity oI cultural backgrounds is a reality Ior many communities, and is
thereIore an important aspect oI community cultural development.
As with Indigenous People, the challenge Ior community development is to help to preserve the
integrity oI a variety oI cultures while seeking ways in which the diIIerent cultural traditions can
interact within a local community and enrich the cultural experience oI all. This is a diIIicult task, and
can be made more so by the enormous variety oI cultural traditions, sensitivities, historical rivalries
and conIlicting values, and by the ambiguity within the wider community around issues oI
multiculturalism. A community worker seeking to develop a multicultural community must obviously
be aware oI and sensitive to these issues, and will need very special skills in order to act as a
catalyst Ior community development.
The clash oI cultural values and the problems experienced by individuals and Iamilies as they seek
to Iind a way through these conIlicts provide an environment oI instability and uncertainty. For
community workers, however, instability and uncertainty should imply opportunity, and in seeking to
help people resolve these diIIiculties there are opportunities Ior creative development oI alternative,
community-based structures, over which the people themselves can have control. For example, a
good deal oI creative community work can be undertaken Irom immigrant resource centres or ethnic
community organisations, through provision oI the resources and support Ior people to establish their
own programs, structures and services.
Many oI the strategies outlined in the previous section discussing Indigenous People can be
applied also to multicultural community work, although oI course they need to be adapted to meet the
speciIic requirements oI local conditions. These include working with key community leaders,
consciousness-raising, bringing people together and countering racism.
One important issue Ior community workers in multicultural settings relates to principles oI justice
and human rights. In this area, particularly, one can come up against traditional community practices
that appear to oIIend against these principles. An extreme but very real example is the issue oI
Iemale circumcision; other examples include domestic violence, child abuse, arranged marriages and
access to education. This is why a strong understanding oI and commitment to the social justice issues
discussed in chapter 3 is a crucial component oI the community development approach, and this must
include a more sophisticated analysis oI universalism and relativism that moves beyond a simple
either/or` binary. This is where a post-Enlightenment perspective, as discussed in chapter 4, is
particularly important Ior community workers. Human rights may be regarded as universal, but they
are always negotiated in a context, and the universality oI human rights does not mean that they are, or
ever can be, context-Iree. The ways in which universal human values are contextualised is a major
challenge, and this is particularly the case in addressing issues in a multicultural society.
In doing so it is important, as discussed in chapter 9, Ior community workers to remember that
cultures are not static cultural norms, values and practices are negotiated and change over time
and that cultures are not monolithic many values and practices are contested within the culture, and
are not necessarily adhered to or supported by all members oI the cultural group. Thus cultural
practices such as Iemale circumcision must be understood as something that is contested, that is not
supported by everyone and that is oIten under challenge Irom within the cultural community, as part oI
the renegotiation oI the role oI women and gender relations. As such, they become important topics
Ior dialogue, and it is through dialogue, whereby people seek to learn Irom each other and move
Iorward together, that ultimately these issues must be addressed. In this example, this involves
community workers seeking to understand the cultural signiIicance oI the practice, such as rite oI
passage, so that there can be discussion about ways in which rite oI passage might be celebrated in
other ways that still respect cultural traditions.
Other issues oI class and gender are also important Ior community workers in multicultural
settings. OIten an ethnic community will simply reIlect the traditional highly stratiIied and oppressive
divisions oI the original society. Hence support Ior ethnic communities can inadvertently become
support Ior oppressive structures and Ior powerIul elites within ethnic communities, rather than the
community as a whole. Similarly, gender-based oppression can be Iound within ethnic communities,
and immigrant women are thereIore particularly disadvantaged. This too means that community
workers, committed both to supporting cultural integrity and to social justice, are likely to be Iaced
with diIIicult dilemmas and contradictions in working with ethnic communities. The social justice
analysis oI chapter 3 is critically important in this regard, and the task oI resolving these
contradictions and promoting community development that counteracts such oppressive structures and
practices is complex and diIIicult.
Underlying all community work in multicultural societies must be the importance oI the principle
oI diversity, as discussed in chapter 2. Multicultural societies provide rich diversity that can be the
basis Ior dynamic community development, and the validation, strengthening and celebration oI
cultural diversity is at the heart oI community development work.
Participatory culture
The Iinal aspect oI cultural development is related to participation in cultural activities, rather than
the maintenance oI cultural traditions.
As pointed out at the beginning oI this section, cultural activity, whether popular culture or high`
culture, is becoming increasingly seen as something Ior perIormance by proIessional elites Ior the
passive consumption oI the majority. It is packaged and sold as a product to be consumed, rather than
being something in which people can actively participate. This is true oI art, music (both popular and
highbrow), theatre, dance and sport. Although there is still a degree oI popular participation in some
oI these activities, especially sport, the trend is increasingly towards the commodiIication oI culture.
Such cultural activity is an important Iocus Ior community identity, participation, social interaction
and community development. One way to encourage healthy communities is to encourage broad
participation in cultural activities, so that art, music, theatre, dance and sport become things that
people do rather than things that people watch (Adams 2001, Chile 2007a, Diamond 2007, Mulligan
2006, Van Erven 1992). Participation in cultural activity has been the Iocus oI many programs oI
community cultural development; such participation is seen as an important way oI building social
capital, strengthening community and aIIirming identity. The possible activities will vary, depending
on location, local culture and other Iactors. They can include organising and participating in a
community Iolk Iestival, community arts projects, storytelling, mural painting, supporting the town
band or orchestra, organising drama groups, street theatre, photography, Iilm-making, organising and
supporting participatory sport, dance, games nights and bushwalking. All these can help to encourage
community identity and interaction, and can act as a basis Ior Iurther community development activity.
The role oI sport in community development raises a problematic issue. Most sport is by nature
competitive, and using sport as a Iorm oI community development can be seen as reinIorcing
structures oI competition rather than cooperation. Some community workers thereIore may choose not
to encourage sporting activities, although this is an unpopular position in a sports-crazy community
(as is oIten the case with country towns) and could become a problem in those workers gaining
credibility. Also, such a position Iails to recognise that in many instances the competitive aspect oI
social sport is oI relatively minor importance, and that the social interaction during or around the
sporting contest is oI greater signiIicance (Bolton, Fleming & Elias 2008). One only has to observe a
bowling club, golI club, tennis club, local netball or Iootball games or a country race meeting to
realise that winning or losing is oIten oI relatively minor importance. ThereIore a categorical
rejection oI competitive sport may well be inappropriate Ior community workers, and it is perhaps
through the encouragement oI participation in organised sport, especially where the competitive
element is not strong, that community solidarity can best be achieved.
In some sporting activities, however, the element oI competition and aggression can be more
blatant. It is hard to see the justiIication Ior the encouragement oI boxing, Ior example, iI one is
interested in developing non-violent, cooperative community structures. Motor sport is another that is
hard to justiIy, especially Irom a Green or ecological perspective, given that it gloriIies the use oI the
motor car and driving at high speed (the media promotion oI motor sport can be seen to be directly
related to car theIt, dangerous driving and high-speed chases). Boxing and motor sport are both
examples oI sporting activities in which the potential Ior positive personal interaction among the
participants is extremely limited, aggressive and powerIul behaviour is rewarded, participation is
necessarily limited to a small number and there is little community interaction surrounding the
sporting encounter. In such cases, the argument against competitive sport is Iar stronger.
As with other community development activity, class, gender and race/ethnicity issues need to be
identiIied and recognised in the encouragement oI cultural participation. Some sporting or cultural
activities will Iavour particular classes (e.g. golI, sailing, symphony concerts) while others will tend
to be gender-speciIic (e.g. Iootball). It is important that participatory cultural activity should be
inclusive rather than exclusive, and the class, race and gender implications oI any such community
development need to be careIully monitored; otherwise structural disadvantage will simply be
Cultural participation also has the potential to achieve more than the strengthening oI social capital
and community-building. Participation in cultural activities is an important part oI helping the people
oI a community to reclaim their own culture and to reject the role oI Hollywood and the advertising
industry as the primary deIiners oI culture and cultural experience. Hence cultural participation is
potentially political, and can assist in community development at a more political level.
Cultural activities themselves have the potential Ior consciousness-raising, Ior the exploration oI
oppression, Ior the linking oI the personal and the political, and Ior coming to terms with social and
community problems. Culture has the power to inspire, inIorm and unite a community. Revolutionary
music, including songs oI protest, has been very important as a Iocus and inspiration Ior earlier social
movements (which old-time socialist does not experience a lump in the throat at hearing The
International`, and which activist oI the 1960s could Iail to be moved by We Shall Overcome`?).
Augusto Boal (1979) has demonstrated the revolutionary potential oI the theatre as a means oI
consciousness-raising and political development, allowing people to explore their context and the
issues oI power and oppression, and to express their resistance. Theatre has been used by others (Van
Erven 1992, Diamond 2007), who have shown that theatre can be a powerIul technique Ior
development and social change across a wide range oI cultures. Indeed in some cultural settings (e.g.
the Philippines), to attempt a program oI consciousness-raising and community development without
music, dance and theatre would be to condemn the program to immediate Iailure.
Sometimes community problems can be best dealt with through cultural expression, using
traditional Iormats. Even something as personal as the experience oI trauma and torture can be
addressed through community cultural development, which has proven to be an appropriate method
Ior helping the trauma recovery process by allowing people to express themselves through art, music,
drama and dance. A community worker sent to Rwanda, in the immediate aItermath oI the 1994
genocide there, was able to use community development principles to help people work through
issues oI trauma and institute a recovery process at a community level by using traditional Iorms oI
drama and art (McCowan 1996). This is likely to be Iar more eIIective in a society like Rwanda than
importing conventional Western individual therapy models oI trauma recovery. Similarly, issues oI
crime, violence, environment, poverty, death, disability, loneliness and racism can all be addressed
through theatre, music or art, iI community workers have the imagination and the creativity.
Environmental development
A consequence oI the Green position described in chapter 2, and oI the increased awareness oI the
importance oI the environment, is that communities need to take responsibility Ior the protection and
rehabilitation oI the physical environment. The environment is a critical component oI community,
and needs to be incorporated in any integrated approach to community development. This applies
both to the natural environment and to the built environment.
Sometimes environmental issues will be important in bringing a community together, and in
serving as a catalyst Ior community action. This has long been recognised in urban locations, where
social action is commonly discussed as a reaction to proposed Ireeways or property developments
that have a direct eIIect on the local environment and are seen as posing a threat to the liIe oI the local
community. SpeciIic pollution concerns, such as toxic waste disposal or lead emissions, can be
another critical issue around which a community will readily mobilise. Such a threat can bring a
community together, and the initial action organisation can provide a basis Ior more long-term
Environmental development, however, goes beyond simple environmental activism. It involves
improvement oI the community`s environment in the broadest sense, and requires the community to
become aware oI the importance oI environmental issues and to take responsibility Ior improving and
protecting the local environment. At a less dramatic level than activist campaigning, a more general
concern Ior the environment can be used as a way oI bringing people together in a relatively non-
threatening way. Establishing viable processes Ior recycling or Ior local sustainable energy is an
activity that can receive wide community support, and is a practical way in which people can do
their bit Ior the environment`. From a more considered Green perspective this is not nearly enough
(see chapter 2), but it provides a useIul starting point Ior encouraging a broader ecological awareness
and Ior bringing people together at a community level.
A community-based approach to urban and regional planning would require the existence oI
adequate mechanisms Ior people to be involved in decisions about the physical attributes oI cities,
towns and regions. Decisions that are now seen as largely the domain oI expert planners, or as being
the province oI developers, would be located more within the reach oI ordinary people, and would
be seen as part oI the local participatory decision-making process. Thus an important arena Ior
community development activity is that oI local planning, and community workers will seek ways in
which it can be undertaken within a more participatory approach (Hamdi 2004).
A bioregional approach to the environment, as mentioned in chapter 2, emphasises selI-suIIiciency
and many oI the principles oI autonomy and localisation described in chapters 6 and 7. It advocates a
concentration on the local ecology, which can lead not just to sound environmental practices but also
to patterns oI living, social interaction and economic activity that are localised, selI-suIIicient and
sustainable. From this perspective, an initial concern Ior the local environment can be used as a
starting point Ior more Iundamental and broader-based community development. It is essentially
applying the same principles oI consciousness-raising as have been used in the women`s movement,
in Freire`s conscientisation` (Freire 1972) and in work with low-income people, only starting
instead with people`s concern about their local environment. This concern can be related to broader
structural and political issues, and can be related to other aspects oI community liIe as the holistic
perspective requires.
The Transition Towns movement (Hopkins 2008) is another important contemporary example oI
community environmental development that moves beyond a narrow environmentalism. The idea oI
transition towns is that a town makes a deliberate move towards genuine sustainability and resilience,
in terms oI energy prodiction and consumption, waste disposal and so on, maximising local
participation and decision-making. Towns involved in the movement seek to establish sustainability
in the broader sense as well, consistent with the discussion in chapter 2. This has become a
signiIicant movement, which works well Ior some communities, but it is inevitably limited by the idea
oI town`. In many ways, a town is the ideal size Ior such a transition, given that it is large enough to
develop its own resources, yet small enough to allow and encourage genuine citizen participation.
However, many people do not live in towns, and there is an important challenge in applying the same
principles to environmental community development in cities, suburbs or villages.
Environmental development can also be seen as moving beyond the local community. The Green
analysis emphasises that we live in one Iinite world and that every citizen and every community has a
responsibility to protect the global ecosystem. This provides not only a justiIication Ior moving
beyond purely local concerns but also an imperative to do so. A concern to reduce the emission oI
greenhouse gases, Ior example, has little immediate local impact but Irom a global perspective is
critical to survival and is both a proper and a necessary concern oI local communities. There is now
a reasonable level oI awareness about such global ecological imperatives, and they too can become a
Iocus Ior organising local action. ThereIore organising to ensure that community activities have
minimal impact on the wider environment (e.g. greenhouse gas emissions, soil depletion) as well as
on the local environment is part oI a community environmental development strategy.
Environmental concerns in the South are oIten related to more immediate human needs, such as
survival, clean water, saIe Iood and clean air (Shiva 2005). Here environmental development
becomes even more important, and any community development strategy has to incorporate
environmental issues.
The techniques oI environmental community development are similar to those discussed elsewhere
in this and the preceding chapter. They include consciousness-raising, education, organising the local
community and setting goals and priorities. The results might include the creation oI nature reserves,
tree-planting, soil conservation, building cycle paths, making the local economy more selI-suIIicient,
introducing tighter pollution controls on local industry, developing community gardens and Iood
cooperatives (Allen 2012), establishing local wind or solar power generation, altering local building
regulations and establishing recycling (possibly as a new industry or on a cooperative basis).
As with other aspects oI community development, environmental development will succeed only iI
there is genuine and broad-based community involvement in identiIying needs and determining
appropriate courses oI action. This is particularly important in relation to environmental
development, because oI the technical nature oI many environmental problems, which can result in an
attitude oI leave it to the experts` and runs counter to a community development perspective. Here
the analysis oI chapter 2 is critically important: iI environmental problems are the result oI the social,
economic and political order, they are essentially social, economic and political problems rather than
technical problems. Hence they are matters Ior the whole community. Certainly the contribution oI
technical experts in environmental science is important, but eIIective solutions will be community-
based, rather than the technical solutions demanded by the scientiIic technological paradigm.
Environmental development is an area where the wisdom and understanding oI Indigenous People,
as discussed in chapter 4, is particularly important. Indigenous People lived in relative harmony with
the environment Ior millennia, and understand the relationship between human beings and the natural
world in a Iar deeper and richer way than is the Western norm (Turner 2010, Wallace 2009). Where
possible, Indigenous People should be centrally involved in community environmental development
programs, and their wisdom and cultural traditions should be key elements in the developmental
Again, as with other Iorms oI community development, class, gender and race/ethnicity issues are
critical. It was shown in chapter 5 that a Green perspective oIten does not take account oI these
Iactors, and the result is an environmental activism that simply reinIorces existing discourses oI
oppression and structural disadvantage. Thus the Ieminisation oI the environmental movement places
undue blame and responsibility on women, and there is the commonly heard complaint that the
environment is a middle-class issue because oI the way it is treated in the media. Environmental
development needs to overcome these problems and stereotypes; the Iact that environmental issues
are a matter oI concern Ior the whole community is not oI itselI suIIicient to ensure this, and issues oI
class, gender and race/ethnicity must be speciIically addressed in any developmental program. For
this reason, it is essential that environmental development, and environmental activism, be located
within a broader context oI integrated community development as outlined here and in chapter 10.
Spiritual development
Contemporary Western society, under the inIluence oI Enlightenment modernity, is essentially secular,
and has leIt little room Ior notions oI the sacred or Ior spiritual values. This has eIIectively denied
one oI the most important aspects oI human existence, which Ior many people (especially in
Indigenous and other non-Western societies) is central to their lives and to the experience oI
community. Hence iI community development is to concern itselI with the Iull range oI human
experience there is a strong need Ior community development to incorporate notions oI spiritual
In this context, the words spiritual and sacred are used in their broadest sense, and do not equate
solely to the understandings oI mainstream religions, although such perspectives must be included.
One can have a spiritual experience quite outside the conIines oI organised religion (Comte-
Sponville 2007, Tacey 2000) experiencing the grandeur oI a wilderness area, contemplating the
ocean, meditating, reading poetry, being moved by an expressive piece oI music or a painting,
pondering the mysteries oI the universe, Iinding IulIilment in sexual relationships, realising the
IulIilment oI parenthood, participating in making music, dancing or singing, and in the experience oI
genuine human community.
For Indigenous People, the sacred and spiritual transcend all oI liIe and all human experiences;
unless understood within a spiritual context, liIe has no meaning and no purpose. All people are
spiritual, and it is a Ieeling Ior the spiritual that unites people, animals, the land and all things into a
whole, and deIines one`s relationship to the natural environment (see chapter 4). Thus the holistic
perspective, an essential component oI the approach to community development outlined in this book,
is, in Indigenous culture, a natural consequence oI a spiritual perspective. For Indigenous People one
oI the major criticisms oI modern Western society is that it does not have this proIound sense oI the
sacredness and spiritual nature oI all things, and has lost what gives meaning, sense and unity to liIe
and to the world.
It is only in relatively recent times that Western society has lost its sense oI the spiritual and the
sacred. The Christian Church was, at least until the eighteenth century, the centre not just oI worship
but also oI social activity, and Iormed the basis oI the experience oI community throughout the
Western world. It was intimately connected to politics, and churches were used as meeting houses,
community centres and Ior the provision oI what would now be called human services`. Agriculture
was connected to the Church, and this led to a more spiritual understanding oI the land and oI nature.
Occupying such a central role in the community, the inIluence oI the Christian Church in linking the
sacred and the spiritual to the realities oI everyday liIe was considerable. In the modern secular age
the Church generally occupies a more peripheral position. Many people have virtually no contact
with the Church, and Ior those who do it oIten becomes a separate experience, somewhat apart Irom
everyday liIe, despite the eIIorts oI many people within the Church to demonstrate and reinIorce a
sense oI its direct relevance and applicability.
The spiritual dimension, then, is important to community development. A sense oI the sacred, and a
respect Ior spiritual values, is an essential part oI re-establishing human community and providing
meaning and purpose Ior people`s lives. But the corollary is also true: genuine human community is in
itselI a spiritual experience, so the development oI community is an important ingredient oI spiritual
development. The two belong together.
As with other Iorms oI community development, the external imposition oI a particular Iorm oI
spirituality is bound to produce negative consequences; the colonialism oI Christian missionaries is
perhaps the most extreme example oI this. There is still a concerning tendency among some oI the
more evangelical elements oI the Christian Church, and among various Iundamentalist groups
(whether Christian or originating in other Iaiths), to seek to impose a particular Iorm oI religious
belieI on others with very diIIerent cultural and social traditions, without taking those traditions into
account or acknowledging their importance Ior people`s lives.
A more appropriate Iorm oI spiritual development is to begin by respecting and aIIirming the
(oIten varied) religious and spiritual traditions oI the community. On this basis, one seeks to provide
an environment where a sense oI the sacred and the spiritual can develop, where people can openly
acknowledge the importance oI spiritual values, where a variety oI spiritual experiences is available
to people, and where various spiritual traditions including those oI the major religious Iaiths, those
oI Indigenous People and others are all valued and respected. This requires the development oI a
sense oI community (which itselI can be a spiritual experience), and strong cultural development as
discussed earlier in this chapter; art, music, literature, poetry and drama can all become ways in
which people can experience and express their spirituality and are thereIore critical components oI a
community`s spiritual development.
In terms oI more institutionalised spirituality, interIaith dialogue is an important component oI a
truly multicultural society. The representatives or local leaders oI various religious Iaiths can engage
in such dialogue, and this can be made an important community experience, enabling people to learn
about diIIerent religious Iaiths and diIIerent understandings oI the sacred and oI spirituality. In
establishing such dialogue, it is important to involve representatives who can speak reIlectively,
rather than dogmatically, about their Iaith and their spiritual traditions. Fundamentalists who are
dogmatic about their Iaith and not open to other Iorms oI spirituality will be unable to engage in
dialogue. Such Iundamentalists can be Iound in all major religious traditions. However, in all
traditions there are also many who can speak reIlectively, who are open to alternative experiences oI
the sacred, and who are genuinely committed to dialogue and to broadening understandings oI
spirituality; these people have important roles to play in community development.
Personal development
There is also a personal element to community development. One oI the main justiIications Ior
community development is that the community is a better context Ior personal development than the
more impersonal bureaucratic structures oI big government and big business. The loss oI community
is closely associated with the loss oI personal identity, as it is through one`s sense oI belonging in a
community that one develops a sense oI personal worth and the capacity to lead a more enriched and
IulIilling liIe.
Some oI the previously discussed aspects oI community development are aimed at personal
development. This is particularly so in social development (see chapter 10), where a major emphasis
has been on the development and delivery oI human services such as health, education, housing and
personal care. Such services, in the community context, are primarily aimed at improving people`s
quality oI liIe, so they are an important component oI a personal development agenda.
The idea oI personal development and personal growth, however, is also associated with a variety
oI activities, including encounter groups, myriad varieties oI therapy, gestalt, new age`, cults, tarot
readings, neurolinguistic programming, mysticism and witchcraIt. It has to be said that many oI these,
although certainly not all, are oI doubtIul value, and represent a pretentious Iorm oI selI-indulgence
that Iits in with the dominant individualist ideology and is contrary to community development.
Indeed, a whole personal growth industry` has been set up, and many practitioners are making a very
comIortable living out oI catering to and exploiting people`s needs Ior reassurance and selI-worth, in
a way that does not open up the possibilities oI community, or oI liberation, at anything other than a
personal level. II such practices are divorced Irom a power analysis, they can readily serve only to
help people to Ieel good about being disempowered. This is also true oI more mainstream
proIessionalised personal services, such as therapy and counselling, which can also be proIoundly
conservative iI understood as apolitical (House 2010).
The most unIortunate aspect oI this is that it has given personal growth a bad name. Like so many
other aspects oI human activity, personal growth has become an increasingly individualised and
proIessionalised industry, with accredited experts to tell us how to Ieel personally IulIilled. We have
seen the packaging and commodiIication oI personal growth, so that it too becomes a product to be
purchased and consumed. II one accepts that one oI the main reasons people Ieel isolated, unIulIilled
and restricted is these same processes oI commodiIication, packaging and the removal oI so many
spheres oI human activity Irom people`s own reality and control, then the individual personal growth
industry is surely not the solution. From a community development perspective, one oI the most
concerning things is that the personal growth industry has created an artiIicial environment Ior
personal growth, rather than allowing and encouraging it to occur within a more natural and
sustainable community context.
Personal growth can also be politically conservative. It is all too easy Irom a personal growth
perspective to move to an essentially individual account oI social problems (see chapter 3), with its
associated tendency to blame the victim. It is also Iully consistent with the individualism and
competition oI capitalism and the highly individualised society. Individualism is part oI the problem,
and Irom a community development perspective it is most unlikely to be an eIIective part oI the
solution. Personal growth can also be seen as Iully consistent with the untenable but popular
propositions that You can do anything iI you really want to` and II you want something enough and
are prepared to work Ior it, you will achieve it`. These are commonly articulated belieIs that totally
ignore structural realities, environmental constraints, social limits and individual diIIerences, which
reinIorce competitive and exploitative behaviour, and which lead to disappointment and selI-blame
when people Iind they have been unable to achieve their goal.
It is important to note, however, that personal growth, therapy and counselling are not necessarily
conservative; it is simply that, without a structural analysis oI the sort outlined in chapter 3, they have
an inherent tendency towards such conservatism. It is essential thereIore to base personal growth
within an analysis oI power and to understand the empowerment aims oI personal growth within the
context oI power as discussed in chapter 3. By incorporating such a structural social justice
perspective one can develop an approach to personal growth and therapeutic counselling that is more
radical in nature, and such models have been developed within the radical streams oI some oI the
helping proIessions, within strands oI narrative therapy and within the Ieminist movement. Such
approaches speciIically link a structural perspective to the therapeutic and see personal growth,
counselling and therapy as potentially liberating and empowering, by joining the personal and the
political. This requires quite a diIIerent approach Irom more conventional counselling techniques,
one that is in Iact closer to Freire`s dialogical praxis (1972).
From the perspective oI this book, there is another major problem with the personal growth
industry in its present Iorm, namely that it is unsustainable Ior all but a minority oI the population.
Personal counselling, therapy and similar activities oIIered by trained and expensive proIessionals
cannot be provided as a matter oI course Ior the whole population; there simply are not enough
resources to support this. Although a strong case can be made Ior such individualised services in
speciIic instances (e.g. trauma recovery), therapy and proIessionalised personal growth as a way oI
liIe, widely available to all, cannot be justiIied. It can only ever be an option Ior the wealthy, and
hence is unacceptable Irom a social justice perspective. Indeed there is a good argument that such an
approach to personal growth is suitable only Ior certain socioeconomic and cultural groups, who are
highly verbal and are able to play the therapeutic game`.
This is not to deny that the need Ior personal growth and development is strong in modern society.
From a community perspective, the important question to be asked is: why has it become necessary
only in the past Iew decades to meet people`s needs through therapy, counselling and
proIessionalised personal growth`, when Ior the remainder oI human history (and even at present in
non-Western cultures) people have been able to manage without it? There are two possible answers
to this question. One is to suggest that people have always been in need oI such personal growth
experiences, yet it is only now that we have had the resources and expertise to provide them. The
other is to suggest that in other cultures and at other times people have had their needs Ior personal
IulIilment met through other means, such as the Iamily and the community, and that the therapy and
personal growth industries are symptoms oI individualism and the poverty oI personal relationships
in modern Western society. From a community development perspective, the second answer is the
more interesting. It points out the need Ior establishing alternative community-based structures to meet
people`s needs Ior personal growth and development. Despite its dubious reputation (and in some
maniIestations its political conservatism), personal growth is clearly part oI the community
development agenda, and needs to be addressed.
A community-based approach to personal growth and development would seek to Iind ways in
which people`s individual needs could be met through community networks, structures and
interactions, rather than through proIessionalised and packaged services. It thereIore seeks to
decommodiIy personal growth and relocate it within human social interaction. It is still largely the
case that at times oI personal trouble, stress and pain people will seek help and support Iirst Irom
their Iamilies and Iriends. However, the limited and Iragmented social networks that are part oI
Gesellschaft society mean that people cannot always Iind such support. A community-based approach
would aim to strengthen community interactions so that those supports were more readily available.
Similarly, it can be suggested that in a Ilourishing, healthy community people are able to grow and
develop personally through their interactions with others, and that the artiIicial environment oI the
personal growth industry then becomes unnecessary.
A community that is able to Iunction in this way, and in which people`s personal needs can be met
through community interaction, is a prerequisite Ior community care` and Ior community-based
human services. There is no point in establishing community-based services iI there is not a thriving
and sustainable community within which to base them but, iI such a community does exist, the
establishment and maintenance oI such human services is Iairly straightIorward.
The key to personal development thereIore is the development oI strong community interactive
structures, which requires basic community development strategies, oI the kind discussed in this
book. Not only social development but also such activities as working in a program oI community
environmental development, getting involved in setting up and operating a LETS scheme, organising a
community storytelling Iestival or taking part in a campaign to save a heritage area can provide
people with a sense oI meaning and purpose and an opportunity Ior personal development. It can also
help to build community, by developing strong structures and closer ties between people. Thus
personal growth and development can be an important consequence oI other community activity, and
it is oIten likely to be more eIIective than establishing a speciIic program oI personal growth` within
the community.
Survival development
The Iinal dimension oI community development to be considered is survival development. This is
community development that is concerned with issues oI human survival: the provision oI Iood,
water, shelter, health care and so on. This occurs in several contexts. Traditionally, people in poorer
countries have had to struggle with issues oI survival, such as basic Iood, water, housing and medical
Iacilities, and this has been a major Iocus oI international community development, through
government aid programs, UN agencies or NGOs. However, with the advent oI the network society,
as discussed in chapter 8, we have seen that there is an increasing tendency Ior all countries to
develop a wealthy and powerIul elite, and at the other end oI the social scale Ior people to be living
in poverty where simple survival is an issue. This is a consequence not only oI the network society
and globalisation but also oI neo-liberalism and its exacerbation oI social inequality accompanied by
the erosion oI the welIare sate. As a result, survival is an issue also in Western developed nations,
where levels oI homelessness and poverty can reach levels undreamed oI several decades ago.
Survival development is thus a matter Ior the developed world as well as the developing world, and
many community workers in Western societies work with homeless people, or people whose incomes
are inadequate, Ior whom the very basics oI survival are a daily struggle.
From a community development perspective, working with these survival issues oI poverty,
hunger, homelessness and inadequate water or sanitation requires that the issues be collectivised
rather than individualised. A typical Western response to such issues is to see them, to use C. Wright
Mills` well-known terms (1970), as private troubles rather than public issues. Seeing them as private
troubles leads to individualised approaches, with each person`s problems seen as unique, and can
readily lead to blaming the victim. However, seeing them as public issues requires that links be made
between people in similar circumstances and that collective action, as well as individual therapy, be
on the agenda.
Working with such groups Irom a community development perspective can be diIIicult, especially
when the people concerned have been so inIluenced by the dominant individualist ideology that they
are reluctant to see the issues in more collective terms. Because oI their particular vulnerability, and
in many instances their Ieelings oI personal Iailure, working collectively is a challenge. However,
when such collective action is achieved, it can be particularly powerIul. In the global South there are
many examples oI such collective action, among the poorest and most vulnerable, challenging the
dominance oI powerIul interests (GoldIarb 2006, Green 2012, Mander & Tauli-Corpuz 2006, Patel
2009). And as an example Irom a more aIIluent Western society, the success oI the Big Issue and the
Choir oI Hard Knocks in Australia, each involving people with serious poverty, homelessness and
mental health issues, is a testament to the power oI such community development in giving people a
sense oI worth and achievement.
Disaster response
Disasters, whether natural or caused by humans, are a Iact oI liIe Ior the developed` world as well
as Ior the developing` world. However, there is a major diIIerence between the two in terms oI their
capacity to recover Irom disaster; one need only compare the recovery Irom the 2010 earthquake in
Haiti with the recovery Irom the 2011 earthquake in Aotearoa or the 2009 bushIires in Australia to
see the advantage Ior a society with economic and political resources to respond. There are,
however, some common elements to disaster recovery and the role oI community development in
aiding that recovery.
One oI the best understood aspects oI community is that when a community is under threat, Irom
natural or human-caused disasters, people will pull together, help each other and show a strong sense
oI community (Solnit 2009). This is oIten given a nationalistic label by politicians and commentators,
who claim this as the American way` or the Aussie way`, ignoring the reality that this happens
across cultural boundaries, and is as true Ior communities trying to cope with Iloods in Pakistan,
earthquakes in China, a tsunami in Aceh or a war in AIghanistan, as it is Ior communities responding
to Iires in Australia or tornadoes in the USA. Rather, we can understand this as a natural human
response to crisis and disaster, and as representing something important about human community:
people will turn to community at times oI crisis, when their survival is threatened. This is an
important point Ior optimism; as the world enters a period oI uncertainty and crisis, it is likely that
many people will look to community, and that community-based structures and processes will become
more signiIicant.
Because oI this natural human response to disaster, community development Iocusing on survival
is important, and is likely to become more so as the severity oI natural disasters increases as a result
oI climate change. In recent years there has been considerable research on disaster recovery, and the
role that community development can play. In understanding the role oI community development in
disaster, there are three phases to be considered. First, the most eIIective community development in
disaster areas will have been done beIore the disaster occurred. Stronger communities are better able
to cope with threats to their survival, and better able to respond to a disaster when it occurs. There is
thereIore considerable value in instigating community development in areas that are prone to
disasters, such as Iloods, earthquakes, storm damage or Iires. Such community development need not
Iocus primarily on the threat itselI (such as preparedness Ior Iire or earthquake), although this work is
obviously important. Rather, the aim should be the development oI stronger communities, across any
oI the dimensions discussed in chapters 10 and 11. To return to the idea oI social capital (see chapter
3), we can say that the more social capital a community has, the better it will be able to cope with
disaster, both in the immediate response phase and in longer term recovery, so building social capital
is a priority in disaster-threatened communities, and as the world enters a period oI instability and
crisis, this means all communities.
The second phase oI community development response to disaster is in the period immediately
Iollowing the disaster. This is a period when ideal community development processes oIten need to
be compromised; when people need to be rescued Irom Iloods, burning buildings or earthquake
rubble, every minute counts and there is no time Ior community consultation or consensus decision-
making. At such times the speed and eIIiciency oI the armed Iorces can prove invaluable, and this is a
common response to the immediate disaster; the army has the organisation, skills and equipment to
respond quickly and Ilexibly, and is usually called in immediately aIter a disaster. The question, then,
is how soon aIter a disaster the troops should be withdrawn and community processes allowed to
take over. Even a Iew days aIter a disaster it may be appropriate Ior community initiatives to be
encouraged and validated, especially iI there has been the community coming together` response
mentioned above. The hierarchical eIIiciency oI the military may be perIect Ior the immediate crisis
response, but is not a good mechanism Ior ongoing decisions that could aIIect the community in the
longer term. It is also true that involvement oI local people in the immediate clean-up and emergency
relieI distribution can be an important way to maintain community initiative and to give people a real
sense oI ownership oI their Iuture survival. For this reason, the transIer oI decision-making Irom
military authorities to the community should be high on the agenda even in the period immediately
Iollowing the disaster.
The third phase oI community development in response to disasters is the recovery phase, as the
community seeks to re-establish itselI and rebuild. At this time there is a particularly important
question Iacing any community, namely how much the community wishes simply to restore what was
lost, as opposed to how much the community wants to make a Iresh start and develop something new
and diIIerent. There is no easy answer to this dilemma, which can bitterly divide communities, and
typically the end result is a compromise, a mix oI the old restored and the new. What is most
important is that the community itselI that makes this decision, rather than the decision being imposed
either by a government promising to restore the community to its Iormer state, or a developer
promising a brave new world. It will be a diIIicult decision Ior a community that is at the same time
coping with loss and grieI, and working through the process represents a major challenge Ior any
community worker.
Another important characteristic oI the recovery phase is trauma. Immediately aIter the disaster
people are usually busy with the practicalities oI survival, but aIter a longer period many people will
suIIer Irom post-traumatic stress, especially those who have lost close relatives or Iriends, or whose
home or precious possessions have been destroyed. The typical response to trauma in Western
societies has been to see it in individual terms, and so to address it through trauma counselling.
Although this is obviously important, a community development response to disaster is to understand
the community itselI as traumatised, and to seek ways Ior people to work through their trauma
collectively. This can be done by helping people to tell their stories about what happened, assisting
them to make Iilms or videos oI their experiences, encouraging community members to talk together
about the impact oI the disaster, and through various Iorms oI community arts, such as painting, theatre
and poetry: ways in which people can express their Ieelings and Iears without perhaps having to talk
about them.
Such Iorms oI community response to trauma are particularly important in non-Western and
Indigenous cultures, where the collective tradition is stronger. In many oI these cultures mourning is a
collective rather than an individual experience, which is a culturally traditional way to respond to the
trauma oI losing a loved one, preceding trauma counselling and grieI counselling by thousands oI
years. Community workers seeking to assist communities in the trauma recovery process can learn
Irom these traditions.
Whatever processes are used, community workers engaged with disaster recovery need to be
aware that the eIIects oI trauma can last Ior years, and can aIIect people and communities in the long
term as well as in the short term Iollowing the disaster. EIIective disaster recovery and community
rebuilding can take many years. Like all aspects oI community development, there is no single right
way to do community-based trauma recovery, as every context is diIIerent, but the important thing is
to think collectively as well as individually, in relation to trauma, and to open up the possibility oI a
community-level response. For example, when there is a critical incident in a school, the
conventional response is to send in counsellors to help students individually; why not also send in
community workers to help the school community as a whole come to terms with what has happened?
Another important aspect oI disaster recovery is what Naomi Klein has termed disaster
capitalism` (2007). This is the way in which entrepreneurs and the advocates oI neo-liberalism take
advantage oI the opportunities presented by disasters (whether natural or human-caused) to introduce
solutions` or new ways oI doing things based on Iree market neo-liberal ideology. Klein has
documented the various places in the world where this has occurred, including Chile, South AIrica,
Poland, Russia and Iraq. This can happen either on a national scale or at a local level, where local
business entrepreneurs will see an opportunity to proIit Irom disaster recovery. This happens at a
time when communities are particularly vulnerable, and are so concerned with survival that issues oI
economic development are oIten ignored, providing the opportunities Ior entrepreneurs that in more
normal times would be subjected to much closer scrutiny. This is a warning Ior community workers
engaged in disaster recovery work, and emphasises the importance oI the interconnection between the
diIIerent dimensions oI community work discussed in this chapter and the last. Even in the midst oI
survival development and post-disaster recovery, it is essential to think broadly about community
development and, in this instance, to be aware oI isses oI community economic development as well
as oI survival development.
The crises Iacing the world in the twenty-Iirst century will inevitably mean that survival
development will become a more signiIicant aspect oI community development. This will be both
because oI the increase in severity oI natural disasters caused by climate change and because oI the
shortages oI Iood and water that will accompany climate change, land degradation and population
growth. This will be Iurther reinIorced by the likelihood oI economic crisis, coupled with the erosion
oI the welIare state saIety net as a consequence oI neo-liberal policies since the 1980s. Matters oI
Iood, water and shelter are already a serious issue Ior many people in the global South, but these are
likely also to become major issues in the global North. Community workers will Iind themselves
increasingly concerned with issues oI simple survival, wherever they are working, and it will be
important to Iind ways Ior the response to these needs to be community-based and to open up
developmental possibilities.
Balanced development
Chapters 10 and 11 have outlined eight aspects oI community development: social, economic,
political, cultural, environmental, spiritual and survival. Within each oI them there is a Iurther variety
oI community development activity, and the picture that emerges is complex. Community development
occurs on a number oI Ironts and uses a variety oI techniques. It is a complicated business, and
requires a wide range oI skills and abilities, which will be discussed in chapters 13 and 14.
Community workers Iind themselves doing many diIIerent things (and oIten all at once).
An eIIective approach to community development will take account oI all eight oI these diIIerent
aspects oI community work, although in any particular situation some will inevitably be seen as
higher priorities. A healthy community, however, must be well developed in all eight; iI any one is
leIt out, the community will be the poorer and its development will be uneven. It is thereIore
inappropriate to regard any one as a priori more important than the others, although such views are
oIten voiced. For example, much community economic development proceeds on the assumption that
iI only one can get the economy right` all else will Iollow. Others see personal development as the
priority: iI people are able to develop a sense oI worth and personal IulIilment, then everything else
can be easily accomplished. Another view emphasises political development, seeing political
empowerment as the key element that will stimulate all the others. Similar claims are made Ior social,
cultural and environmental development.
The holistic perspective emphasises that all are important, and that they are interconnected. Each
aIIects the others, and development in any one oI these areas tends to assist development in the others,
as was pointed out a number oI times during the discussion here and in chapter 10. Thus, although it is
useIul to identiIy these eight aspects oI community development, it must not be assumed that they are
completely distinct. The purpose oI the typology is not to make clear or rigid distinctions, but to
emphasise the need Ior balanced development, consistent with the ecological principle oI
equilibrium (see chapter 2), to ensure that a community development project takes all these aspects oI
development into account.
Whenever a community embarks on a program oI, Ior example, community economic development,
it is important to ask how the program relates to the other seven aspects oI community development.
Will it improve social interaction and personal wellbeing? How will it relate to the environment,
both locally and on a larger scale? Will it enhance or undermine local cultural traditions? As a result
oI answers to those questions it may be necessary to modiIy the program, or to establish other Iorms
oI community development activity to meet the other developmental needs oI that particular
The discussion oI the eight aspects oI community development also brought out the importance oI
the earlier discussion oI the ecological, social justice and post-Enlightenment perspectives. They
enable and indeed encourage one to ask questions about such matters as sustainability, diversity,
class, gender, race/ethnicity and dealing with uncertainty. Unless these questions are speciIically
addressed, there is a real danger that community development will simply reinIorce existing patterns
oI structural oppression, ecological damage and Enlightenment hierarchy, and this has been seen to be
the case in a number oI instances oI community development. This perspective eIIectively provides a
screen Ior the planning and evaluation oI community development: a set oI criteria that must be met in
any community work project. More than this, however, it points the way to some interesting and
creative alternative ways oI doing things: how to stimulate economic development that is truly
sustainable; how to develop structures that do not Iavour articulate white men; how to engage in
political campaigning in a genuinely inclusive and non-violent way; how to structure meetings and
decision-making processes so that everyone can contribute, and so on.
Discussion oI the eight areas also indicated that a number oI community work practice approaches
are common to them. Consciousness-raising, bringing people together, the articulation oI community
needs, management at community level, not imposing grand solutions Irom above and the role oI
community worker as catalyst were some oI these common themes. Hence many oI the actual
principles oI community work practice apply across the eight areas, and have more general utility in
an integrated and balanced approach to community development. It must not be thought thereIore that
each area requires a separate range oI skills, although inevitably some skills will be more applicable
in some areas than in others.
From such considerations, a particular approach to community development practice can be seen
to emerge. This will be discussed and outlined in subsequent chapters, where the emphasis changes
Irom the theoretical background oI community development to community work practice.
12 Principles of community development and their application to
This chapter outlines a number oI principles oI community development, which emerge Irom the
discussion in the previous chapters and are intended as a basic set oI principles that should underlie a
developmental approach to all community work practice. They represent a summary oI the book thus
Iar. The reader will Iind little new material here that was not present in previous chapters; it is rather
a recapitulation and summary oI the principles that have been previously identiIied. Some community
workers have Iound such a summary a handy checklist Ior practice, while others have Iound it useIul
to develop a Iramework Ior evaluating community development projects.
The principles outlined here are not a series oI how to do it` prescriptions. One oI the themes oI
previous chapters, particularly chapter 6, is the need to allow structures and processes to develop
organically Irom the community itselI. This, together with the ecological principle oI diversity,
requires that things be done diIIerently in diIIerent communities, depending on a host oI local cultural,
economic, social and political Iactors. ThereIore any how to` list, such as how to start a LETS
scheme`, how to organise a community campaign`, how to measure community need`, how to save
your local environment` or how to run a community meeting`, is unlikely to be Iully applicable; it
will have been Iormulated out oI experience in a diIIerent context, and the Iact that it worked there
does not imply that it will work somewhere else. At the heart oI many such prescriptions is a
colonialist assumption oI superiority and a desire to impose one`s own grand scheme on others; this
is diametrically opposed to the Iundamental ethos oI community work.
The development oI actual practice will vary Irom community to community and Irom community
worker to community worker. Each situation calls Ior a process oI seeing how the important
principles oI community development can be applied within the speciIic local context. Further issues
oI practice, including the problems oI the how to do it` approach, will be discussed in the Iollowing
chapters, while this chapter will be devoted to identiIying those principles oI community
development that transcend local conditions and thereIore guide one`s practice at a more general
Although, Ior convenience, these principles are grouped according to the discussion in earlier
chapters, it must be emphasised that they are not independent and that they relate to each other in a
variety oI ways. Taken together, they represent a coherent approach to community development that is
consistent with the previous analysis.
Foundational principles
The Iirst group oI principles is derived Irom the discussion in chapters 2, 3 and 4 about ecological,
social justice and post-Enlightenment principles Iorming a basis Ior community development.
Community development structures and processes need to reIlect these principles iI they are to be
sustainable, equitable and relevant to the emerging world oI postmodernity.
1 Holism
The principle oI holism applies to all aspects oI community development. It derives both Irom the
ecological approach oI chapter 2 and the post-Enlightenment approach oI chapter 4, and is perhaps
most deeply expressed in the world view oI Indigenous People. Holism applies at the level oI
analysis, as well as at the level oI practice. In terms oI analysis, it can be summarised by the idea that
everything relates to everything else, and hence it is necessary to take a broad, systemic perspective
in understanding any particular issue, problem or process. For example, iI a community is concerned
with a perceived rise in violent crime, this needs to be understood not only in terms oI who is
committing crimes oI violence, how to catch them and how to prevent them Irom doing it. It must also
look at the other issues that relate to violent crime, which might include growing social and economic
inequalities, media coverage, town planning, racism, employment opportunities, policies around drug
use and criminalisation, the powerIul message oI the consumer society, the legitimisation oI violence
in entertainment and so on. These in turn lead to a consideration oI other issues, such as neo-
liberalism, globalisation, corporate power and levels oI social expenditure. All community issues
need to be understood in their broad context iI a community development strategy is to be successIul.
A holistic understanding also aIIects practice. In the above example, holism suggests that the
community needs to concern itselI with a range oI issues iI it is to be eIIective in dealing with
community concerns, and this validates a broad organic` approach to community development.
Holism in practice also emphasises the importance oI the ripple eIIect`, the idea that we can never
do only one thing but that every act has multiple eIIects like ripples in a pond, reaching out to the
Iurthest ends oI the system. Every act we commit changes the world, oIten in ways we will never
know. Every conversation we have with another person changes both oI us, in perhaps small but
nevertheless signiIicant ways; each oI us, Irom that moment on, will be a slightly diIIerent person as a
result, and this will aIIect our Iuture words and actions, which in turn will aIIect the words and
actions oI others who themselves will be changed as a result. That single conversation will have an
inIluence that stretches Ior centuries, as a result oI the ripple eIIect. This can be a very empowering
way oI thinking, Ior people in communities and Ior community workers. It says that everything we do
or say is important and, Iar Irom Ieeling that we are too powerless to change the world, it suggests
that we are all changing the world all the time. We may not think that by our actions we will change
the world` in the same way as, say, those oI Nelson Mandela, but who is to say that our words and
actions may not Iorm a crucial link in a chain that results in the emergence oI a comparable leader at
some Iuture time? The impact oI our actions, in aIIecting the lives oI the people around us, will
inevitably have Iar-reaching consequences Ior them and Ior others. The little things are important.
2 Sustainability
The principle oI sustainability is an essential component oI the ecological approach (see chapter 2). It
is essential that any community development activity occurs within a Iramework oI sustainability;
otherwise it will simply reinIorce the existing unsustainable order, and will not be viable in the long
term. II community development is to be part oI the establishment oI a new social, economic and
political order, its structures and processes must be sustainable.
Sustainability requires that the use oI non-renewable resources be minimised and, iI possible,
eliminated. This has implications Ior local communities in terms oI land use, liIestyle, conservation,
transport and so on. Community development should aim to minimise dependence on non-renewable
resources and to substitute these with renewable resources. Projects and strategies that might be
encouraged include the promotion oI bicycles as an alternative to motor vehicles, choosing economic
development projects that do not plunder natural resources and not using old-growth Iorest timbers as
building materials.
Sustainability also requires that outputs to the environment, such as pollution, be minimised, and
that materials be conserved and recycled where possible. This too can become a Iocus Ior community
development, both in terms oI minimising pollution, such as Iertiliser run-oII, and, in the more
positive sense, such as establishing community-based recycling, or the establishment oI community-
level renewable energy generation. Such projects can also have the added beneIit oI being ideal
mechanisms Ior establishing stronger community-level contact, and Ior encouraging broad-based
Another important Ieature oI sustainability is limiting growth. Growth has become the norm in
many mainstream structures, yet growth is, by its very nature, unsustainable. Establishing structures,
organisations, businesses and industries that do not have to grow to survive is a major challenge Ior
community development. It is important to help communities to accept a philosophy oI small is
beautiIul` and to enable them to work out what this means in practice. This in turn brings in notions oI
steady-state`, balance, equilibrium and harmony, which are critical aspects oI the ecological
Community development has the responsibility to pilot local sustainability in practice, iI an
alternative and ecologically sane social, economic and political order is to be established. By
demonstrating that such an approach is viable at community level, community development can be
and indeed must be at the IoreIront oI social change. Thus sustainability is not merely a principle
that limits certain Iorms oI community development but also, in a more positive sense, can become a
critical part oI the community development agenda.
3 Diversity
The ecological principle oI diversity has been discussed, implicitly or explicitly, in several oI the
previous chapters, especially chapters 2 and 4. Valuing diversity addresses the ecological dangers oI
monocultures, the modernist tendency to impose a single order onto everything, the colonialist erosion
oI other identities, cultural globalisation and the exclusionary discourses oI racism, sexism, ageism
and so on. This makes it an essential component oI any community development practice. There is
always a danger, in any activity such as community development, oI seeking to impose one way oI
doing things, one world view, one right` structure, in an attempt to encourage unity or conIormity.
This is a signiIicant aspect oI colonialism (see chapter 9), oI structural oppression (see chapter 3)
and oI modernity (see chapter 4). Valuing diversity is an important way oI Iraming opposition to such
tendencies. The idea oI valuing diversity has been very important in the struggles to overcome
oppression, Ior example Ior gays and lesbians, Ior people with disabilities, Ior Indigenous People
and Ior people Irom ethnic and/or racial minorities.
Yet diversity has been a diIIicult issue Ior Western modernity. This is because oI the diIIiculty in
modernity oI accepting the idea oI diIIerent but equal`, as discussed in chapter 4. The principle oI
diversity requires that diIIerence, which is valued, does also imply judgements oI one being somehow
superior to another. The characteristic reaction oI ranking and needing to decide which is better oI
two alternatives works against eIIective and progressive diversity, so it needs to be challenged. This
is another area where Indigenous world views, as discussed in chapter 4, have much to teach Western
community workers.
For community workers, diversity is important at two levels; namely diversity between
communities and diversity within communities. Diversity between communities suggests that one
community does not have to be like others; indeed a community, instead oI trying to Iollow a process
or model Irom elsewhere, can celebrate the diIIerences that make it unique. One oI the strengths oI
community development is that it values diversity between communities, and accepts that diIIerent
communities will have diIIerent ways oI doing things, rather than imposing a right` way to do things.
A community is Iree to experiment, to innovate, to do and express things in its own way. For a
community worker, diversity between communities reinIorces the idea that there is no one right` way
to do community development, that each community is diIIerent, and that what is right Ior one
community is not likely to work in another one. Diversity between communities means that a
community worker must always be prepared to work Irom below in the way described in chapter 6.
Diversity within communities emphasises the importance oI inclusive structures and processes in
the community, so that the community is able to aIIirm and celebrate not only its own diIIerences Irom
other communities but also the diIIerences within the community itselI. Diversity is necessary Ior a
healthy community, and contributes a richness and dynamism to the community experience. Building a
community out oI commonality, in Iact, is counterproductive. We do not learn and grow iI we only
talk to people who are same as we are. It is Irom diIIerence, rather than sameness, that we develop
and move Iorward, and it is Irom diIIerence that we gain strength and resilience. Thus, instead oI
saying in unity is strength`, community workers rather need to be aIIirming in diversity is strength`,
and seeking to build community out oI diIIerence rather than out oI sameness. Encouraging diversity
within the community, and helping to Iind ways to validate that diversity, is thereIore an essential
aspect oI community development work. This will be a particular challenge in communities with a
history and tradition oI exclusion, such as racism or homophobia, and this is where a community
worker needs a strong human rights and social justice perspective to ensure that such exclusion is
actively conIronted.
4 Organic development
An easy way to think oI the concept oI organic development, as opposed to mechanistic development,
is to think oI the diIIerence between a machine and a plant. A machine works independently oI its
environment: it can be moved to another location and will work in the same way, it can be taken away
to be repaired, it requires a small number oI speciIic inputs, and its principles can be readily
understood. While it is working, it basically retains the same structure and Iorm (it may wear out, but
it does not grow or change in any Iundamental way). A plant is Iar more complex, and the principles
oI the totality oI its operation cannot be easily understood. It is highly dependent on the environment,
and interacts with it in many diIIerent ways; iI moved to a diIIerent environment it is likely to wither
and die. It grows, changes with the seasons and reproduces. It needs to be nurtured, and requires
much more than routine maintenance. Such tending and nurturing must take into account a wide variety
oI environmental Iactors: climate, aspect, soil, water, insects, other plants, shelter and so on.
A community is essentially organic (plant-like), rather than mechanistic (machine-like). ThereIore
community development is not governed by simple technical laws oI cause and eIIect but is a
complex and dynamic process; tending and nurturing this development is more an art than a science.
The community has its own inherent capacity to develop its true potential, and community
development is about providing the right conditions and nurturing to enable this development to
Organic development means that one respects and values the community`s particular attributes, and
allows and encourages it to develop in its own unique way, through an understanding oI the complex
relationship between the community and its environment. Such an approach requires a holistic rather
than a linear perspective (see chapters 2 and 4). Development will take place in a variety oI ways at
the same time, as discussed in chapters 10 and 11, and this diversity and the complex interaction
between the various components oI community development is critical to the process.
5 Balanced development
The idea oI balance, or equilibrium, was another oI the important aspects oI an ecological
perspective outlined in chapter 2. This can be translated to the idea oI balanced, or integrated,
community development, using the eight dimensions identiIied in chapters 10 and 11. Social,
economic, political, cultural, environmental, spiritual, personal and survival development all
represent essential aspects oI any community`s liIe. A program oI community development thereIore
must take all eight into account. This does not necessarily mean that all eight will be part oI every
community development strategy; as noted in chapters 10 and 11, it is likely that a community will be
stronger in some oI these eight areas than in others and that, as a result, certain areas will require
more concentration. The important point, however, is that all eight must be considered, so that a
decision to concentrate on, say, economic and social development rather than the other six is made
consciously, and preIerably by the community itselI, rather than simply being assumed as a result oI
the interests oI a community worker or the mandate oI a government agency. Such a decision must be
taken in the Iull understanding oI the critical importance oI all eight areas, not assuming that any one
is more Iundamental than the others.
A community development program that concentrates on only one oI these eight is likely to result
in uneven development: Ior example the development oI a thriving economic base where other human
needs are not met, or a wonderIully rich natural environment within which people are living in
poverty and misery. Indeed, such an approach to development is likely to be ineIIective in the longer
term, and is unlikely to meet the real needs oI the community in anything more than a superIicial way.
It is also possible, however, that development in one area can have positive spin-oIIs in other areas,
and can be planned and implemented in such a way that its developmental goals link to other aspects
oI community development. Community economic development, iI pursued using a local cooperative
model, can easily lead to cooperatives becoming the basis oI other community activity (e.g. cultural
development or the delivery oI human services). Similarly, spiritual development, particularly among
Indigenous communities, can become the basis Ior alternative structures Ior the meeting oI human
need. In this way, one Iorm oI community development can be pursued in such a way as to lead to a
more multiIaceted approach, and the basic principle oI maintaining the integrated and balanced
perspective (chapters 10 and 11) is sustained.
The important thing Ior a community worker thereIore is always to keep all eight aspects oI
community development in mind, to ensure that they are all addressed by the community, and to seek
ways in which development in any one oI the eight might link to and stimulate development in the
other seven.
6 Interdependence
The principle oI interdependence, as opposed to independence, is central to community development,
and has been mentioned in several earlier chapters. The ideology oI independence, so dominant in the
narrative oI neo-liberalism, is, Irom a community development perspective, nonsense. None oI us is
really independent. We are all dependent on each other, in a multiplicity oI ways, and to encourage
people to be independent is to deny the ecological connection between people and between people
and the environment. We are dependent on Iamilies, partners, Iriends, teachers, colleagues,
employers, employees, governments, electronic devices, water supply, motor cars, animals, crops,
shops, corporations, investments and so on. To Iollow the principle oI interdependence community
development needs to Iind ways to challenge the ideology oI independence, and to encourage and
celebrate our interdependence, recognising that it is only through our interdependence that we can
both survive and Ilourish. Communities are about interdependence, so community development works
to recognise, validate and strengthen that interconnection and mutual reliance, thereby breaking down
the individualism that is at the heart oI neo-liberal philosophy and is also the cause oI so much
Indigenous People have a much richer understanding oI interdependence than do people in white
Western cultures, given their concern Ior the interrelationships between people through extended
Iamily and the interrelationships between people and the non-human environment. The idea oI
interdependence, which seems to be so diIIicult Ior the positivist Western mind, is completely natural
Ior Indigenous People, and indeed Ior many other cultural groups.
7 Addressing structural disadvantage
The Iundamental nature oI class, gender and race/ethnicity oppression has been a theme throughout
this book. Community development iI it is to be consistent with the social justice perspective oI
chapter 3 must always take account oI these. At the very least, community development projects
must ensure that they do not reinIorce these Iorms oI structural oppression, and community
development should preIerably seek to conIront and counter them in whatever way or ways are
appropriate within the speciIic context.
This requires a community worker to be aware oI the complex, subtle and pervasive ways in
which class, gender and race/ethnicity oppression operate, through the media, the education system,
organisational structures, the welIare state, language, the economy, the market and advertising. It also
requires community workers to be critically aware oI their own backgrounds, their own (oIten
unconscious) racist, sexist and class-based attitudes and their own participation in the structures oI
Other Iorms oI oppression are important too, in particular age, disability and sexuality. While it
might be argued (although it is a contentious argument) that they are not as Iundamentally pervasive as
class, gender and race/ethnicity, they nevertheless result in the oppression oI signiIicant numbers oI
people. These need to be taken into account by community workers, to ensure that community
development projects serve to counter rather than reinIorce these Iorms oI oppression.
Community development structures and processes can easily reinIorce the dominant structures oI
oppression, Ior example by unthinkingly Iollowing meeting procedures that Iavour articulate, white,
middle-class males, by ignoring the need Ior childcare provision, by scheduling meetings at times
when it is diIIicult Ior some people to attend or by not providing translation or interpreter Iacilities.
The discussion in chapters 10 and 11 identiIied a number oI areas where an unthinking or uncritical
approach to community development reinIorces rather than challenges structural disadvantage.
More positively, community development should address issues oI class, gender, race/ethnicity,
age, disability and sexuality. While there is oppression or disadvantage on any oI these dimensions, a
community will not reach its Iull potential and the goals oI social justice will not be achieved.
Community development should incorporate strategies speciIically designed to overcome such
disadvantage, such as aIIirmative action, positive discrimination, equal opportunity, consciousness-
raising and education. The extent to which this can be explicitly addressed will depend on many
contextual Iactors, and a community worker needs to exercise a degree oI caution. For example, a
community worker entering a conservative rural community and immediately announcing an intention
to work Ior gay and lesbian rights is unlikely to be able to look Iorward to a long and successIul
community work experience in that locality. It may be necessary Ior the explicit acknowledgement
and addressing oI structural disadvantage to wait until the community itselI is ready to embrace it;
aIter all, it is the community`s project, not the worker`s, and the community must set its own agenda.
A critical issue Ior community workers can arise when a community process leads to a decision
that will reinIorce dominant oppressive structures. An extreme example is where a community, aIter a
lengthy consultation process, asks a community worker to help keep the blacks out oI town`; but
more subtle and less dramatic examples also arise, such as a women`s group deciding to set up a
pyramid Iranchising operation, or local industry seeking protection against militant unionism`. (This
will be discussed Iurther in chapter 16, where ethical and moral issues in practice are considered.)
Another important aspect oI addressing structural disadvantage is the critical link between the
personal and the political, the individual and the structural, or private troubles and public issues. It is
only when this link is made that individual needs, problems, aspirations, suIIerings and achievements
can be translated into eIIective community-level action.
All personal experience can be linked to the political; this has been one oI the most important
contributions oI Ieminism, which has clearly demonstrated the political aspects oI such essentially
private activities as domestic and sexual relations, and shown how they have been an arena Ior the
oppression oI women. In this way, every Ieeling and act, however private, also has political
implications. In C. Wright Mills` terms (1970), private troubles can be related to public issues, and
this needs to be understood iI eIIective change strategies are to be undertaken. The dominant
paradigm has tended to break the link between the personal and the political, resulting in the
individualising oI social problems (see chapter 3), which has reinIorced the dominance oI
conservative and therapeutic solutions that ignore structural issues.
As well as there being a political side to every personal issue, the reverse is also true: there is a
personal side to every political issue. Unemployment, the economy, Iree trade, health insurance,
public transport, industrial development and so on all aIIect people in a personal and individual way.
The human impact oI political issues is also oIten ignored or minimised in mainstream political
discourse, except Ior highly sensationalised treatment by the commercial media. Again, Ieminism has
been particularly inIluential in demonstrating how such issues can aIIect people`s lives. In the case oI
Ieminism this has been speciIically in terms oI the oppression oI women, but a similar approach can
be taken across a broad range oI social phenomena and relating to other Iorms oI structural
disadvantage and economic or political domination.
Community development has the potential to make these links, as it is able to provide a Iorum in
which the political aspects oI the personal, and the personal aspects oI the political, can be identiIied
and explored. Indeed, unless these links are made, the potential oI community development to
transIorm society is severely limited.
These links are not addressed explicitly in many community development contexts. However, it is
clearly possible to make and emphasise the link between the personal and the political in many
aspects oI one`s day-to-day work, helping people and groups always to think about each in terms oI
the other. Someone who is out oI work can be helped to see their personal problem as one that they
share with many others, and is related to national and international politics, the global economy and
so on. Simply bringing people together a basic Iunction oI community work can help people to
share their problems and concerns, and to begin to explore ways whereby together, rather than
individually, they might do something about them. Politicisation does not have to be controversial,
dangerous or extreme; it can simply be a case oI helping people to talk about their problems and their
lives, and helping them make connections. And Ior community workers this represents the Iirst step
towards addressing structural disadvantage.
In addressing structures oI disadvantage, the wisdom oI Indigenous People, can be important. As
was discussed in chapter 4, the ability to accept diIIerent but equal` leads to complementary roles
Ior men and women where neither is seen as superior to the other. Similarly, the Indigenous respect
Ior elders and the wisdom they can oIIer stands in sharp contrast to the ageism oI the modern West,
where old age has even been deIined as a disease and where older people are oIten seen as a drain
on society`s resources.
8 Addressing discourses of disadvantage
The above section dealt with disadvantage Irom a structural perspective. Another perspective, as
identiIied in chapter 3, is the poststructural, whereby, rather than structures oI power, it is discourses
oI power that are oI particular concern. II power relations are deIined and redeIined in continually
changing discourses oI power, and iI these discourses then become the way in which power is
exercised and perpetuated, then it is important Ior community development to address discourses oI
power as well as structures oI power. The position oI this book is that both structures and discourses
oI power are important in shaping power relations and in aIIecting people`s lives; it is not a case oI
one or the other, but rather a more inclusive paradigm that encompasses both.
Discourses oI power and oppression thereIore need to be addressed in community development.
The worker needs to be able to identiIy and deconstruct discourses oI power and to understand how
those discourses eIIectively privilege and empower some people while marginalising and
disempowering others. This deconstruction is a critical component oI consciousness-raising, to be
discussed below. But it is not simply a case oI being able to identiIy and deconstruct, as this can
simply result in Ieelings oI powerlessness. It is also important Ior community development to seek
actively to engage with the dominant discourse, and to become part oI the reconstruction oI discourse,
so that people in the community can contribute to the discursive construction oI power. This means
that community members can be empowered to help identiIy approaches to power and power
relations, and to articulate relationships oI power Irom their own perspective rather than Irom
somebody else`s point oI view. Further, they can be helped to articulate their view within the wider
societal discourse (e.g. through social media, the internet or mainstream media), and thereby
contribute to the redeIinition oI power relationships. A simple example might be Ior a group oI
people with disabilities to mount a concerted eIIort to write letters to newspapers, contribute to
relevant blogs and web discussion groups, send tweets where possible, stage media events Ior
television and print journalists, phone radio talkback shows, speak to university classes and inIluence
prominent media commentators, politicians and opinion leaders, in order to promote a more positive
view oI the experience oI people with disabilities and the contribution they can make to society,
rather than deIining them as dependent and in need oI charity.
InIluencing discourses oI power can be undertaken in diIIerent ways, depending on the context, but
Irom a poststructural perspective it is the capacity to articulate an alternative vision, and to have it
validated within the dominant discourse, that is at the heart oI community empowerment.
9 Empowerment
Empowerment should be an aim oI all community development. The word has been much overused,
but in the sense in which it was discussed in chapter 3 empowerment means providing people with
the resources, opportunities, vocabulary, knowledge and skills to increase their capacity to determine
their own Iuture, and to participate in and aIIect the liIe oI their community.
A strategy oI total` empowerment requires that the barriers to people exercising power be
understood, addressed and overcome. These include the structures oI oppression (especially class,
gender and race/ethnicity), language, education, personal mobility and the domination by elites oI the
structures and discourses oI power. Understood in these terms, then, empowerment is a Iorm oI
radical change, which would overturn existing structures and discourses oI domination.
It is too much to expect that any community development project will be able to achieve this
single-handedly. Indeed, any project that explicitly attempted to do so would be almost bound to Iail.
Community development, however, can have more modest empowerment aims. Any increase in
empowerment Ior more disadvantaged sections oI the community will help to bring about a more
socially just society, and even limited empowerment oI members oI a local community will strengthen
that community and will enable more eIIective community-based structures to be put in place.
Similarly, any strategy that reinIorces the structures and discourses that oppose empowerment is
likely to weaken rather than strengthen community activity.
The extent to which any community development program will explicitly address empowerment
will vary. In many instances empowerment will be a by-product oI another developmental process,
rather than being a stated aim. For example a community recycling program, an adult literacy class or
the establishment and operation oI a women`s reIuge can be done in such a way that the people
involved, and the community as a whole, are empowered by the process. To achieve this, people must
be encouraged to take control oI the project themselves and through it to learn that they can indeed
have more control over their community and their lives. They are then not seen simply as volunteer
helpers but as a vital part oI the process; the project becomes their project.
In encouraging empowerment, care must be taken not to indulge in empty rhetoric suggesting that iI
you want something badly enough and work hard at it you will get it. It is not true that people can get
anything they want, nor is it true that empowerment is merely a case oI telling people that they can
have power and all they have to do is grab it. Making people Ieel good, and giving them motivation
and conIidence is important it may be necessary but it is certainly not suIIicient. Working on a
genuine empowerment strategy takes a lot oI time, energy and commitment, and requires signiIicant
change, which is likely to be resisted and will require long, hard struggle. The achievements oI most
community development projects in this direction will be modest, but nonetheless important.
The other principles in this chapter may at times limit some Iorms oI empowerment; iI people are
empowered so that they can live an extravagant and ecologically unsustainable liIestyle, or so that
they can more eIIectively exploit others, then that empowerment project cannot be justiIied. There are
limits to empowerment outcomes, as there are limits to all community outcomes, imposed by the
ecological social justice parameters oI chapters 2 and 3.
10 Need definition
The concept oI need, and need deIinition, was discussed in chapter 3. It is important at this point,
however, to emphasise the critical importance oI need deIinition in community development. There
are two key community work principles relating to need that have to be identiIied here.
The Iirst is that community development should seek to bring about agreement between the various
need-deIiners identiIied in chapter 3, namely the population as a whole, consumers, service providers
and researchers. Where there are diIIerent perceptions between these need-deIiners, there is less
likelihood that people`s needs will be eIIectively met, and the various actors will be working at
cross-purposes. Community work should thereIore seek to bring about an eIIective dialogue between
these need-deIiners, each oI which has a legitimate and important role to play, to develop a consensus
about the community`s needs. In reality, many oI these need-deIiners seldom communicate eIIectively
with each other around issues oI need. For example, how oIten do demographic researchers doing
need analysis and consumers actually talk to each other, and, iI they did, would either understand
what the other was talking about?
The second principle is that, despite the importance oI various other need-deIiners, the need
deIinition oI the people themselves (i.e. community members) should take precedence, as long as
ecological and social justice principles are not thereby compromised. The important Iocus oI a
critical social practice is to engage people in a dialogue that will lead them to be better able to
articulate their true needs (Marcuse 1964), and not have needs deIined Ior them by others. This is
essential iI community work practice is to be liberating and empowering, rather than the reverse.
Community development, indeed, can be deIined as helping communities to articulate their needs,
then to act so that they can be met. For this to happen, in light oI the ecological and social justice
perspectives discussed in earlier chapters, the people themselves must own and control the process
oI need assessment and deIinition.
11 Human rights
Human rights are important Ior community development at two levels. First, human rights provide an
important set oI parameters within which community development occurs. This can provide a
community worker with a justiIication Ior not accepting a community`s expressed desire to proceed in
a direction not compatible with human rights standards or agreements such as the Universal
Declaration oI Human Rights. These instruments enable a community worker to take a stand against,
Ior example, racial or cultural exclusion, promoting a culture oI violence, and so on. Similarly, human
rights standards can be used to take a stand against demands oI managers or Iunders that community
development should proceed in a certain way, such as management directives to prevent people in a
community Irom holding peaceIul demonstrations in order not to rock the boat.
At another level, however, human rights can represent an important Iocus Ior community
development. Human rights, like community development, are about people achieving their Iull
humanity, and we can really achieve our human rights only in human community. An individual
marooned on a desert island has no rights, as there is nobody to meet the corresponding
responsibilities to ensure that those rights are protected and realised; human rights require some kind
oI community oI rights and responsibilities (Gewirth 1996), and hence there is a natural convergence
between human rights and community development. Indeed, community development provides a way
to move beyond the legal understanding oI human rights, which, while important, is insuIIicient Ior the
Iull realisation oI our rights. Rather, community development works towards a culture oI human
rights, which is clearly necessary in a society where human rights are valued. In this regard, human
rights can become a Iocal point Ior community development, through a community deciding on its own
understandings oI rights, and the responsibilities that go with them, then working out what this means
in the practice oI community liIe. (For a much Iuller discussion oI the relationship between human
rights and community development, see IIe 2010.)
Principles of valuing the local
The principles implied by the idea oI change Irom below, or bottom-up development, are central to
the idea oI community development, yet, as discussed in chapter 5, they oIten conIlict with the taken-
Ior-granted ideas oI top-down rationality, planning and change. These principles centre on the idea oI
valuing the local, and not privileging knowledge, skills, processes and resources that are imposed on
a community Irom above.
12 Assets-based development
Community development is oIten conceived Irom a deIicit perspective: something is wrong with the
community that needs to be Iixed or community development is seen as a solution to a problem such
as juvenile oIIending, domestic violence, poverty, mental illness and so on; and this agenda is oIten
set by people external to the community, such as managers, politicians or Iunders. While community
development can clearly play an important role in addressing these problems, this can lead to an
assumption that it is deIicient` communities that need community development. Hence the community
development process begins by Iocusing on a problem or deIicit; this is not a good starting point Ior
community development that seeks to draw on the assets oI a community, as described in earlier
The principle oI assets-based development means that it is the community`s strengths or assets that
are the key basis Ior developmental work, and that a community worker needs to start with, and
concentrate on, a community`s strengths, not its problems. This has been the basis oI Assets Based
Community Development, or ABCD, as outlined by Kretzmann & McKnight (1993; see also Haines
2009). By starting with a community`s strengths there is likely to be a more positive Ieeling about
community development and a stronger sense oI ownership oI the process. It also means that
community development is seen not only as something Ior communities with problems but rather Ior
all communities. This can help move beyond the identiIication oI community development with
welIare; community development can certainly address social problems and provide a welIare role,
especially given the decline oI the welIare state, but it is Iar more than that, and is something Ior all
communities rather than only Ior communities oI disadvantage.
13 Valuing local knowledge
The principle oI valuing local knowledge simply states that local knowledge and expertise are likely
to be oI most value in inIorming community development, and that they must be identiIied and
validated rather than subordinated to the knowledge and expertise oI the outside expert. OI course
there are times when external knowledge will be needed, but this must be where possible a last
resort, only aIter the community itselI (not just the community worker) is satisIied that the necessary
knowledge is not available within the community. II knowledge is understood as either universal or
local (i.e. contextualised), it is clear that in community development most oI the knowledge that will
be useIul is local knowledge. Some universal principles, such as those discussed in this chapter, may
apply in a general way, but they must be shaped and mediated by local knowledge so that they can
become relevant in the speciIic community context.
This goes against the common practice oI engaging an outside consultant, or immediately assuming
that wisdom should be sought only Irom outside the community. Such practice can devalue and
eIIectively disempower the community, when the aim oI community development should be precisely
the reverse. A community development process should seek to identiIy local knowledge, to assess the
extent oI local expertise, whether Iormally recognised or not, and realise that external expertise can
help a community only in a more general way, rather than in terms oI speciIic programs. Such an
approach can help to persuade members oI a community that they might have the knowledge necessary
to work on their particular issues, and this can be a Iirst step towards action Ior change.
14 Valuing local culture
Cultural globalisation is robbing communities around the world oI their cultural identity. The
principle oI valuing local culture requires that this be addressed, and that local cultural traditions and
processes be validated and supported as part oI a community development process. This principle
cannot, oI course, be applied in disregard oI other principles, such as human rights, sustainability or
the need to conIront structures and discourses oI disadvantage. Uncritical reinIorcement oI local
culture can sometimes entrench exclusive, unsustainable and marginalising practices. However, it
must always be remembered that cultures are dynamic rather than static, and that cultural traditions
are oIten contested within local contexts. This enables principles oI human rights, inclusiveness,
sustainability and so on to be addressed by the community within the context oI its ongoing
development, but this does not mean that local culture is devalued in the process.
Culture is essential to our identity, and a community that does not value its local culture is denying
its members the opportunity Ior a strong local identity, which is essential to an experience oI
community. The valuing and supporting oI local culture, through community cultural development as
described in chapter 11, is an essential component oI community development. It is also important to
encourage a local participatorv culture. The commodiIication oI culture, and its packaging Ior
passive consumption, works against local understandings oI culture and reinIorces the imposition oI
cultural globalisation. A more participatory culture will tend, by contrast, to value the local, as
people will express their cultural identity in locally contextualised ways. (This too was discussed in
more detail in chapter 11.)
15 Valuing local resources
The idea oI selI-reliance, discussed in chapter 6, implies that the community should seek to utilise its
own resources wherever possible rather than relying on external support. This applies to all Iorms oI
resources Iinancial, technical, natural and human and can be achieved in a variety oI ways. The
development oI locally based economic systems such as LETS is a very good way to utilise untapped
resources and to ensure that the value oI people`s labour remains in the community. Seeking local
Iinancial support Ior community projects is not always possible, but it is normally preIerable to
relying on external sources oI Iunding, as these inevitably impose their own conditions, which might
not correspond with the community`s interest. Simply making an inventory oI the interests and
expertise available within the community, then making this inIormation widely accessible, can be a
useIul developmental activity; the very act oI compiling the inventory can itselI stimulate community
interest and involvement, and help to get people talking together.
The dominant welIare state` way oI thinking means that people will oIten ignore such local
resources, and seek support Irom elsewhere normally Irom governments. This can weaken local
community structures, and is in any case oI doubtIul long-term value given increasing doubts about the
viability oI the welIare state. It is important to ask the question: iI it can`t be done with local
resources, is it worth doing at all? SelI-reliant communities are going to be in a much better position
to cope with a Iuture oI uncertainty and crisis. ThereIore community development should aim to
strengthen community selI-reliance wherever possible, and community development projects should
aim always to increase selI-reliance and to seek ways in which selI-reliance can be initiated and
reinIorced. State-sponsored and state-Iunded community development has had a long tradition, and
the natural response oI a government to a perceived need Ior community development is to establish a
state-supported community development program oI some kind. However, government sponsorship oI
community development can erode selI-reliance and weaken the basis oI community. For this reason,
communities and community workers should think careIully beIore applying Ior government Iunding
or other Iorms oI support or beIore participating in government-sponsored programs.
This is not to say that government support should never be accepted. Sometimes there is no
realistic alternative, and sometimes government support is necessary in order to start a community
development process; in such a case its temporary nature should be emphasised. But, in general, the
more a community can do without government Iunding, the better.
An approach to community development that seeks to minimise government Iunding might be
criticised as playing into the hands oI the Right`, by providing governments with a ready excuse to
cut social spending on the grounds that programs are better run by autonomous, selI-reliant
communities. However, it must also be pointed out that iI a community is independent oI government
it is in a much stronger position to criticise government, to propose progressive or radical
alternatives and to be Iree oI government control, whereas a group that receives government Iunding
inevitably has this independence compromised. Governments, whether oI the Right or the LeIt, have
much more to Iear Irom the actions oI independent autonomous and selI-reliant communities than Irom
groups that can eIIectively be controlled through government Iinancial support. Hence, a move
towards reducing a community`s dependence on government can hardly be seen as a right-wing
conspiracy. The community development vision, aIter all, seeks to provide an eventual alternative to
government, and it is thereIore necessary to break Iree oI the constraints oI operating within the
government system.
Other sources oI Iunding, such as churches and Ioundations, are oIten less restrictive than
government, as such Iunding bodies are oIten more able to accept the legitimacy oI a community-
based alternative. It does not, aIter all, threaten their very existence in the way that it may do Ior
governments. However, the same principles oI selI-reliance and independence eventually apply.
Another way in which the resources oI a local community can be realised and valued is through
community ownership. Very Iew material resources are owned at community level. Most
commodities, land, buildings and so on are either owned by individuals or small businesses on the
one hand, or by larger entities such as corporations or governments on the other. Community
ownership tends to be conIined to such things as the community hall, local parks and gardens and the
plant and equipment oI local government. A widening oI community ownership is an important aspect
oI building community; it can help support a community`s sense oI identity, it can give people more
reason to become actively involved at community level and it can be a more eIIicient use oI
Many oI the things owned on an individual or household basis lie unused Ior most oI the time.
Examples include garden tools, woodworking tools, washing machines, lawn mowers, books,
recreational equipment, games, bicycles and computers. This is grossly ineIIicient Irom an economic
point oI view, and ecologically wasteIul. Community or group ownership oI such items makes Iar
more sense, although it contradicts the ethic oI individual ownership and private consumption, which
is the main obstacle to such an alternative. It is essential, however, iI we are to move towards a
society where there is a lower level oI material consumption (which Irom an ecological point oI view
is inevitable) without a corresponding reduction in the quality oI liIe.
There are several ways such community-level ownership could be organised, and diIIerent Iorms
oI organisation will suit diIIerent communities and diIIerent commodities. The local library is a
prime example oI community-level ownership that works extremely well, and oIten serves as a
natural Iocus Ior community activities and interaction. The library system can be (and has been)
extended beyond books to include toy libraries, tool libraries and so on, and in most communities
there is potential Ior its Iurther development.
The library is not the only model Ior community ownership, nor is it always the most appropriate.
An alternative approach is the convenient central location oI Iacilities such as a computer room, a
workshop, a community laundry or a community vegetable garden, to which people can come
whenever they wish; this is particularly appropriate Ior items that are not readily transportable.
Community gardens, in particular, have become common in many inner-city or suburban areas.
Another is Ior a particular person or Iamily to take responsibility on behalI oI the community Ior the
storage, care and maintenance oI a particular item, so that people could approach that person when
they wanted to use it; this not only provides Ior community ownership but creates a role Ior a person
in the community, perhaps someone who might otherwise be marginalised or who would Ieel useless.
The decline oI community has seen the loss oI many such roles, and recreating them is an important
Iunction oI community development.
16 Valuing local skills
One oI the greatest temptations Ior community workers is to think that they are the people with the
skills Ior community development. Such a perspective not only privileges community workers over
those with whom they are working, it also devalues the important skills that community members
have; aIter all, they are the ones who know the community and the local context, and the skills that
have been developed locally are likely to be the ones that will work best in that environment. A
community development approach must thereIore seek to value and maximise these skills rather than
devaluing and marginalising them.
This does not mean that the skills the community worker brings are unimportant or irrelevant.
Obviously there are skills in community development that workers are able to bring to a community;
otherwise why have a community worker at all? However, these skills have to be located within the
local context, and need to be applied appropriately to the speciIic location; it is not a case oI skills
being like a toolkit, where the same tools can be used everywhere, but rather that skills will be
modiIied and applied diIIerently in diIIerent contexts.
More importantly, community workers must always realise that community members themselves
possess important skills, and that ultimately these are what will drive the community development
process. OIten it is important to reinIorce this in working with community members, many oI whom
will not see the things they can do as skills and thereIore important to the process. Much oI a
community worker`s time is spent in reinIorcing, supporting and valuing the work oI community
members, and helping them to apply their particular skills in the interests oI the community as a
An important aspect oI community work skills, which will be discussed Iurther in chapters 13 and
14, is the idea oI skill-sharing. This means that community workers and community members do not
seek only to apply their particular skills but also to skill each other. A community worker may come
to a community with particular skills, but must always look Ior ways in which relevant skills can be
learned by community members. As a simple example, the skill oI working with the media is likely to
be well developed by an experienced community worker. But iI that worker does all the media
liaison, interviews, media releases and so on, other community members will not be able to develop
that skill themselves. The worker might seek the collaboration oI community members on those
media-related tasks and learn the necessary skills aiming Ior a situation in which community
members are able (skilled) to handle all media releases and interviews. This means that when the
worker leaves the community those skills remain behind and community members will be more
However, it must not be thought that skill transIer is only one-way, with the worker skilling` the
community members. Community workers are also able to learn skills as part oI the process;
community members will undoubtedly have many skills that the worker does not, and a good
community worker is learning all the time. A community work approach, oI not privileging the
worker`s skills over those oI the community, thus results in a two-way exchange oI skills hence the
idea oI skill-sharing, a process whereby both worker and community members can develop new
skills that can be applied in community development.
17 Valuing local processes
The imposition oI speciIic answers, structures or processes Irom outside the community seldom
works. This indeed is one oI the main rationales Ior the community development approach; it is
because things do not work very well when they are imposed Irom outside that community-based
structures and processes are seen as providing a more appropriate alternative. This implies that the
community development approach itselI cannot be imposed but must be genuinely developed within
the community, in a way that Iits the speciIic context and is sensitive to local community culture,
traditions and environment.
The ecological principle oI diversity emphasises that there is no one right way oI doing things, and
no single answer that applies to every community. What works in one environment will not work in
another. ThereIore a Iundamental principle oI community development must be to be deeply
mistrustIul oI any process imposed Irom outside, however well intentioned. For a government or
NGO to attempt to develop a policy on community development that sets out a model oI how it should
be achieved is Iutile and contradictory. Governments can certainly assist the processes oI community
development, through the provision oI resources, through communication, through support and through
networking, but they cannot determine how community development should occur. Similarly, any
textbook or manual that speciIies how to do` community development, or how to do` a particular
community task (e.g. set up a LETS scheme, run a community meeting or assess needs) is likely to be
at best ineIIective and at worst dangerous; such texts inevitably devalue local process, and should be
treated with extreme caution.
This does not mean that a community development process cannot beneIit Irom experience gained
elsewhere. Clearly something that has been shown to work well somewhere else is worthy oI serious
attention. II such ideas are examined to see how they might be adapted to the local community, and
whether they might help improve local processes, then they can be extremely valuable. Outside
experts or consultants may have something valuable to contribute, iI they are prepared to do so in a
way that respects the unique Ieatures oI the local community and does not seek to impose externally
derived answers. Communities can learn Irom each other`s experiences; what they cannot do is
simply apply a Iormula that has worked somewhere else without critically evaluating it in terms oI its
local context.
All community development processes are context-speciIic, and they cannot be understood in
terms oI universal rules. The diIIerent context means that each community development experience
will be unique, and the community must develop in its own particular way. It can learn Irom the
experiences oI others, but should never slavishly copy them.
When central governments try to become involved in community development they tend to do so
within traditional bureaucratic Irameworks, which involve vertical communication, accountability
upwards, the imposition oI policies and the encouragement oI uniIormity. The community
development perspective requires horizontal communication (learning Irom each other, not Irom
imposed expertise), accountability to the community and the encouragement oI diversity, and this
applies as much to process as it does to knowledge, culture, resources and skills.
Process principles
A number oI principles relating to the process oI community development have been discussed in
previous chapters, principally in chapter 7, and are summarised here. Community development is
essentially about a process rather than an outcome, about the journey rather than the arrival, and hence
many oI the most important practice principles Iocus on the idea oI process.
18 Process, outcome and vision
The tension between process and outcome has been a major issue in community work. A pragmatic
approach tends to emphasise outcome: what is seen as most important is the result that is actually
achieved, and how it is achieved is relatively unimportant. This position was expressed in its extreme
Iorm by Alinsky in his discussion oI means and ends (1971). For Alinsky, it is the ends that are
critically important, and the only reason Ior thinking about means relates to their eIIectiveness in
reaching the desired end; ethical issues, and other speciIically process-oriented concerns, become
The alternative to Alinsky`s pragmatism is the Gandhian approach (Gandhi 1942), which sees
process and outcome as integrated. Hence, one cannot achieve a non-violent society by using
essentially violent processes; the process itselI is important in determining the outcome. Violent or
unprincipled means will corrupt the end, and the process must reIlect the outcome, as the outcome
will most certainly reIlect the process. Ethical and moral issues oI process, Iar Irom being
unimportant as in the Alinsky approach, become central. The approach to community development
outlined in this book clearly reIlects the Gandhian rather than the Alinsky view.
Concentrating on process, however, can lead one to lose sight oI the ultimate vision, and can result
in an obsession with process and an ignoring oI the structural context; this characterises a good deal
oI new age` practice, where Ieeling good and communicating honestly with other people are seen as
suIIicient to change the world. This is both potentially conservative and largely ineIIective in bringing
about progressive change. It is essential that the process always be located in its wider context, using
the analysis oI earlier chapters.
Rather than outcomes, it is thereIore important to talk about vision; this is less speciIic than the
idea oI an outcome, but still emphasises the importance oI having some idea oI where we are headed,
and what it is all Ior. The idea oI vision in community de