Contesting Community: The Limits and Potential of Local Organizing

Contesting Community: The Limits and Potential of Local Organizing

Contesting Community: The Limits and Potential of Local Organizing

Contesting Community: The Limits and Potential of Local Organizing

Synopsis


What do community organizations and organizers do, and what should they do? For the past thirty years politicians, academics, advocates, and activists have heralded community as a site and strategy for social change. In contrast, Contesting Community paints a more critical picture of community work which, according to the authors--in both theory and practice--has amounted to less than the sum of its parts. Their comparative study of efforts in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada describes and analyzes the limits and potential of this work.

Covering dozens of groups, including ACORN, Brooklyn's Fifth Avenue Committee, and the Immigrant Workers Centre in Montreal, and discussing alternative models, this book is at once historical and contemporary, global and local. Contesting Community addresses one of the vital issues of our day--the role and meaning of community in people's lives and in the larger political economy.

Excerpt

This book grew out of our shared concerns about what has happened to community, community organizations, and the politics and policies that shape them. Although we all teach in universities, we have long personal engagements in community and social justice work, and are active in, or allies with, a number of community organizations whose work informs our understanding of contemporary practice. Our interest in local community is tied to a broad social and economic critique of neoliberal forms of capitalism. We believe that the struggle for social change, shaped by the goals of social and economic justice and equality, is still critical. and this is especially true now, when these ideals are often dismissed by the mainstream and when economic injustice is so apparent. Further, we believe that the local community is an important, but not an exclusive, place to work for these goals. As co-authors, we began our discussions and made the decision to write this book because, in our own positions as academics and activists, we had witnessed the marginalization of the longer-term goals of economic and social justice as part of the agenda of community organizing. in its place, we see a narrower focus on much more limited practice. This limited practice is justified because it meets specific needs with a deliberate pragmatism. Further, it is often shaped by the needs of the neoliberal context, and the related priorities of government and of the large private foundations that fund these organizations. in discussing this observation, we thought that a book that broadly examines the direction of community practice would answer the questions of why this has happened and what other possibilities exist. We believe that being situated both in and outside of community organizations, with a critical orientation, gives a perspective that can bring theory and critique to a discussion of the practices in which we have engaged or observed in the day-to-day of community life.

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