Academic journal article Journal of the Community Development Society

Growth Machine Attitudes and Community Development in Two Racially Diverse Rural Mississippi Delta Communities: A Monolithic Approach in a Complex Region

Academic journal article Journal of the Community Development Society

Growth Machine Attitudes and Community Development in Two Racially Diverse Rural Mississippi Delta Communities: A Monolithic Approach in a Complex Region

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Residents and identified community leaders from two rural Mississippi Delta communities were studied to determine the extent to which diverse groups of this region advocate the same needs of, perceived attitudes toward, and approaches within community development. Five assumptions concerning community development in the racially diverse Mississippi Delta, a region argued to have a patronage approach to economic development and social opportunities, were empirically examined through cross-tabulations, exploratory factor analysis, and independent sample T-tests Virtually no differences were found across race, gender, income, owning additional property (other than a house) in the region, and leaders versus non-leaders in their needs, attitudes and approaches. All groups adhere to a monolithic "growth machine" approach which seems to perpetuate a patronage system in the region. To keep political and economic elites from dominating the community development agenda, more emphasis needs to be placed on local community betterment than on community economic development, potentially giving rise to different voices in the community.

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INTRODUCTION

To what extent do the diverse groups of the rural Mississippi Delta, an area some have argued uses an elite patronage approach to economic development and social opportunities (Duncan, 1999; Gray, 1991), advocate the same needs of, perceived attitudes toward, and approaches within community development? Intuitively, extreme differences across local groups should engender different needs, attitudes, and approaches to local community development. However, in a context of extreme diversity, punctuated by social inequality, where differences are ascribed and shape life-chances, attitudes of patronage from a powerful class of community decision-makers may circumvent the individual needs of less powerful groups. Further, ambiguities built into the concept of community development itself may facilitate the acquiescence of various groups' agendas to the unidimensional vision of a hegemonic group who seeks local economic growth opportunities that disproportionately benefit them.

At least five different assumptions can be identified from the above discussion which were explored empirically in this research: 1) Ceteris Paribus, different groups should display different needs, attitudes, and approaches to local community development; 2) because all things are not equal, not only can powerful groups enforce their views of community development, they can persuade others to adopt them as well; 3) in a highly diverse, and stratified setting, generic economic growth does not necessarily benefit everyone equally; 4) powerful groups have a direct interest in local economic growth and will advocate it as a generic community development strategy; and 5) in cases like those described above, relative consensus on community development needs, attitudes, and approaches across diverse groups may be a reflection of one group's hegemony and not symbolic of the incorporation of different groups into the community development process.

Defining and Applying Community Development in a Highly Diverse Population

When put into practice, the concept of community development is fraught with paradoxes and internal tensions. While advocating preservation, it champions change. It works under the rubric of universal axioms while recognizing that local context is not only the target of purposeful action but that which shapes it. In acknowledging local context, it also identifies the human diversity within it by attempting to address the potentially different needs, attitudes, and approaches toward community development of each group. Yet its strategies are often stated in universal terms--at a community level--even when variability is assumed across different groups within the community. These tensions are particularly acute in highly diverse rural populations (see Christenson, 1980, 1989; Summers, 1986) where community development efforts have typically meant rural industrialization (Deaton, 1981; Dorf & Emerson, 1978; Kuehn, Braschler, & Shonkwiler, 1979; Lloyd & Wilkinson, 1985; Luloff & Chittenden, 1984; Smith, Deaton, & Kelch, 1978; Summers, 1986; Till, 1981; Williams, Sofranko, & Root, 1977), and to a lesser extent, attracting retirees (Bender et al. …

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