A Critique of Rothman's and Other Standard Community Organizing Models: Toward Developing a Culturally Proficient Community Organizing Framework

Article excerpt

This article critiques Rothman's community organizing analysis framework on the basis of (a) attention to culture as a central dynamic shaping community organizing and (b) the exclusion of organizing models endemic to African, Latin, Asian, and Native American (ALANA) communities. Other standard community organizing models are similarly analyzed, along with cross-cultural and culturally centered community organizing models. All models are examined with regard to level of cultural competence and then compared and contrasted with Rothman's original framework. Based on this analysis, a modification of Rothman's community analysis framework is proposed that includes the examination of the cultural world view(s) held in the target community and the ways in which cultural forms are used in organizing. Implications for community practice, research, and teaching are offered to conclude the article.

Keywords: African Americans, African centered social work, community organizing, cultural competence, cultural diversity, deconstruction

Culture is the sum total of a people's thoughts, beliefs and behaviors (Karenga, 1998); as such, culture serves as a schema for living and interpreting reality (Nobles, 1990). Although seemingly obvious, it is important to point out that every individual and community has a culture (Lum, 2007) and that culture shapes the ways in which all people and communities define problems and conceptualize strategies for problem resolution (McGoldrick, Giordano, & Garcia Preto, 2005). Thus, culture has a profound impact on community organizing for community development.

In recognition of the influence of culture, social workers and other practitioners have firmly embraced the goal of striving to develop culturally competent practice models. The success of their efforts is evident in the plethora of micro-level practice models that are centered in the cultures of various peoples. However, in community practice pedagogy, the standard framework offered by Rothman (Fisher, 1994; Rothman, 1974, 1996; Tropman, Erlich, & Rothman, 1995; Well, 1996) to conceptualize community organizing lacks attention to culture and the influence of this factor on community organizing approaches (Betten & Austin, 1990; Bradshaw, Soifer & Gutierrez, 1996; Burwell, 1995; Carlton-LaNey, 1994; Glugoski, Reich, & Rivera, 1994; Gutierrez & Lewis, 1994; Rivera & Erlich, 1997; Stoecker, 2003).

Rothman's framework has been central to community organizing practice and pedagogy. Its basic concepts have endured because of their explanatory power and applicably to practice. However, the inattention to the centrality of culture in conceptualizing community organizing presents a key epistemological lacuna, which may challenge community practitioners' ability to develop the most appropriate community organizing strategies and interventions for the target milieu.

This article explores culture and cultural competence, as related to community organizing, in order to propose a modification to Rothman's community organizing analysis framework that will allow it to be used to identify and be responsive to the dynamics of culture in community practice. This exploration will include (a) defining culture and cultural competence as related to community organizing, (b) an assessment of the cultural competence of traditional community organizing frameworks and select alternative organizing models, (c) an examination of organizing models centering on issues of culture, and (d) an integration of the findings into a modification of Rothman framework.


According to Amulya, Campbell, Allen, and McDowell (2004), culture is an "organizing asset, a means of building a sense of power" (p. 18). Rivera and Erlich (1997) would seemingly agree, as they define culture as influencing multiple facets of community organizing: (a) community members' interaction with each other and the external community, (b) community members' conceptualizations of power, (c) the mechanisms through which power relationships are manifested, (d) processes of developing critical consciousness and empowerment, (e) the relevant community vehicles for fostering empowerment, and (f) community members' view of their situation. …


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