Handbook of Health Communication

By Teresa L. Thompson; Alicia M. Dorsey et al. | Go to book overview

10
The State of the Art and the
State of the Science of
Community Organizing
James W. Dearing
Ohio University

The practice of community organizing can change quickly. Practitioners react—sometimes instantly—when they perceive that some aspect of what they do could produce better results if modified. When people are not being persuaded, the appeal is altered. If no one is showing up, new points of contact are tried. If a program officer can be convinced, a different approach is tried. Good practitioners are masters of trial and error and experimentation. Their decisions are based on personal experience with the health problem, knowledge of the community in question, memory of previous social change initiatives, and advice from practitioner-colleagues. Occasionally, codified book knowledge from their formal training plays a part in determining strategies; more often, it does not (Dearing et al., 1996). For them, knowledge resides in the community. Community organizers are social change artists. The state of good practice is the state of the art.

Research about community organizing as accumulated in scholarly journals and books changes slowly. The studies take a long time to conceptualize, fund, conduct, and publish. Then other scholars have to read the publications and use them to inform their own work. Researchers are trained to be skeptical and seek validation of concepts and relationships from multiple studies. Good researchers are masters of caution and are meticulous about variation. Their decisions are based on what has been tested before and carefully reasoned hunches about what should work and why. For many scholars, knowledge resides in the literature. The state of good research is the state of the science.

The purpose of this chapter is to describe the state of the art and the state of the science of community organizing. I do this by focusing on what Coleman (1973) considered the major distinction among theories of change: Whether the locus of change is vested in the social conditions that give rise to a problem, or in the individuals who experience the problem.

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