Community Engagement · Social Justice

Creating a personal theory of community, engagement, and social change to foster community

Our community engagement class has crossed the mid-point and is now on spring break. The challenge over break is for us to review course readings to date to come up with our personal theories of community, engagement, and social change to foster community. So often we respond positively or negatively to an engagement program or methodology without grounding that evaluation in a theory, lived and academic. Here are my reflections on the readings and discussion questions that have most informed our class journey so far.

Readings within each section are listed randomly. (As an aside, a helpful reading was brought forward regarding how to read for graduate school by Miriam Sweeney that others might find helpful in working through the readings below.) Each section, On Community, On Engagement, and On Social Change plays off the other, building from the one before and benefiting from the sections that follow. Each also benefits from the lens of our histories and experiences in community as an action/reflection praxis. As such, a community of practice discussion group is recommended to bring together a rich diversity of field experiences with reading reflection and discussion. Discussion questions here are a hodgepodge of those raised by various class participants. Please feel encouraged to add in your own in the comment section.

On Community

Key Readings

  • Blackshaw, Tony. (2010). Setting the Record Straight: What is Community? And What does it Mean Today? In: Key Concepts in Community Studies. Sage Publications.
  • Randy Stoecker (2004) The Mystery of the Missing Social Capital and the Ghost of Social Structure: Why Community Development Can’t Win. In Silverman, Robert Mark (ed.) Community-Based Organizations: The Intersection of Social Capital and Local Context in Contemporary Urban Society. Preprint available online at: http://comm-org.wisc.edu/drafts/socialcapitalprepub.htm
  • Chaskin, R.J. (2013). Theories of Community. In: Weil, M., Reisch, M., and Ohmer, M.L. (eds) The Handbook of Community Practice, 2nd Edition. Sage Publications, Inc.
  • Stoecker, R. (2014) What If? AISHE-J 6(1) Downloaded from: http://ojs.aishe.org/index.php/aishe-j/article/view/166/277
  • Aldo Leopold (1949) The Land Ethic. In A Sand County Almanac. Chapter available online at: http://www.waterculture.org/uploads/Leopold_TheLandEthic

Key Questions

  • What are the different definitions of community as described by the readings?
  • It’s easy to think of the modern “liquid community” and “consciousness of community” as described by Blackshaw as progressive, and to consider the pre-modern “community consciousness” as regressive. But would it really be regressive, and is it even possible, to choose to put community authenticity above individual identity? (Perhaps the Amish are a model of this — does that make them “backwards”, or can they serve as a model in some ways?)
  • How would things change if we all incorporated Leopold’s Land Ethic into our definitions of community?
  • What is our own ideal of community? Do we have just one, or might we have different theories for different contexts?
  • Is social capital a positive concept, or does it potentially weaken community? Do we potentially weaken a strong-tie community when we urge them to build their social capital?
  • In what ways do these readings help us better understand the theory of community others bring to engagement?
  • How do we balance our own theory of community with that brought to our engagement by others?

On Engagement

Key Readings

Key Questions

  • What is the difference between outreach and engagement?
  • How are Arnstein’s ladder of participation and the IAP2 engagement spectrum similar? How are they different? Should it always be our goal to engage at the deepest level of participation as defined on these spectrums?
  • When might our interactions with others turn out to be more negative than positive?
  • How is pluralism different than diversity? What does it mean to do engagement when we allow for different ways of knowing and different knowledges?

On Social Change

Key Readings

Key Questions

  • Often we define justice in the negative by pointing to the injustices around us. How would we define justice in the positive? That is, what might be the core aspects that we would find within a just society?
  • How would the U.S. be different on a daily basis if, as a country, we had as a core fundamental for how to achieve the “good society” the capability approach instead of neoliberal market economics? How would news coverage change? Education? Social programs? Success and the cult of celebrity? Other dimensions?
  • If a visitor from another world dropped in and observed us, what would they say our values are that drive our engaged programming?
  • Do we need to lay our values aside and take on the values of the community when we do engagement? Can we be neutral? On the flip side, if we do bring our values to the table when we do engagement and their’s strong opposition between our values and the values of those with whom we engage, can the engagement move forward? But if we insist on our values and agendas and we come from a position of privilege and power in relation to the community with whom we are engaging, isn’t this just another exercise of our power? How do we do engagement instead of oppression?
  • What is the relationship between dehumanization and oppression?
  • Can a society founded on competition and hierarchy also be non-oppressive, or does non-oppression require a society grounded in cooperation and non-hierarchical egalitarianism? Can we have a society that is non-oppressive, if so?
  • How does oppression tie into ideology and hegemony per Marx, the Frankfort School, and Gramsci? Into discourse per Foucoult?
  • Where are we on the map of intersecting oppressions given our personal histories and experiences? How does this impact our engagement with others? How does it impact our vision of a just society and our theory of social change to foster community?
  • Freire is championed as a way to educate others regarding the capability approach. Why this tight link?
  • In what ways can our choice and use of technology work against our social change goals? If so, what are some strategies to better negotiate, evaluate, and renegotiate our choice and use of technologies to assure they are aligned with our community’s values and goals?
  • Is allyship a good model for engagement leading towards positive social change? How does our own understanding of oppression, our role as oppressor and oppressed, and our personal healing from oppression setup our ability to serve as an ally to others who are oppressed?

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