Law in Contemporary Society

Transforming Communities

--By JenniferClark - 04 Apr 2008

In order to produce a society full of healthy people it is necessary to produce one full of healthy communities. However, a lot of communities suffer from a lack of resources, ineffective leadership, and poor communication; among many other social ills such as poverty, broken families, and a lack of social institutions, which detract from the effectiveness of communities. Therefore, in order to create healthy communities, it is necessary to implement a plan of community transformation which takes into account the barriers facing a particular community and strives to use various resources to produce a community which is more self-reliant, has stable networks, possesses more resources and community assets, and is composed of active social institutions. Many people, however, disagree as to what is the most effective approach to creating community change. That is because there are many institutions in our society today whose mission it is to affect community change in some way. These institutions include service organizations, advocacy organizations, political organizations, community development organizations, and community organizing organizations.

Service Organizations

There exists a proliferation of service organizations in our society today, whose mission is to affect social change by providing services to the neediest in our population. They accomplish this by using a grassroots approach to change by maintaining close contact with the population they serve and providing services, often commodities such as food, clothing, and health services, to their clients. This one-on-one approach has many advantages such as meeting the immediate needs of the population served, consisting of a voluntary framework, and cultivating direct contact with the clients. However, there are also many disadvantages which limit the effectiveness of service organizations. Firstly, because the organization relies on a voluntary framework, retention becomes a major problem for service organizations. Also, service organizations, because they simply meet the immediate needs of their clients, do not address the root of the social ills in their community. Thus, service organizations do not affect true community transformation because their solutions are temporary and only superficially address the problems within the community.

Advocacy Organizations

Another way to create social change is through advocacy. The most famous example of social change as a result of advocacy is the Brown v. Board of Education decision and its impact on American communities. As with the Brown v. Board case, most social change which results from litigation and advocacy has a systematic impact and affects to set long lasting community standards. However, this method also possesses its own disadvantages which make it an often ineffective way to create community change. Advocacy is expertise driven and therefore is often very distant from the communities which it is designed to serve. Also, advocacy is an extremely slow method of community transformation. Finally, change through litigation can often have unintended consequences which affect communities in a negative or disparate way. All of these negative consequences are evidenced in the case of Brown v. Board of Education. The implementation of desegregation, as mandated by this decision, was extremely slow. Also, there were unintended consequences such as the dismantling of school systems, the exodus of white children from the public school system, and the controversial busing initiatives, which made the community impact of this decision very difficult to predict. Thus, the implementation of advocacy as a method of community transformation has many limitations which prevent it from being the most effective approach to community change.

Political Organizations

Probably the organizations which are mandated to affect community change at the most comprehensive level are political organizations, and more specifically the local, state, and federal governments. These organizations can be seen as both top-down and bottom-up organizations because they rely on officials; however, those officials are elected by the population which they represent. This is advantageous because it gives the political system a democratic framework that emphasizes the wishes of the community, however, it can also be a disadvantage because a lot of elected officials are consumed by the politics of reelection instead of using their energy and resources to affect true community change. Thus, although the government possesses more resources than any other agent of social change and although it has a broad reach and can therefore affect systematic change, the government has still not proven to be an effective agent of community change because it is easily co-opted by the reelection game, it deals with huge amounts of bureaucratic red tape, and it is an impersonal and even invasive entity which isn’t often specialized enough to address the needs of a specific community effectively.

Community Organizing

Community organizing is a grassroots form of community change which draws its power from the members of the community itself. It relies on the premise that there is strength in numbers and also relies on the premise that it is operating in a democratic system where civic participation is a source of power. This method of community change has many advantageous. First of all, it is composed of members who have an inherent invested interest in the benefit of their mission. That is because the members are residents of the community in question. Secondly, this method of community change is indigenous to the community, meaning that it is the approach most likely to be supported by the community, the approach most likely to cultivate resources already within the community, and the approach most likely to promote self-reliance among the members of the community. There are, however, possible disadvantageous to implementing community organizing as a method of community change. Community organizing can become ineffective when the members of the organization let conflicting opinions override their ability to make any kind of progress. Also, because it relies on membership from the community, the lack of expertise may also make community organizations less effective in transforming communities. These problems can be addressed, however, with effective leadership. This leadership can be found in individuals, more specifically, in social engineers, who are visionary, have the ability to mobilize people, and who are dynamic in quality. In general, the history of unionization demonstrates the power of community organizing to change communities for the better. Another example of the power of community organizing is the Civil Rights movement. The Civil Rights movement also used the power of dynamic leaders to motivate communities towards self-transformation. Their efforts transformed their communities because effective leadership, their passionate members, and the power of their numbers were able to support organizations that could sustain themselves over time and put adequate pressure on corporate power and privilege. Thus, I argue that community organizing, through its emphasis on civic participation, and its concentration on issues indigenous to community development, is the most effective approach to community transformation.


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r2 - 22 Jan 2009 - 01:19:14 - IanSullivan
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