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Community development as citizen education

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Everyday professional discussion often refers to the idea that community development is essentially a learning process. This article sketches a comprehensive theory of community development as citizen education by following the different traditions in community development and by defining the educational aspect of each tradition. Among the traditions described here are traditional community organizations as a social work method, the radical community organization of Alinsky, the neo-Marxist approach of community action, and the settlement movement. The resulting theoretical framework defines community development as an alternative route for the education of citizens with low levels of formal education in the same way as labour unions and churches often are alternative routes towards active citizenship for low-income groups. Next, three forms of education are singled out within community development: first, education as training of local leadership; as an action-oriented and on the job learning process supported informally by the community worker. This form of education resembles the informal vocational education in which an experienced craftsman trains his pupils on the shop floor. Second, education as consciousness raising, which reverses the sequence of learning processes: in this case it is not action which leads to education but education that hopefully leads to action by citizens. There is a whole range of providers of such consciousness raising activities, such as community development organizations, local centres for adult education, churches through their celebrations and adult education classes. A recent development is the 'new localism' in social movements, such as the environmental movement, emphasizing consciousness-raising activities in the local community. Third, education as service delivery: here education is a service for the community in the same way as community development can deliver other services to a community such as affordable housing and health centres. Partly these educational services are 'survival education', such as job readiness training programmes and literacy programmes; partly they are 'leisure education', typically blurring the borders between 'pure' education and recreational and social opportunities for residents.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Columbia University, USA

Publication date: 2003-11-01

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