Contesting Community: Book Review

Contesting Community: The Limits and Potential of Local Organizing” authors, James DeFilippis, Robert Fisher, and Eric Shragge seeks to examine the challenges facing contemporary community organizing role that neoliberalism and capitalism play in contemporary community organizing; social change between three countries-the United States, United Kingdom and Canada.  Their analysis of these nations’ social and economic policies provides a framework suggesting that new   community organizing strategies are necessary to accomplish progressive change.   “Contesting Community” suggests, that efficient social movement action is most important especially during these times of economic hardships and oppression for achieving social justice.

As mentioned by the authors, contemporary community mobilizing efforts are not inherently the work of the radical or liberal, we so often assume. Instead, it involves various political forms not excluding those on the right.  The reoccurring theme in the book is that community efforts can oppose contemporary neoliberalism, however it is important to not to view power as an idealistic concept. According to the author’s, struggle for social and economic justice, the concept of “community” is not always a good thing.  In organizing community action, those involved should include the people of the community and their problems. Furthermore, it needs to address the solutions to be pursued with the methods to accomplish those goals.

All community initiatives are political whether or not organizers acknowledge it or not. Essentially any group’s desire to better a situation or cause, requires power to initiate a progressive effort.  Strength of power is created in communities to attain social and economic justice; community organizations must understand the causes of problems within communities.  The book mentions that historically, social movements have always been at the center of community organizing efforts.  Through strategies and tactics, social movements have been able to mobilize change beyond the local and state level but also nationally.

The authors argue that in order to overcome neoliberal capitalism, decentralization of the state and the overall dominance of the marketplace is necessary. It will require organizers to acknowledge the broader-systemic-barriers for the redistribution we wish to see; to address conflict and incorporate a long term vision. They mention three examples of organizations that serve as models of community action include, ACORN, the Immigrant Rights Centre (Canada), and the Fifth Avenue Committee (Brooklyn); which have all been able to create progressive movements through understanding the political context and challenging structural power of the time.

The book suggests that community work involves establishing long-term goals, building relationships with new and existing social movements. In an effort to transcend community action into a larger-scale effort that understands how to approach conflict, power, global capitalism, and contemporary politics are used to achieve social change. “Contesting Community” is an excellent book providing a framework for those wanting to mobilize a movement for the community that extends beyond the challenges of today’s economic crisis.


One comment

  1. […] organizations use asset-based planning and consensus models to divert changemakers. The authors of Contesting Community note that institutions invested in current systems focus on these models, as alternatives to social […]

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