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Identify and Explore a Contemporary Debate About Community Development.

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Identify and explore a contemporary debate about community development.

It is evident that existing literature highlight the complex nature of the concept of ‘community development work’. It is also true to say that there are constant changes in the political setting, and the disparity between theory and practice for community development work. To begin, this essay will attempt to define the key concepts of ‘community’ and ‘community development’ in order to understand the process. It will then explore the role of community development programs in aiding local communities to exercise control over the issues that affect their lives, in this case, the refugee women community in UK. Finally, it will also discuss about the role of critical practice in tackling the issues of social justice, such as social exclusion, poverty and inequalities.
Community development is a very complex field and before attempting to define it, it is imperative to explain the meaning of ‘community’, which is in itself a contested term (Shaw, 2007). Different perspectives have been presented to define the term, for example Smith (2001) argues that ‘…some [definitions] focused on geographical area; some on a group of people living in a particular place and others which looked to community as an area of common life’. Again, according to Stacey, ninety four definitions of ‘community’ were given (Stacey, 1969 cited in Craig et al., 2008, p.14). Consequently, it becomes problematic to give a precise meaning of ‘community development work’. The latest National Occupational Standards for Community Development define community development as:
‘a long-term value based process which aims to address imbalances in power and bring about change founded on social justice, equality and inclusion. The process enables people to organise and work together to: identify their own needs and aspirations; take action to exert influence on the decisions which affect their lives; improve the quality of their own lives, the communities in which they live, and societies in which they are part (LLUK, 2010, p.4)’.
There are different issues of social justice in different communities, although this essay is focussing on the Rwandan Refugee women community in London as an example, and the issues that affect them. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) report suggest that Rwandans are amongst ‘ethno-nationally communities’ with a small but significant presence in 2010 and contributed to the growing ‘super-diversity’ of the UK. The authors also argue that Rwandans belong to a category of ‘community of choice’ as victims of conflicts in their country of origin, where genocide occurred in 1990 and for this reason they develop a strong community cohesion as they are isolated from rest of the community (Collyer et al., 2011). Research show that there is a lack of collective voice for the refugee community and voluntary sector and lack of communication and information sharing throughout the sector. Furthermore, Milbourne (2002), states that there are issues of social exclusion in the society and that people in the community continue to be marginalised from mainstream institutions, particularly those ‘Asylum Seekers/Refugee women who may not be aware of anything to do with the society they have found themselves and with limited means of communication.
Since there are ambiguities with the definitions around social exclusion, therefore it becomes difficult for the state to deal with the issues of equalities and social justice (ibid). There are government policies in place and commitment to eradicating poverty (HM Treasury, 1999, Department of Security, 1999) and different plans that aim to address social exclusion (Social Exclusion Unit, 2001). In contrast, Milbourne points out that ‘…the requirements for inclusion, whether through language, professional skills and knowledge or work, appear to exclude those hardest to reach (Milbourne, 2002, p.298). Similarly, it is argue that:
‘Access to health care, housing and education is an intrinsic part of the processes of cultural reproduction, of making and re-making the place one belongs to. To exclude people from those processes ...It is to say that their presence, their difference cannot be accommodated within a logic that equates cultural reproduction with sameness’ (Gedalof, 2007, p.83).
Leduith (2005) explains the current challenges in community development practice namely, the inconsistency between theory and practice. In addition, she points out that the two concepts are not mutually exclusive and that good practice is informed by theory. Community development grows through a diversity of local projects that address issues faced by people in community and aims to transform the structures of oppression that affect people’s lives. We face escalating crisis of justice and sustainability on a global scale. Social divisions caused by poverty to an unjustifiable level (Leduith, 2005, p.21). It is has been argued that, practitioners are subject to contradictory expectations, ‘…on the one hand, the importance of community development for engaging with local communities is recognised; on the other hand, the implementations of this policies lock community workers and organisations ever closer into local bureaucracy and service delivery activities’ (Purcell, 2011, p.2). In order for practitioners to engage in local activities promoting social justice and challenging oppression, more critical praxis need to be adopted (ibid). Additionally, the ideas of Freire and Gramsci are discussed and it is argued that they give both an analysis of how change may take place and how to work with people in order to facilitate change (Purcell, 2011).
However, more is needed to exercise critical community development practice, for example ‘understanding the economic, social and cultural forces that shape everyday life experiences of the community within which we work and the nature in which these processes take place’ (ibid, p.7). It is through Refugee Community Organisations (RCOs) already established in London that they are that the Rwandan Refugee women receive the help they need. It is argued that these community organisations have a distinctive role of reconstructing the sense of identity and cohesion which has been lost through expulsion’ (Zetter et al., p.2).
Working as part of a group with other students has helped in terms of clarifying different concepts and understanding the essay question. Having the opportunity to share ideas and resources and learn through working with others. As discussed earlier in the essay, community development is about collective action and also community networks. This will be a transferable key skill gained in higher education, which will be valuable in the future for securing employment as professional community development workers, in addressing issues of social justice in the community.
In brief, the concepts of ‘community’ and community development have been explored and also their complex nature has been emphasised. Furthermore, the need for critical approach in the community development practice is important in order to bring about change and tackling the root source of the problems that give rise to injustice in the society.

Reference List
Craig, G., Popple, K. and Shaw M., (2008), Community Development in Theory and Practice. Russell House, Nottingham.

Leduith, M. (2005), Community Development: A Critical Approach. The Policy Press. University of Bristol

Shaw, M. (2007), Community Development and The Politics of Community. Oxford University Press and Community Development Journal. doi:10.1093/cdj/bsl035

Community Development Journal,Vol 38 No 1 January 2003 pp. 16–25
Community Dev J (2003) 38 (1): 16-25. doi: 10.1093/cdj/38.1.16

Gillchrist, A. (2009), The Well Connected Community: A Networking Approach to Community Development. The Policy Press: University of Bristol

Craig, G. (…) ‘Community Development in a Global Context’. Community Development Journal, Vol. 33, No.1, p.2-17

Gillchrist, A. (2003), Community Development in the UK - Possibilities and Paradoxes. Oxford University Press and Community Development Journal

Gedalof. I. (2007), Unhomely Homes: Women, Family and Belonging in UK Discourses of Migration and Asylum, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 33:1, 77-94

Milbourne, L. (2002), Unspoken Exclusion: Experiences of Continued Marginalisation from Education among 'Hard to Reach' Groups of Adults and Children in the UK, British Journal of Sociology of Education , Vol. 23, No. 2 (Jun., 2002), pp. 287-305

Sales, R. (2002), The Deserving and the Undeserving? Refugees, asylum seekers and welfare in Britain. Critical Social Policy 2002 22: 456 Purcell, R. (2011), Community development and everyday life. Oxford University
Press and Community Development Journal

Zetter, R., Griffiths, D., and Sigona, N. (2005), Social capital or social exclusion? The impact of asylum-seeker dispersal on UK refugee community organizations. Oxford University Press and Community Development Journal


Smith, M. K., (2001) ‘community’ in the encyclopaedia of information education,

LLUK (2010), National Standards for Community Development, LlUK, London. Accessed online at: on 12/10/2011

Sen, P. and Kelly, L. (2008): CEDAW Thematic Report: Violence Against Women in The UK. The Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit: London Metropolitan University.
Accessed online at: on 10/10/2011

Collyer, M.; Binaisa, N.; McLean, H. L.; Oeppen, C.; Qureshi, K.; Vullnetari, J.; and
Zeitlyn, B. (2011), The Impact of Overseas Conflict on UK Communities. Joseph
Rowntree Foundation,

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