Uploaded by Cathii Plns

1501503315Module6-HistoryofCommunityOrganization-Text (1)

Module details
Subject Name
Social Work Education
Prof. S. Parasuraman and Prof. Manish K. Jha
Paper Name
Community Organization
Module 6: History of Community Organisation
Paper Coordinator
Dr. Mouleshri Vyas
Content Writer
Dr. Sohini Sengupta and Dr. Indira Gartenberg
Content Reviewer
Prof. H. Beck
Language editor
Mr. Venkatanarayanan Ganapathi
Community Organisation, Charity Organisation Society,
Settlement House, Radical Organizing, Labour Unions
This module will enable the student to
Understand the history of Community Organisation in both
global and Indian contexts
Learning Objectives
Understand the significance of Community Organisation as
a core method of Social Work practice
The objective of this module is to describe the history of community organization and its
emergence as a core method in Social Work practice. This module presents the journey of
community organization, from its roots in nineteenth century England, and its replication in the
United States of America. This will be followed by an understanding of the history of
community organizing in India, finally ending with a brief discussion on how community
organization has been used by labour unions in the country.
The history of community organization has its roots in the late nineteenth century. The Industrial
Revolution in England in the mid-1800s had transformed its economy from an agrarian to an
industrial one. This in turn led to the process of rapid urbanization, prompting many people in
rural areas to move to urban areas in search of livelihood. The urban areas with industries
became centres for exploitation, sickness, accidents, disabilities, unemployment and other socioeconomic issues. The families that strove to make ends meet found it difficult to survive in these
circumstances and were left with only a few options to sustain themselves in the industrial
centres; namely, government relief, private charity or begging. It was commonly held that such
individuals and families were a failure due to their own weaknesses and deficiencies, and that
their poverty and distress was born out of individual causes.
Formation of the London Charity Organization Society
When a particular area suffered economic distress, many working people were rendered
unemployed and lacking any means to make an income. In response, several groups sprung up to
alleviate poverty and help such individuals and their families, primarily through private charity
and philanthropy. Most often these groups worked autonomously and without much coordination
among each other. Hence, some individuals and families succeeded in appealing to, and
receiving help from, more than one charity group. There was a need for coordinated effort
among these groups to reduce the incidence of repeatedly providing support to the same
individual or family. As a result, the first Charity Organization Society (COS) was formed in
London in 1869, for ‘Organizing Charitable Relief and Repressing Mendicity’ (Roof, 1972). The
COS would address two issues: 'self-respecting families who were struggling to keep themselves
from destitution should be helped and encouraged, and that charities should be organized and
coordinated, so that the best use could be made of resources' (ibid.)
The COS laid emphasis on a scientific method to systematically identify and register applicants
for charity as well as supervise the administering of charity. This approach helped to distinguish
between those poor that genuinely required charity from those that did not. The COS believed
that plainly giving out charity without thoroughly scrutinizing the real causes of poverty could
lead to permanent dependency and create a group of individuals or families that always relied on
charity for their survival. As a result, COS thrived in England in this period, keeping systematic
and centralized records of charity-seekers (through registration bureaus), stressing thorough and
objective investigation as well as professional training of the COS personnel and focusing on
coordination among various charities.
Since the core objective of COS was to address the cycle of poverty rather than simply providing
relief, community organization was its most important aspect. The goal of the COS was not
merely charity, but helping an individual or a family to gain self-reliance and self-sufficiency.
Through its activities, the COS in each area became the nerve-centre of information, updates and
referrals for several services within the community. By 1875, the COS had a number of offices
all over, which had effective coordination with each other.
Charity Organization Societies therefore were intervening in low-income and impoverished
urban communities to identify individuals and families in need of essential services. By
addressing poverty effects on individuals by providing systematic support, its attempt was to
strengthen emergent urban communities.
Charity Organization Society in the United States of America
The London COS became the model for the United States, which at the time in 1877 was going
through its fourth year of a severe economic depression and industrial strife. This period was
characterized by starvation, suicides, hopelessness and destitution. In Buffalo, New York;
Episcopal rector, Rev. Stephen Humphreys Gurteen and T. Guilford Smith along with a group of
friends decided to start the first COS in their city, with the dual objectives of, bringing order out
of the chaos created by the city’s numerous charities by offering district conferences at which the
agencies could discuss their common problems and coordinate their efforts; and careful
investigations of appeals for help and a city-wide registration of applicants
It was believed that by inducing a rational system of scientific charitable administration, cyclical
poverty could be addressed and deserving poor could gain some support in their hardship so that
they were once again able to take responsibility (for themselves and their families) to become
self-reliant, instead of giving charity to the undeserving poor who would learn to receive alms
and then become dependent and idle.
The COS never concerned itself with the larger, structural causes of poverty such as the
economic causes that induce poverty in the first place. The Progressive era of the 1880s that was
characterized by a new wave of economic thought, gave impetus to a questioning of the forces of
capitalism and its impact on labour and human life. Large groups of unemployed people took to
the streets condemning capital and emphasizing social reform. These were working people who
faced poverty for no fault of their own. The context that surrounded them was industrialization,
unemployment, urbanization and immigration induced by capitalism. They demanded that
charity be focused not on individual causes and personal issues, rather, it should look at striving
to eradicate the social causes of poverty. It was at this time and in such socio-political context
that the “Settlement House movement” took birth. The goal of the Settlement houses was to meet
the immediate needs of the working class in their own neighbor-hoods by providing them with
services and basic reform. It was a collaborative practice that emphasized community building
and social action.
The Settlement House Movement
Toynbee Hall in Whitechapel was the first university settlement house established in London in
1884 by a group of middle-class London reformers. It was initiated by Samuel Barnett who
believed that settlement houses were ‘places where richer students could live alongside, learn
about and contribute to the welfare of much poorer people’. The Settlement workers were mainly
middle class reformers, often women volunteers, who would locate themselves in houses in the
middle of urban, poor, working class neighborhoods. They conducted research in the
surrounding communities and offered services to community members, such as language classes,
childcare, healthcare and meeting spaces.
Taking inspiration from this idea, social reformers in the United States too began establishing
settlement houses, in response to the rapidly growing industrial poverty and impoverishment.
The purpose of the American settlement houses was to ease the transition of immigrant workers
into the labour force, and to help them to assimilate middle-class American values. The
Neighbourhood Guild in New York was the first American settlement house founded by Stanton
Coit in 1886. This was followed by the establishment of the Hull-House in Chicago in 1889 by
Jane Addams and Ellen Starr. In 1893, a nurse and progressive reformer, Lilian Wald founded
the Henry Street Settlement in New York. By the 1890s, there were at least 400 settlement
houses in the United States, of which forty percent were in the industrial towns of Boston,
Chicago and New York. A characteristic feature of the settlement house movement was that
several important leadership positions (in nearly half of the USA settlement houses) were filled
by women, which was unusual in its time, when women were not commonly seen as leaders in
business or government.
Settlement workers were progressive in their approach because they aimed to gain insights about
poverty from directly experiencing the conditions under which poor people lived. They also
aimed to enable the poor to form organizations to improve their situation. Some, aimed to build
workers organizations that would agitate for reform. This approach was a sharp departure from
nineteenth century styles of charity where the wealthy maintained clear boundaries and upheld
their superiority in comparison with the poor. It tried to solve social problems and bridging the
class differences in rapidly industrializing cities of USA, by acknowledging that poverty was
caused by social and economic factors.
The Settlement House movement was at its peak around the 1920s. By locating themselves right
in the centre of urban poor working-class neighbourhoods, the Settlement Houses accomplished
a lot. The Hull-House in Chicago provided not only education (classes in history, art and
literature) and services (creche, public baths, homeless shelter and community kitchen) but also a
space for political activism advocating for social legislation to combat poverty
levels in politics. The settlement workers in other areas later persuaded municipal and state
governments to take responsibility for the programmes that they had initiated. They also lobbied
with local governments to pass reform legislations related to work place safety, minimum wages
and sanitation.
While the COS had instituted the ‘case-work’ method of social work practice, the Settlement
House movement had laid the foundation for community organization grounded in the idea of the
rich and poor living closely together and being interdependent. However, in the following years,
radical social workers began to emphasize the inclusion of new methods in keeping with the
socio-political changes of the time. Several innovative approaches were also evolving in the field
of community organization. The emphasis was now turning towards control by community
members instead of agency-driven activities as in the case of the settlement houses of the 1930s.
It was against this background that Robert P. Lane’s 1939 report titled ‘The Field of Community
Organization’ (also called ‘The Lane Report’) proved to be a milestone in social work education.
The Lane Report, 1939 and Community Organization
‘The Lane Report’ written by Robert P. Lane situated community organization practice within
Social Work education. It legitimated community organization as a method of social work
practice by presenting a systematic and comprehensive description of the roles, activities, and
methods in the field of community organization. The five propositions that emerged through the
process of Lane’s study were:
i. The term ‘community organization’ refers both to a process and a field
ii. The process of organizing a community or some parts of it is carried on outside as well as
inside the general area of social work
iii. Within Social Work, the community organizing process is carried on by some organizations
as a primary function, and by others as a secondary function
iv. the process exists on local, state and national levels, and also between such levels
v. those organizations whose primary function is the practice of community organization do not
as a rule offer help directly to clients (Lane, 1939: 496-97).
The report also defined the following functions for community organization (Austin and Betten,
a. fact finding for social planning and action
b. initiating, developing and modifying social welfare services
c. setting standards
d. facilitating interrelationships between different bodies concerned with welfare
e. developing public support and participation in social welfare activities
Radical Organizing
The late 1930s were marked by a militant labour movement of industrial workers in the United
States. This movement made a deep and lasting influence on a young community-organizer by
the name of Saul Alinsky, who worked with the Congress of Industrial Organizations. By 1939,
he became less active in the labour movement and began to move towards community organizing
in general. Over the next ten years, his concerted efforts at attempting to build a united voice of
discontent among fragmented slum communities gained him much popularity across the country.
Alinsky developed the ‘Back of the Yard Neighborhood Council’ (BYNC) by building a broad
coalition of union leaders, priests, small business-owners and neighbourhood residents. The
BYNC got jobs and services from corporations, the Chicago political machinery and the federal
government, and it created a stable, democratic and effective organization of neighborhood
In Alinksky’s view, Community Organizations should be based on:
a. democratic decision-making
b. indigenous leadership
c. should be open to all members of the community
d. balancing of different interests
And hence, according to Alinsky, Community Organizations must have a relationship with the
neighbourhood, they must build on existing groups, leadership and organization, they should
foreground community interests (no matter what these interests may be), they must believe that
using conflict strategies result in the greatest gains, and that, they must fight for concrete
victories because ‘winning built organization’.
Alisnky’s approach has also been criticized for different reasons, some of which include, its
injudicious dependence on neighborhood elites, its emphasis on established institutions and
already present viable organizations (such as churches or ethnic organizations), its unwillingness
to take up issues that may cause disagreements and its exclusion of marginalized groups (BYNC
was criticized for avoiding race issues). However, in large part, it is widely believed that
Alinsky’s approach revolutionized community organizing by its innovative ways of organizing
the oppressed and the powerless.
The War on Poverty Programme, USA
In the 1960s, the USA reeled under a poverty rate of nearly twenty per cent, and its economy
drained in the Vietnam war. Then US President Lyndon B. Johnson in his first State of the Union
speech in 1964 declared an unconditional ‘War on Poverty’ through a comprehensive socialwelfare legislation titled ‘The Economic Opportunity Act of 1964’. Poverty became a matter of
national concern and it was thought that this programme would eradicate poverty in the USA.
The original objective of the programme was to:
To sponsor neighbourhood self-help projects
Promote social action
Coordinate existing local services
Provide new services
The Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) was established as part of this programme, to
administer federal spending on local programmes such as providing food stamps, creating Job
Corps (which provided urban school dropouts with alternative and vocational educational
programs), providing a work-study program which provided poor college students with jobs on
campus, establish VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America), and HeadStart (early education
program for children of poor families). The OEO led to the mushrooming of a large number of
grassroots organization where ‘maximum feasible participation’ was stressed and hence,
Community Action Program Agencies (CAP Agencies) were created.
Community Action Program agencies moved beyond service delivery and began advocacy and
organizing. The National Welfare Rights Organization (NWRO) emerged from this process. The
NWRO not only provided services to the community such as running child-clinics and school
lunch programmes, but also defended and advocated the needs of welfare rights recipients
(Valocchi, n.d.).
Within the USA, Community Organizing practice located within periods of expansion and
contraction of civil rights, labour rights and social welfare rights. The first phase of expansion
have been 1900-1918— the ‘Progressive Era’— characterized by pubic investment and social
activism. The second phase of expansion was ‘The New Deal’ during 1933-1946 and the WWII,
and then followed the third phase from 1960-1975 as discussed above. The phases of contraction
of community organizing therefore have been 1877-1896, 1920-1929, 1948-59 and 1975-present.
Although the ‘War on Poverty’ programme was conceived as a top-down welfare programme, it
re-oriented itself to the civil rights movement in the mid-1960s.
It is clear, that community organizing focused on community-based practice. It was about
particular cultural identities and specific local community issues. Many grassroots movements,
labour movements, women’s rights movements and in recent years, also anti-globalization
struggles have been anchored in community-based practice. The ideals and initiatives grounded
in social, economic and political justice, guide community practice inside and outside social
work. Let us now turn our attention to community organizing in India.
Community Organization in India
After India gained independence in 1947, the government initiated a number of policies to
restructure the village society and bring about ‘development from below’. There were two
objectives to this exercise:
1. To reform agriculture and increase productivity
2. To foster community development, local government and local development planning
The idea of the ‘village community’ was born. It was believed that development could only take
place if villagers themselves believed in it and made efforts towards this process. Hence, in 1945,
American city planner and architect Albert Mayer met Jawaharlal Nehru with the idea of
building ‘model villages’ in India. Mayer envisioned that by improving the living conditions in
Indian villages through economic and social progress and ‘inner democratization’ within
hierarchical organization of the village society, these model villages could set an example for
‘good housing, sanitation and community structure’. Under the direction of D. P. Singh and in
collaboration with an agricultural extension specialist Horace C. Holmes, Mayer began the first
pilot development project in Etawah district of Uttar Pradesh in 1948. The main activities of the
Etawah project were education of villagers (on subjects like crop yields soil conservations,
animal husbandry, sanitation and social education), training of village level workers, conducting
demonstrations, and coordination between various departments and agencies.
The main innovation and contribution of the Etawah project was the notion of the Village Level
Worker (VLW) who was to be the link between the villagers and the government. The idea was
also to create a cadre of low-cost non-specialists from the village itself to balance the top-heavy
bureaucracy whose field officers were rarely able to visit all the villages in their charge. Hence,
the principle function of the VLW was to get villagers to be interested in government
development programmes.
Some other contributions of the Etawah project included a rural newspaper (to inform villagers
about modern agricultural practices), appointment of a ‘Rural Analyst’ (a trained anthropologist
who would communicate the unarticulated needs of village people to the government),
development of brick-kilns and leather tanning industry and the promotion of literacy and smallscale village industries. According to Perkins (1997: 176) the Etawah project ‘was probably the
single most important model for all subsequent development work in India, and Nehru took a
personal interest in Holmes’s work.’ Not surprisingly, the Etawah pilot project served as a model
for the rural development programmes in India’s First Five Year Plan (1951-1956).
In 1951, the Etawah model was scaled up and replicated in 300 villages; one in each of the 15
states; and later expanded to 5200 blocks. This scaling-up was possible due to the financial aid
provided by the Ford Foundation and later, through the signing of joint Indo-American Technical
Cooperation Agreement. A Community Project Administration Department was created to
implement and monitor the programme. This department was subsequently split into two parts
with community development programme and the National Extension Service.
Perkins (1997) indicates that the successes of the Etawah project were mainly technical in nature
and did not address the social aspects of village organization. Similarly, the nature of people’s
participation in the community development programmes in India has been inadequate, because
people’s contributions meant providing contributions in labour or in kind. For poorer people it
was mostly in the form of ‘shramdan’ or contribution of labour to build and repair roads, wells,
schools and health centres.
In order to strengthen people’s participation in local self-governance and decentralized
administration, the Panchayati Raj system was formally instituted in 1992, with a vision of ‘gram
swaraj’ (village self-rule). The Panchayati Raj is a three-tier system of governance with the
village panchayat as its basic unit, the Panchayat Samiti at the block level and the Zilla Parishad
at the district level. Taken together, they have the power to plan and to make their local demands
known to the state government. They draw up local development plans which fit into the general
scheme of community development and adapt the Five-Year Plans to local conditions. Prior to
this, most planning was done at state and national levels by ‘experts’, i.e. technocrats and
administrators. Communicating to higher level authorities these ‘felt needs’ (and a local plan to
address these needs) so as to contribute to a national plan, required time and extensive
consultation. The Panchayati Raj system provided a contrast to this system of governance, and
brought the community at the centre of community development.
One of the initial goals of community development was to create ‘village planning commissions’
which envisaged a larger role for local institutions in the planning and administration of
development programmes. The VLW would work under Extension Officers, who would report to
Block Development Officers, thereby instituting an administration of ‘development from below’.
An important objective of the community development programme was to elicit the ‘felt need’ of
the local community. However these needs had to be compatible with what the administrators
viewed as the known means for attaining economic and social progress. They were not designed
such that villagers would themselves develop and administer local development plans. As a
result, the community and the administrators often seemed to have conflicting roles in their
approach to ‘development from below’. There has been a history of tension between the
requirements of community development and the traditional roles and responsibilities of the state
and the national administrative services. The upwardly responsible roles include tax collecting
and law enforcement, while the downwardly responsible roles reflect the needs of the
community. Dual and sometimes conflicting roles of administrators (such as the block
development officers-BDO and the district program officers- DPO) manifested themselves in
enabling communities to articulate felt needs against persuading Panchayat Samitis and Zilla
Parishads to accept government plans.
One other major impediments to community development in India was the hierarchical
organization of rural society. While the national policy had an egalitarian objective, both
traditional leaders and new leaders had issues with the adoption of scientific values which were
viewed as western imports. Participation by local centres of power would often frustrate and
dilute the goals of government development planning and administration. By the mid-1960s, the
enthusiasm and interest in community development and Panchayati Raj institutions began to
fade. The broad understanding was that only the rich and the powerful in the rural society
benefitted from these organizations and programmes. Many critics believed that the community
development programmes had failed to instill in the participants the ‘felt-need’ to work in a
collaborative fashion, and to bring about a developmental change. Finally, in the late 1960s, the
onset of the green revolution with its emphasis on increasing agricultural productivity led to the
demise of the community development programmes in India.
Labour Unions in India
Labour unions are a form of organization and association among working people to have a
collective voice. In India, labour unions did not exist before 1918. In a 1922 article, Abani
Mukherji details the trajectory and reformist nature of the then Indian labour movement. The
Nationalists in the Indian independence movement realized the power of industrial labour
movement and the organized force of the trade unions. They wanted to control it and use it for
political purposes, i.e. mainly as a means to threaten the then colonial government. Due to its
roots in the pre-independence era, the development of labour unions in India became inextricably
linked to the growth of the anti-colonial independence movement. Even after independence, the
labour unions tended to have overlapping interactions with political parties while they engaged
in class-based organizing.
Ever since, the Indian labour unions in large measure have restricted themselves to representing
their constituents in the organized economy and the formal sector. For effective collective
bargaining, they sought institutional accommodation through their links with political parties.
While the character and form of the mainstream trade unions and the central trade union
federations has remained the same over the past century, one of the biggest blind-spots of the
large Indian trade unions is its non-recognition and exclusion of the growing informal workforce.
As a result, while twelve federations of trade union exist at the national level, only one among
these represents workers in the informal economy. Besides, even though these 12 federations
represent a majority of the formal workforce (which is 8% of the total workforce, concentrated
mainly in public sector enterprises) they remain heavily fragmented, factionalized and splintered
due to several reasons.
Community organizing based on the model of union-community ‘coalition’ building, is an
important tool to collectivise the workers operating in the informal economy, which constitutes
92 per cent of the Indian workforce (NCEUS, 2007). While formations of such collectivization
of informal workers in trade-union like structures are few and have small memberships (vis-à-vis
their large numbers in the workforce), they are fast gaining traction all over India. Collective
identity in these forms of organizing efforts is not a given, and therefore needs to be constructed.
Hence, such efforts recognize that there are causes of injustice other than class. They take
cognizance of inequalities embedded in the social structure and institutions, and question the
injustice prevalent in unequal social relations. They also lobby for social security and other
policy measures to alleviate poverty and structural inequalities through grassroots mobilization.
In doing so, they activate the agency of the oppressed providing them the platform to articulate
their collective interests on issues of citizenship rights, work and workplace rights, women’s
rights and human rights. This leads to an effective representation of the issues of marginalized
workers to have a collective voice. Community organization plays a key role in this process.