1: Introduction

‘Community’ is a concept that seems always to be in fashion with policy makers. In some quarters, the existence of community is seen as a natural and enduring facet of society; others lament its decline. One of the primary purposes of community development is to boost the effectiveness of community action and build grassroots capacity. As such it has been repeatedly ‘discovered’ by governments worldwide as offering ways to ‘restore’ community, to enhance democratic participation and to tackle poverty, alongside other seemingly intractable social problems.

Not everyone sees the necessity of strategic interventions to promote community development. Indeed, the term itself is problematic, with the approach also being called social development, popular education, critical pedagogy, community organising, community engagement, neighbourhood renewal and community education, for example. In the UK some prefer the term ‘critical community practice’ (Butcher et al, 2007), which describes a broader approach to working with communities. Nonetheless, internationally, community development is commonly adopted as a means of developing infrastructure, local economic initiatives and good governance. But governments have also been confronted by communities who have decided to mobilise for themselves, organising services, protest actions and self-help movements to improve living standards and claim important civil and human rights. This is also a form of community development.

In the 1950s the United Nations defined community development as ‘a process designed to create conditions of economic and social progress for the whole community with its active participation’ (United Nations, 1955, p 6). The International Association for Community Development (IACD) has adopted the following guiding principles for working with communities.

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