This essay attempts to give analysis of much debated concepts of community and community development; its interpretation, meaning and historical background which can be traced from the late 18th Century and lastly its evolution in late 1940s. This essay will draw the early history of community development with recent introduced themes and approaches such as sustainable livelihoods approach, basic needs approach and others, tracing this much debated theory in the mid-19th century in the United States of America, while another traces its origin in the early 20th century and how the modern society in much globalised and democratic 21st Century the governments of the world have been able to implement or roll out the idea behind the much debated concepts.
2. Historical Background 3.1 Brief History of Community Development Community development practice has arisen from a variety of sources and settings. Its roots can be traced to the social reform movement in Britain and North America in the latter half of the 18thcentury. Community development principles were formulated and applied in third world development efforts following decolonization. In the 50’s and 60’s CD or community organization, as it came to be called, was used in deprived or underdeveloped urban and rural settings in North America (Smith, 1979: 52).
CD was a response to the perceived disintegration of society due to rapid technological change, economic dislocations, disruption in traditional family and community structures and the extension of government and commercial services into personal and family life, with negative impacts on personal effectiveness and community ties (Carey, 1979:20). CD is heterogeneous, integrating specialised knowledge from education, public health, economic development and politics. (Head, 1979:101) However, it is also a discipline unto itself, with a body of theory, standards of practice and professional associations.
3. Definition of concepts
Community Development is a very complex activity – there are so many elements involved that it seems almost impossible to describe development in a clear and organized manner.
A community is not just a group of people bounded by a geographical links, such as a village, settlement or district, but also includes those brought together by lifestyle, religion, hobby, interest, etc.
A community group often pursues a common goal, concern or interest on an entirely voluntary basis. There have been various definitions of community and community development and criticism that have emerged, as many scholars in recent years have come to put this discipline and theory a more meaningful articulation of definition in the 21st century. According to De Beer & Swanepoel, 1998: chapter 1; community is usually defined in terms of geographical locality, shared needs or interests, or in terms of deprivation and disadvantage. Edward and Jones (1976:12) define community as a grouping of people who reside in a specific locality and exercise some degree of local autonomy in organising the social life in such a way they can, from that locality base, satisfy their full range of their daily needs. The above definitions are open to scrutiny and criticism. Pointing towards what is exactly meant according to its claim of measurement, what local autonomy is referring to, who controls development, and can individuals manage their own development and so forth.
4. Debates around the concepts of community and community development The debate in the late 1960s to the early 1970s brought more scholars and government and its institutions to a much more vigorous and yet informative debate; on whether to regard community development as a process or a method. The modern debate has been that of vowing communities as clients or masters of their own development. It must be noted that these developments in the debate on community development emerged in different times There have been various answers on questions posed in regards to the debates aroused in development concepts and debates.
This has led to a variety of new interpretations of community development; such as the social learning process approach, adaptive administration, the people-centred approach, human scale development, empowerment, capacity building. These concepts are aimed at bettering the meaning of community development and yet they have created confusion in many disciplines of development. The overall meaning is that the basic needs approach was an early attempt to question tenets of commu7nity development as it was practised then. The social learning process approach attempted to deal with some of the issues identified by the basic needs approach. It advocated that certain preconditions must be met for a successful rollout of the approach. In people-centred approach, institutions play a very important role.
5. Theories emerged out of the concepts of community and community development 3.1 Today, three main types of communities are usually identified
: i) Geographic communities share physical space, so that residents come into contact with each other by virtue of proximity, rather than intent. However, to be a “real” community, residents must feel a sense of belonging and hold at least some values and symbols in common. For example, a feature of the natural landscape, such as a river, that is important to many, or a local claim to fame; such as an internationally known theatre company. In geographic communities how power is distributed has a significant impact on how the community develops.
ii) Communities of interest are sometimes referred to as “communities within communities”. Members of these communities choose to associate with each on the basis of a common interest (e.g. model railway club) or shared concerns (e.g. poor air quality). Sometimes communities are formed by self-identified members of a reference group based on characteristics outside of their control, e.g. a disability, ethnic group, or low income, which give them a sense of common identity and shared concerns.
iii) Virtual communities are groups of people that primarily interact via communication media rather than face to face. If the mechanism is a computer network, it is called an online community. Online communities are “social aggregations that emerge from the Net when people carry on those public discussions long enough, with sufficient human feeling, to form webs of personal relationships”.
An individual can belong to several different communities at the same time; e.g. a faith community, a business community and a neighbourhood community. Communities can be healthy or unhealthy, with most being somewhere in the middle. In an unhealthy community there may be an environmental disaster, such as the contamination of the water supply, a high level of poverty due to a major industry closing, or entrenched conflict over a divisive community issue. The path to becoming a healthy community starts with broad community engagement, leadership, the development of a shared vision and community goals, effective planning and implementation.
In the light of this essay’s conclusion it can be seen that community development is not a fixed idea, but a lengthy process of continuous learning and implementation. Community development is about building active and sustainable communities based on social justice and mutual respect provided by various role players. It is about changing power structures to remove the barriers that prevent people from participating in the issues that affect their lives As times progresses, Community Development requires new community development scientists of their special kind to further link available theories, researches and approaches to better implement change mechanisms that aimed at making the lives of the international community better, and minimise the negative socials ills that poverty has manifested itself in.