Since the 1970's economic, cultural, and political changes have negatively impacted community efforts to organize. Social workers who facilitate community organizing face many challenges, such as growing racial, ethnic and gender divisions, political disengagement and social fragmentation. The study purpose is to explore the use of a Critical Adult Education (CAE) framework to overcome community organizing challenges in diverse communities that face social exclusion. Building on the case of Community-Academy in Israel, we studied the experiences of activists and professionals that learned and organized together to promote inclusive urban development. The research questions focused on the experience of activists and professionals that organized across diversity and their perception of organizing outcomes.
Data for this qualitative study was gathered through multiple methods. Purposive sampling was applied for semi-structured interviews with local activists (N=20) and professionals (N=10) involved in community organizing and CAE. Two focus groups (N=10) were conducted with neighborhood activists. Observations during meetings and classes were conducted to obtain a rich contextualized understanding. The data were analyzed according to a constructivist grounded theory approach to allow for deep understanding of participant's social, political and experiential realities. Triangulation was used to capture the participants’ various viewpoints and bracketing was applied to diminish the influence of the researchers’ early assumptions and allow for reflexivity in data analysis. Lastly, member checking was used to enhance research credibility.
Participants experienced CAE as instrumental for organizing across diversities through three dynamics: a) transposing knowledge refers the process through which participants developed new information and critical awareness that shifted power from institutions that traditionally hold it to the local residents; b)disrupting power concerned unconventional organizing and the redrawing of boundaries between local activists and professionals; c) negotiating diversity involved navigating ethnic and religious contention, while raising awareness to discrimination and other forms of injustice. Personal relationships, built over time and forged by common goals, helped withstand in-group conflicts. The perceived outcomes of organizing were mixed. While the experience empowered activists at the individual-family level and successfully promoted community goals, only limited policy change was accomplished at the national level.
Conclusions and implications
The study findings suggest that a CAE framework has advantages for organizing diverse communities that face injustice. Since it openly engages with diversity, it can facilitate sociopolitical consciousness and build strong relationships. CAE encourages community activists and professionals to challenge traditional power structures and confront local mechanisms that diminish their rights and freedom to organize. Compared to other organizing strategies, CAE requires learning processes that may consume more resources. A CAE framework may also involve tensions and conflicts during the organizing process and is susceptible to contentious events outside of the community. Organizing using a CAE framework can be an empowering experience that promotes local change. However, it's influence on the national policy level is unclear. Implications call attention to social worker's choice of organizing strategies for diverse communities and suggest the need to reconsider the role that community institutions take with respect to traditional power hierarchies.