The social change role of community-based development corporations : a quiet transformation of private lives and local institutions

Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Southern New Hampshire University
This dissertation examines the critique that contemporary CDCs have abandoned their 1960s commitment to empower poor communities. By asking CDC directors how their organizations accomplish social change, this research seeks a more nuanced description of the transformative intent of their work. These practitioner perspectives are then placed in the context of Post WWII new social movement theory in order to discover the conceptual basis for an alternative explanation for the social change role being played by today's CDCs. This study finds that a majority of today's CDC practitioners expect to achieve social change by implementing local projects and programs. CDC directors provide rich qualitative descriptions of how they transform the private lives of individuals and influence the social commitments of local institutions. These qualitative themes yield a normative theory of how CDCs practice social change that is substantially different from the public policy remedies their critics expect them to pursue. Rather than abandoning their commitment to empower the poor, this investigation finds that CDC practitioners share a common motivation to help oppressed populations achieve social outcomes not available in a market economy. When the social change explanations of CDC practitioners are compared to empirical evidence of the continuing activism of former 1960s student protestors and new social movement theories, this study finds that the 'localized' empowerment objectives of CDCs substantively correspond with contemporary concepts of social change activity like civic learning and a re-emerging associationalism. This research concludes that the conceptualization of social change underlying the perceptions of CDC directors has a different ideological footing than that embraced by its critics. Instead of top-down government solutions, CDC's employ bottom-up self governance strategies. This difference in ideology means that instead of marginalizing the local empowerment strategies and cooperative partnerships formed by today's CDCs, these practices should become a central focus of empirical research and theoretical analysis. This alternative explanation means that university curriculums should recognize the relevance of new social movement theory and that government and philanthropic funders should focus on current CDC practice in order to measure the success of their investments in poor communities. (Author abstract)