Nyomtatóbarát változat
Some Thoughts on/to the Closing Seminar of the Project on Community Development Partnership Building in Central and Eastern Europe
Gergely Attila
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A kiadás éve:
partnerség, Közép-Kelet Európa
Közösségfejlesztési partnerségépítés Közép-Kelet Európában
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Some Thoughts on/to the Closing Seminar of the
Project on Community Development Partnership Building
in Central and Eastern Europe

Sovata, Teleki Training Centre, Romania, 27-29.

I would not recapitulate the proceedings of the seminar we have had. I would rather restrict my “closing thoughts”, as I was invited to present, to a few remarks on a theme that has been running through most of the contributions.

The theme I would dwell on is the recognition of the need for the further consolidation, institutional and intellectual, of Community Development (CD) in Central and East Europe (CEE). By now there has emerged an impressive variety of projects and methods, especially when compared to conditions of ten, or even five years ago. The presentations hitherto have provided ample evidence for a wide range of community needs, practitioner motivations, organizational frameworks, funding sources, training schemes, development methodologies, etc. as these have been embedded in most diverse cultural, economic, political and historical settings across seven countries of the region, and have been gathering momentum mainly in recent years. In spite of all the diversity, the realization of the need for further professionalization and consolidation has been quite uniform and pronounced throughout the proceedings.

Professional consolidation has many facets itself. Here I would focus on what several of the contributors have referred to as the need for strengthening the “intellectual”, “theoretical”, “conceptual” underpinnings of evolving practice and of the professional standards of related training. It has been implied that “development technologies” as mere “tool-kits” cannot suffice for living up to the challenge and potential of CD either in CEE or elsewhere. Such “technologies”, “methodological packages”, etc. may be necessary, but cannot be sufficient. The application of tool-kits is supposed to be guided by the conceptual perspectives. The choice and clarification of key-concepts is part and parcel of, in a way it is a precondition to, institutional consolidation. While actual practices diverge in ways and means, they also necessarily share a lot in conceptual assets. Thus, spelling and mapping out some features of common conceptual dimensions may be helpful also in finding and building a common ground for cooperation and partnership.

There is a set of core concepts that are inherently linked to most definitions of CD. For further professionalization as well as for a common denominator for regional (European, global) cooperation, the concept of “community” is of obvious importance. What I would like to stress here, however, is not just the centrality of the community concept. I would rather focus attention on the need of embedding it into a more comprehensive set of related concepts of “human sociability”. In fact, the way the term “community” has gained currency in the last few hundred years has been intimately interlinked with a number of conjugate concepts, the most notorious of which has been perhaps that of “society”.

“Society” is a fairly recent phenomenon that has not been always with us. The word itself as referring to “modern society” could not be coined earlier than modern society itself came into being. Before the advent of “society” the concept of “community” could not have the same meaning as it has had since then. Until modernity the concept of “community” lacked much of the specific content it has assumed precisely as a concept and a reality in interaction with those of “society”. “Community” in “modern times”, i.e. in conjunction with “society”, has never been the same as it used to be before the “great transformation”.

Instructive as it is to contrast “community” with “society”, the here relevant complex of interconnected concepts is much more inclusive than the binary opposition of “society” and “community” would suggest. In fact, a host of related “basic forms” of human sociability have been potentially or actually at work throughout human history, taking on newer and newer functions and connotations in mutual context. “Community” has taken on its modern and post-modern features not only in its interrelation with “society”, but also by its interplay with “people”, “nation”, “state”, “church”, “ethnic group”, “civilization”, etc., along respective institutional lines, in historical time and space. Though the categories of “human togetherness” are most diverse, there have been also common and unifying processes running through their joint evolution: those of their differentiation and integration.

Though the term seems to be the same, differentiated “community” is no longer the same as “community” used to be in a less differentiated world. A number of other concepts may prove helpful in explicating the process, like those of “solidarity”, “autonomy”, “individuality”, “institutions”, “participation”, “civil society”, or more recently “sustainability”, “social capital” and “social responsibility”. “Community Development” itself is a practice that has come, to a large extent, into being in the (often polarized) “community”-“society” power-field of the modern and post-modern world. Community Development in a way is a function of modern society to redress the unbalances in the relations of “society” and “community”, to remedy those concomitants of their differentiation/integration processes, which, if out of balance, may prove to be detrimental to the sustainability of human life itself.

With certain aspects of our life and personalities we are parts to society’s functional division of labour, but normally none of us is born into “political parties” or “shareholding companies”, neither are we brought up by “agencies of socialization”, or do we die in “welfare bureaucracies” or “medical systems”; if we do, we do so only insofar as these assume community-like qualities for us. “Meaning” in general, and “the meaning of life” in particular is inseparable from that medium of life we call “community”.

Even the foregoing may have illustrated that “community” and “community” may differ a lot in substance, depending on interpretation. The on-going clarification of concepts is a precondition to institutionalisation also by its importance for guiding the design and application of methods, but the interpretation and application of concepts themselves call for guidance. What are concepts to be “guided” by? The concept of “social capital” may provide an insight in this regard, at least under two aspects.

As developed by Robert Putnam, the term “social capital” was devised to give a deeper reading to regional realities of local democracy in Italy since the 1970’s.1 Though seemingly identical, the “same” concepts did not work the same way, in some cases did not work at all, in Italian regionalization policies. “Local democracy” was getting on well in some regions and it did not get on in others. Central legislation and government, national regionalization policies, language, culture, history, even religion – all seemed to be uniform across the country, yet “new regionalism” worked in a selective fashion: it prevailed in certain regions, while it brake down in others. Putnam was up to identifying the factors that could meaningfully discriminate the cases of success and breakdown, respectively. In the tradition of multivariate empirical analysis, he checked and sorted out a large number of alternative explanations, political party and religious influences included. None of those proved to be convincing enough. As it is well-known, there could be isolated a cluster of causally discriminating effects that could be bundled as “social capital”.

Yet, the same cautionary logic may be in order for the concept of “social capital”. Along the same lines of argument Putnam followed up, we may find that “social capital” – or whatever other concept – is workable in some cases and does not work in others. Similar to the ways how “capital” itself “triumphs in the West and fails everywhere else” (to borrow Hernando de Soto’s phrase), “social capital” may be causally effective both in community development practice and for explanatory models in some cases, while it may spectacularly fail in others.2 What is this selective pattern governed by?

For their actual ramifications, concepts themselves have preconditions in matters beyond their formal structure. Beyond their formal readings we have to differentiate variations in their deeper grammar of values and underlying value-choices. Concepts are all too many. The underlying value-decisions giving the critical, case-by-case, causal edge to seemingly identical formal concepts revolve around a limited set of core values and related personal commitments that can be referred to by such questions like: What is life?, Who is man? What is truth?, What is reality?, etc. All these imply that, along the study of their formal structure, also the more inclusive value-readings of abstract concepts may be fruitful to attend for consolidating the professional standards of Community Development in Central and East Europe, or elsewhere.

It is through exploring and articulating the value-content of basic concepts that such concepts may be put to work under specific circumstances and for specific effects. It is underlying value-choices, or the lack thereof, that determine longer run consequences, e.g. the odds of which variant of “community” will dominate CD outcomes. Contingent on basic value assumptions, the actual outcomes of “community development” may widely differ, from imposed, narrowly conformist routines, to practices based on personal dignity and voluntary participation.

As one might argue that it is on the common denominator of basic value-premises that an organic and viable balance of the various forms of human sociability can be achieved in the on-going processes of their differentiation and integration, it is by the same condition that a maturing practice of community and Community Development can make some critical contributions to the overall development of our cultures and societies as these have been historically interrelated here in Central and East Europe. Community properly conceived is a locus of, at least a chance for, specificity and sincerity. In a truly community atmosphere, e.g., much of the ideological scaffolding of over-politicized inter-ethnic relations inevitably collapse; authentic community values necessarily overwrite the scripts of instrumental ideological exploits profiteering from patterns of “mechanical solidarity”.3

“Organic solidarities”, to borrow Durkheim’s phrase, based on achieved, substantive identities are more worthy of the term, but with the given antecedents it may take time to mature. The project we are closing has been a pioneering one towards the building of a workable partnership in the endeavour of Community Development in Central and East Europe. I read it somewhere as cited from Pudovkin, the renowned Russian film-director, that conclusions in matters of community would be premature before consuming at least three kilograms of salt with the people concerned. That takes quite some time. We have consumed here only the first few pinches of it, though in very well-done dishes, during the days of this seminar.

Sovata, 28 March 2003

Attila Gergely
Hungarian Association for Community Development

1. Putnam, Robert D.: Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy, Princeton University Press, 1993.
2. De Soto, Hernando: The Mystery of Capital, Basic Books, 2000.
3. It had been there in my notes for this presentation, but – mainly for shortage of time – I did not include a further “meta-context” in my talk at the closing session of the seminar. A comment by Leo Singer from Bratislava made on my reflections on the spot has induced me, however, to include that moment here.
As I remember, he said it was not indispensable to make meticulous ‘value-choices’ all the time by CD practitioners. ‘Most of the agenda of CD is all too obvious, practitioners can proceed spontaneously in order to respond to obvious needs of people in respective communities” – he stressed.
At the end of the session most of the participants seemed to be rather exhausted, so I limited my feed-back to him there to a single sentence. Here, repeatedly expressing my thanks for his comment, I add that it pointed in a way to a further and in a way to the ultimate meta-context of all our efforts: to that of our conscience. I agree with him of course that neither CD practitioners, nor people in general need to be ‘experts in value ethics’ in order to make authentic decisions.
As far as I could gather, related considerations must have been instrumental in the reasoning of the members of our host organization when they chose “Human Reform” for their name and slogan. As Zoltán Balla explained: the idea of “human reform” implied for them that no “economic”, “political” or any partial “reform” could adequately express what they were aiming at. If I am spelling it out correctly, by that they meant that the critical measure of change was the change of man himself/herself at the roots of his or her personality.