Theory and Practice of Dialogical Community Development2 is a thorough exposition of Community Development by two long-time community workers (between them they have 50 years of experience). Although sometimes one must read their text with precision and alertness, taken as a whole the book is a delight to read.
A word of caution: this is not a “how to” book, it is not a text of techniques and skills for the aspiring Community Development worker. It transcends such an approach and encourages the reader to seriously think about their engagement with Community Development and with communities. You will not find easy answers in this book. Indeed, it is possible to put the book down having more questions in mind than when first opening it. I suspect that if that is the case then the authors will have thought that they have done a good job of authorship.
Questions, say the authors, are of more importance than answers. As if to prove the point, early on the authors pose a disturbing question: has Community development “lost something in its depth and potential soul (by) increasingly being co-opted by a hegemonic, Euro-centrist, modernist approach to philosophy and life which leads to a technical orientation to practice.”? For Community Development workers the question is one which should be foremost in their thought and self- appraisals.
Westoby and Dowling propose transcending technical fixes by encouraging readers to “remain open to complexity” – to become hospitable and open to honest dialogue.
Hospitality implies being welcoming and open to, not only differing people and cultures, but also to “shifting” ideas and even to “shifting” identity. It also means being welcoming of “the stranger.” “The stranger” is meant not just in its literal sense; it is also meant in a metaphorical sense so that “the stranger” suggests “the unknown.” Community Development involves, for the authors, a practice of “not knowing.” Thus, a Community Development worker is a continual seeker and should never assume that they have arrived at a point where they have the answer, or have obtained what is “sought.” This is far from the technocratic track that Westoby and Dowling worry that Community Development may currently be travelling along.
Hospitality involves conversation and dialogue, hence the title of the book. Much of the book explores various aspects of true dialogue: participation, sense of place, love, analysis, conflict and caring. Dialogue is a transformative process that…
“unlocks the possibility of story, and story unlocks the possibility of genuine exchange of ideas and perspectives, leading to potential change of all parties to the dialogue.” (p 66)Theory and Practice of Dialogical Community Development is one of the best books traversing the complexity of Community Development that I have read. Thoroughly recommended.
Note (added 24 April 2015): This book is now published as a paperback making it a lot cheaper for those on a limited budget.
1. Peter Westoby is a lecturer in Community Development at Queensland University, Australia as well as being a Research Fellow with the Centre for Development Support at the University of Free State, South Africa. Gerard Dowling has 20 years experience working with Community Development roles in Brisbane, Australia and currently manages a strategy unit organising youth projects for Brisbane City Council.
2. Westoby, Peter and Dowling, Gerard. Theory and Practice of Dialogical Community Development, Routledge, New York, 2013.