Peter has now written, or co-written, six books relating to community development. You can find a review of his (co-authored with Gerard Dowling) book Theory and Practice of Dialogical Community Development here on this blogsite.
Peter is originally from the UK but now resides in Brisbane, Australia, where he is a lecturer in community development at the University of Queensland. His community development work has taken him to South Africa, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines and Vanuatu.
Writing and Practice
I was keen to ask Peter whether the process of writing about community development changed the way in which he undertook his community development work. Peter reflected that the process of writing reinforced practice and forced him to look at theory. Writing helped to make sense of the world and enabled him to ask “what might it mean?”
For Peter, his writing is a creative process and opportunity. “When I begin a book,” he notes, “there is a part that knows what I want to say and there is a part that I don’t know.” Writing allows that part that is not known to become known.
For Peter, his writing helps to make explicit what is intuitively known. Writing enables him to ask “is there is a different way of thinking about what we’re doing?”
The South African Experience
Peter’s most recent book looks at community development in South Africa. I was keen to know if he thought that the South African experience had anything to teach us in Australia and New Zealand. Peter was ambivalent in his answer, primarily because South African community development was operating in a very different setting to that in Australia or New Zealand.
“South African development is about survival,” Peter states. Community development is about economic development – “it’s about jobs.” Furthermore, in South Africa inequalities are at the “heart of things, whereas they are often on the edge here in Australia.”
Community development in South Africa is not located within a welfare state which means that it is often about livelihoods. “Black practitioners,” says Peter, “want to talk about jobs. Whereas in Australia it is about the right to a voice or a fair share.”
If the South African experience does have something to teach us here then it is that change is long term and that we must learn patience. That learning includes being aware of the dangers of burn-out. “When things get tough, the mistake is to work harder, (so that) we become our own worst enemy.”
Peter has been a prolific writer of books dealing with community development (6 books in 5 years) so I wondered what was next on the authorship agenda for him.
“Soul,” replied Peter, “Soul, Community and Social Change.” The title is an intriguing one and Peter explained that he was delving into this from four perspectives:
- soul as being embodied energy, of a downward, earthy nature rather than an upward, other-worldly kind.
- a soulful approach, as in getting close attention, becoming slow.
- a recognition that we are part of the earth, so how do we re-enchant the world, so that we come to understand the part we play?
- Gandhi’s soul-force (satyāgraha). The use of non-violence and civil disobedience.