First Advisor

Lisa K. Bates

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in Community Development and University Honors


Community Development




Social service -- United States, Liberalism, Nonprofit organizations -- United States -- History




This paper examines and synthesizes existing critiques of contemporary community work in the United States. These critiques are substantiated and developed by a discussion of nonprofit history and formal structure, establishing the premise that contemporary community work is constrained both by its powerlessness and its collaboration with government. It is constrained to an extent that it cannot meaningfully address or remedy community problems. Theorists often see the root of this problem in the birth of neoliberalism in the 1970s, but this paper argues that it arises instead from liberal philosophy, and is rooted much more deeply in Western history and thought. It is argued therefore that robust engagement with history is necessary to understand the context in which community problems occur, and to propose effective solutions. This paper recommends a historical materialist approach. It suggests that destructive tactics like rioting and looting embody a materialist perspective, are materially effective, and are therefore promising. Most community organizations are unable to participate in this kind of activity, but this paper suggests that they might think about ways to support and affirm it.


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