The Community Organizing Method from the US to Europe: Similarities, Differences, and Challenges Ahead


The approach of Community Organizing to building and empowering local communities has become increasingly popular in the last decades, both because of the past involvement in community organizing of popular personalities such as Barack Obama, and because of the crisis of more traditional practices of civil society building. The main promoter of this approach worldwide is today the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), based in Chicago, which was founded in 1940 by Saul D. Alinsky, who has also systematized the main principles of community organizing. Thanks to IAF activity, since the 1990s, the community organizing method has also spread to western Europe, first in the UK and Germany, and later in several other countries. After sketching the history and methodology of the broad-based community organizing approach adopted by the IAF, this paper will try to analyze the community organizing initiatives developed in Western Europe during the last 30 years under the supervision of (or inspired by) the Industrial Areas Foundation network, singling out the main problems and issues at stake in adopting and translating the method outside the US, in different social, political and cultural contexts. The analysis will be based both on semi-structured interviews with several US- and Europe-based organizers and on the participant observation carried out since 2019, during the development of a community organizing initiative in the city of Turin, in northern Italy.

DOI Code: 10.1285/i20356609v17i1p229

Keywords: community organizing; Europe; civil society; mobilization; comparative politics

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