community worka distinct movement aimed at stimulating local schemes for development, particularly of education, which started in colonial societies in the aftermath of World War II. It was originally known as community development and defined as ‘a movement designed to create better living for the whole community, with the active participation and on the initiative of the local community’ (HMSO Community Development, A Handbook, 1958). Used as a strategy by the British in Africa and by North Americans in South East Asia, its aims were contradictory in attempting both to maintain social control and facilitate independence. In the UK in the 1950s, community work was seen as an appropriate response, within the context of a WELFARE STATE, to combat growing social tensions in British towns and cities. Some authors suggest that community work has a philosophical aim in attempting to recreate some form of GEMEINSCHAFT within fragmented urban settlements. Although the political values which led to its development may be considered pluralist or consensual, in the 1960s a more radical style developed with the COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT PROJECTS whose practices were informed by a structuralist critique (see STRUCTURALISM) of capitalist society More recently, community work has been criticized for its reliance on the work of women whilst ignoring the nature and work of women within the community. See also COMMUNITY ACTION, COMMUNITARIANISM.
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000