call for papers: interdependence and community

Discussion list for COMM-ORG colist at
Wed Dec 12 20:26:51 CST 2007

From: "Sean Thomas-Breitfeld" <sthomas-breitfeld at>


Interdependence and Community:

A Discussion about the Values and Vision of the Progressive Movement

Call for Papers

The Center for Community Change’s Taproots Project seeks papers for a 
convening to be held in Washington, DC, April 16-18, 2008. This event 
will bring together activist-thinkers from the fields of community 
organizing, advocacy, media, and the academy, for a discussion about the 
twin values of interdependence and community, which are central to the 
development of a progressive movement for economic justice and social 

The Center for Community (CCC) was founded in 1968, dedicated to 
building the power and capacity of low-income people – particularly 
people of color – to change the institutions and policies that affect 
their lives. In partnership with more than 100 grassroots organizations, 
the Center is working to elevate and strengthen values of community and 
interdependence in order to reduce the dominance of extreme 
individualism in society.

This convening will highlight scholarship that informs and sheds light 
on questions arising from grassroots organizations as they grapple with 
the challenges inherent in developing a liberatory politics of 
community. The meeting will be open to the authors of selected papers, 
invited discussants from a range of fields, and a cadre of advocates and 
organizers representing CCC’s partner organizations.

Convening Theme

The United States has long understood and honored the spirit of 
community. The national motto of “E Pluribus Unum” reflects the value of 
strength and unity through diversity, and there are many celebrated 
examples of our nation turning to collective action to address problems 
of poverty and injustice. On the local level, traditions of barn 
raisings, rent parties, and labor strikes underscore both an 
understanding of the fundamental interdependence of people, and a 
strategic orientation of people in struggle to combine their efforts and 
work collaboratively.

Despite the traditional valuing of the communal, individualism also has 
immense ideological significance in the United States. In the last few 
decades, the emphasis on the concepts of individual liberty and 
independence has eclipsed the value of social cohesion. The inadequacies 
of extreme individualism are evident in the “up by the bootstraps” ethos 
that is blind to structural forces of oppression; the “you’re on your 
own” theory of economics that devolves economic power to the individual 
through tax cuts, private pensions, and medical accounts; and the “go it 
alone” mentality that has justified callous and irresponsible foreign 

While destructive individualism, egotism, and alienation are outgrowths 
of the modern culture of capitalism, there are alternative models and 
resources for knitting individuals together into the “network of 
mutuality” and “garment of destiny” that Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote 
of in his 1963 “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” This convening will model 
King’s expansive vision of community by engaging participants from 
diverse backgrounds and perspectives, and bringing together 
activist-thinkers from the academy and the field of community organizing 
to investigate the following three themes:

1. The roots and sources of community values. What are the historical, 
cultural, spiritual, philosophical and/or scientific groundings for 
rediscovering and embracing interdependence as fundamental to our 
understanding of social interactions? How can we explore these roots of 
community while being careful to reject tones of nostalgia, loss and 
despair that would discount the positive social transformations brought 
about by justice movements of the past? What are some models of 
community – such as those found in nature, history, cultural traditions, 
etc. – that may offer resources that are otherwise hidden or ignored by 
the dominant individualistic culture?

2. The practice and valuation of community and interdependence in the 
current conjuncture. What are some current cases of community-building 
projects, particularly pluralist examples where harmony comes from 
openness to particularity? In what ways does the broader culture 
subordinate the values of community and perpetuate a destructive 
individualism, and what have been the progressive responses to this 
phenomenon, thus far? How might changes in the material world – due to 
globalization, technology and demographic trends – create opportunities 
and/or pose barriers to shifting the balance from extreme individualism 
towards community?

3. The implications of the political project of elevating community on 
both our visioning the future and our propositions for change. In what 
ways could a re-orientation towards conceptions of community and 
interdependence fundamentally shift progressives’ demands, and uses, of 
power? If we take seriously the elevation of community as a central 
value for progressive movement-building, what are the future meanings of 
wealth, democracy, the nation state, meritocracy, identity, etc.? What 
are some ways that the values of community and interdependence have the 
potential to transform the kind of change we want to bring about in the 
world, and how do we translate these implications into new concrete 
proposals, prescriptions, and strategies for making change?

The goal of this convening is not to arrive at a unified view of the 
meanings of community and interdependence, but rather to engage in an 
ongoing process of grappling with the diversity of views and values that 
inform and contribute to the development of a movement for progressive 
social change.

Submission Procedures

We invite interested parties to submit paper proposals or abstracts 
(500-1000 words) that relate to one of the three themes above, no later 
than January 11, 2008. Those whose proposals are selected will be 
notified by January 21, 2008, and will be expected to submit their 
papers (2,500 to 3,500 words) by February 29, 2008.

Selected papers will serve to focus, and provide direction to the 
discussions over the course of the convening. As such, the papers should 
be thoughtful, provocative, and also written in the language of public 

Papers accepted for presentation at the convening may also be invited 
for publication on the Center for Community Change’s website or in a 
projected book.

All proposals and requests for information about this convening should 
be sent to:

Sean Thomas-Breitfeld

Associate Director, Taproots Project

Center for Community Change - New York Office

330 Seventh Avenue, Suite 1802

New York, NY 10001

Fax: 212-643-8026

sthomas-breitfeld at

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