Date:    Mon, 30 Sep 1996 17:38:49 CDT
Sender:  H-Net/H-Urban Seminar on History of Community Organizing &
         Community-Based Development 
Subject: INTRO:  Michael Byrd, Vanderbilt University
Posted by Michael Byrd 
Even though I've been on this list since its inception, it just
occurred to me that I never really properly introduced myself.  Since
our moderator is about to post my own written contribution to the
list, I thought that this was as good a time as any to formally
acquaint myself to you all.
I am an A.B.D. ("All But Dissertation") candidate in the Religion,
Ethics, and Society program at Vanderbilt University (BTW, if you are
interested in learning about this program you can point web browser to

"http://www.library.vanderbilt.edu/divinity/bibs/guibib.html" for an
overview).  I am in what I hope are the final stages of writing my
dissertation, "The Discourse Ethics of Religious-Based Voluntary
Organizations in North American Metropolitan Political Economies."  In
my research I focus on Metro Nashville and a neo-Alinskyite
organization of 40 congregations and neighborhood associations called
"Tying Nashville Together."
Besides providing a history of the development of TNT and an analysis
of metropolitan politics, I also analyze IAF organizing philosophies
from the perspective of resource mobilization theory (currently popular
in sociology of religion circles) and the field of discourse ethics
introduced by Jurgen Habermas and further developed by Seyla Benhabib.
The significant claim I make with regard to these two frames of
analysis is that while resource mobilization provides an effective
interpretation of what occurs in neo-Alinskyite efforts in metropolitan
areas (especially in light of its philosophical parallels with the
organizing methodologies of IAF), utilitarian sensibilities on
self-interest only take researchers and organizers so far in
understanding and implementing democratic processes.
I argue, on the other hand, that discourse ethics -- insofar as it
provides a universalizable definition of interest based on the
reflexive behavior of discourse as well as a corresponding interactive
ethic for public debate -- is better suited than the utilitarian frames
for both analyzing broad-based organizations and weighing the validity
of their ethical claims.
From the perspective of religious studies, discourse ethics also
provides a more plausible explanation of the influence of religious
identities and discourse on public debate as well as democratic and
ethical principles for guiding action with regard to religion in the
public square.  Above all, discourse ethics provides both a description
of and prescription on the ways people reached shared conceptions of
the common good.
Besides these research interests, I also have a history of
participation and leadership in political organizing.  As an undergrad
I was involved in the Nuclear Freeze Movement and was a student
lobbyist to the Texas State Legislature on behalf of independent
colleges and universities.  As a seminary student in Louisville,
Kentucky I spent my field placement at the Council on Peacemaking and
Religion, heading up a program for organizing peace and justice groups
in Baptist churches as well as coordinating ecumenical, interracial
projects among area congregations.
In graduate school, besides being an active participant in TNT, I also
coordinate undergraduate service-learning projects for a community
service program in Vanderbilt's Office of Housing and Residential
Education.  For the past seven years I have also worked as a consultant
for the Project to End Abuse through Counseling and Education, an
organization designed to re-educate men convicted of domestic violence
(started by the women's shelter movement; currently funded by Metro
government and the United Way).  I also belong to a newly formed group
here in the southeast of academics and grassroots organizers committed
to making research findings accessible to community-based organizations
and defining more democratic avenues for higher education (e. g., Paulo
Freire's "critical pedagogy").
After graduation, I intend to pursue a career in teaching, although I
can very easily see myself also doing some sort of research and
consulting for political organizations or interest groups as well as
writing.  Regardless, I will also continue to be involved in
community-based organizing.
In closing, I would like to say that this electronic discussion has
been one of my personal favorites and I've learned a great deal from
the insights of both academics and nonacademics.  Also, kudos to
Wendy Plotkin, who has made this endeavor quite successful, IMCO.
Michael Byrd
Religion, Ethics, and Society
Vanderbilt University

available at


                                              -- W. Plotkin, COMM-ORG]