Comments on Miller, Critique of Delgado's BEYOND THE POLITICS OF PLACE

Sender:       H-Net/H-Urban Seminar on History of Community Organizing &
Subject:      Re: Paper: Miller,
Date:         Tue, 12 Nov 1996 08:57:18 CST
Posted by Kevin Harris (
I disagree with much of Miller's critique and urge Comm-Org readers
to examine "Square Pegs Find Their Groove" by Kim Fellner and Francis
Calpotura, which is a response to Mike Miller.  If there is a need, I
can arrange to have it posted here in electronic form.
[Kevin and I are arranging for the possible posting of this
unpublished paper on COMM-ORG. -- W. Plotkin]
Kevin Harris                            phone: 301-405-6635
Urban Studies and Planning Program      fax:   301-314-9897
1117 Lefrak Hall              
University of Maryland
College Park, Maryland 20742-2885
Date:         Wed, 13 Nov 1996 12:51:41 CST
Posted by Randy Stoecker 
Hi all. I wanted to respond a bit to Wendy's questions regarding Mike
Miller's paper, though in a very roundabout way.
>By the way, there's been little discussion of the Mike Miller paper on
>COMM-ORG.  Do all agree with the community organizing model of
>the IAF, which Miller defends, or are there others who agree with
After having looked at Mike Miller's piece twice, I must admit I am
left not knowing what to say.  I will admit that my life is far too
busy and I have not been able to treat his piece with an academic
focus.  On the other hand, I worry when I can't get the basics of an
argument in a casual reading so I can then go back for the details.
In some sense, Mike Miller's critique is devastating.  By the time you
are done reading the critique, even basic issues like "what is a
community organizing group" are up for grabs.  Mike's piece also seems
to both reject Gary Delgado's contention that there is a new kind of
community organizing, and argues that "traditional organizing" embodies
components of Gary's model like race issues.
It's unclear to me, as a consequence, whether Mike thinks that Gary is
wrong in saying there is a new model, or that Gary is wrong in
promoting a new model, or both.
There is simply too much going on for me.  For example, in one half of
one paragraph, Mike offers the following:
     out    Delgado deepens the error
     when he characterizes the organization as "non ideological
     and pragmatic" (21) quoting from an unidentified source but
     implying the quote is directly, and in context, from
     Alinsky. "By this," Delgado says in elaboration, "Alinsky
     meant that the organization would originate out of the
     needs, interests, and issues of local people" (21). Does
     this mean that "ideological organizing" would, in contrast,
     originate out of the needs, interests, and issues of
     someone else? If so, who? If not, then how are the two
     different in this context? The error is compounded:
     "(Alinsky's) approach was grounded less in a set ideology
     than in the application of proven techniques to
     specific problems." What is a "set ideology?" Is it distinct
     from an "unset ideology?"

That half a paragraph asks too many questions and makes too many
critiques going in too many directions for me to keep it all straight.
More helpful, for me, would have been for Mike to build a contrasting
argument, rather than sticking to Gary's structure.  For me, any
position that Mike tries to develop seems to get buried in the details
of the critique.  What is left at the end--the traditional model, a
hybrid model?   And Mike seems to slip into the mode that us academics
are so uselessly good at--critiquing without reference to anything
practical and real.  A critique of Gary's position is needed--my main
concern is with the extent to which Gary's model moves away from what I
see as the fundamental organizing unit of the neighborhood--but the
critique should be done with an eye toward what to do next.
Perhaps I am overreacting as an academic who too often feels useless
and is trying hard to write, teach, research, and serve in ways that
are accessible and offer concrete alternatives for folks doing real
work to think about and adapt to their work.
I realize that perhaps Mike is speaking to issues that are fundamental
to community organizers and I simply am not recognizing that.  Thus, I
would be especially interested in hearing from the organizers out there
what they take away from either Mike's critique or Gary's argument that
is of use to them.
Randy Stoecker
Associate Professor of Sociology
Research Associate in Urban Affairs
Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Social Work
University of Toledo
Toledo, OH  43606
419-530-4975 (phone)
419-530-8406 (fax) (e-mail)
"Community Before Capital"