Date:    Thu, 12 Sep 1996 08:32:18 CDT
Sender:  H-Net/H-Urban Seminar on History of Community Organizing &
From:    Wendy Plotkin 
Subject: ABSTRACT: "Faith in Action: Religion, Race &..Future of Democracy
Posted by Richard L. Wood 
"Faith in Action: Religion, Race, and the Future of Democracy"
(Richard L. Wood PhD dissertation, University of California at
Berkeley, 1995; available from University Microfilms --UMI) is a
participant-observation and interview study of two of the most salient
forms of community organizing in low-income urban areas in contemporary
America: church-based organizing such as that done by the IAF, the
Pacific Institute for Community Organization, Gamaliel, and DART; and
"multi-racial organizing" done by multiple smaller organizations around
the country.  The heart of the dissertation compares strong examples of
each kind of organizing: the separate organizing efforts by PICO and
the Center for Third World Organizing (CTWO) in Oakland, California
(the Oakland-based organizations are called OCO and Pueblo,
respectively). "Church-based organizing" is familiar from previous
discussion on this list; contemporary models work through religious
culture to construct a political culture of civic engagement and
political struggle.  "Multi-racial organizing" uses similar tactics and
strategies, but uses racial identity as the basis for constructing such
a political culture.  To avoid confusion, it is worth noting that BOTH
models have often successfully drawn strongly multi-racial
constituencies; the difference lies in their respective bases for
constructing their internal political cultures.
Data for this comparison is drawn from three years of
partipant-observation in the two organizations. In addition, further
data was gathered through sixty interviews with participants,
organizers, and political targets in six cities nationwide (two cities
where PICO and CTWO are both active, and four cities where only PICO is
The opening chapters describe the organizing models employed by PICO
and CTWO, including the practices, ideologies, internal cultures, and
significant political successes of the two organizations. Chapter 5 is
central: it discusses the development of the two organizations and
their partly-parallel and partly-divergent trajectories over the last
ten years. I use the concepts of social capital and "structural
position in the public realm" to differentiate their political
trajectories. A key finding here is that, while both organizations
contribute significantly to enhancing the engagement of low-income and
moderate-income urban residents in the public realm, church-based
organizing in its stronger embodiments projects far greater power into
the political arena.
I show that both models successfully empower ethnically- and
racially-diverse constituencies, and that BOTH hold potential to play
important roles in transforming the American polity in democratic
directions. But I argue that that potential is inherently more limited
in the multiracial organizing model, in that its internal logic forces
it to build relationships and social capital virtually from scratch and
in ways sometimes self-contradictory; nonetheless, by engaging some of
the most marginalized urban residents in civic action, it contributes
to re-invigorating democracy in America.
I argue that the combination of the institutional strengths of
religious bodies (including not just money, but the social capital of
trust and horizontal social networks -- see Putnam, 1993) and the
cultural resources provided by CERTAIN FORMS of religious culture give
church-based organizing a qualitatively different potential for
democratic transformation.
   IN MODERN ITALY,  Robert D. Putnam with Robert Leonardi and
   Raffaella Y. Nanetti. Princeton University Press, c1993]
Like multiracial organizing, PICO involves large numbers of quite
low-income and racially diverse participants; unlike multiracial
organizing, it also mobilizes large numbers of middle-class
participants. This has given it sufficient voice in cities as diverse
as Oakland, San Diego, Denver, New Orleans, and Camden (only
considering PICO sites) to wield a powerful influence within official
decision-making regarding policing, education, and economic
The latter half of the dissertation explores the role of cultural
resources more deeply, by looking at how church-based organizing plays
out in the context of three quite different forms of religious culture
in America, in three churches in Oakland. A key variable here is a
specific religious culture's ability to confront the complexities and
ambiguities of political engagement, while still remaining sufficiently
coherent to instill meaning into the political process for its
adherents. I argue that different forms of religious culture are
differentially capable of this crucial process, and thus some succeed
and others fail to sustain civic engagement over the long term.
The Conclusion considers the theoretical, political, and ethical
implications of much of the foregoing discussion, including the role
each kind of organization may be expected to play in the coming
historical process of more profoundly democratizing American life.
I am now engaged in editing the dissertation for publication. I hope to
publish it under its current title, though the powers-that-be in
publishing have final control over that.
Richard L. Wood
Department of Sociology
University of New Mexico
1915 Roma NE, SSCI 1110
Albuquerque, NM  87131-1166
phone:  505-277-3945
fax:    505-277-8805
email:  rlwood@unm.edu

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