Community development is a practice-based profession and an academic discipline that promotes participative democracy, sustainable development, rights, economic opportunity, equality and social justice, through the organisation, education and empowerment of people within their communities, whether these be of locality, identity or interest, in urban and rural settings.
In the February edition of Vanguard, Steve Jeanetta shared the above statement adopted by the International Association for Community. CDS is "starting a conversation about how we should define community development as a society" and has invited its members to engage in dialogue around this statement. I would like to propose the idea that we explore broadening this conversation by including nature as in integral part of this conversation, particularly in terms of how we might enhance our view of "community". In so doing, I propose we start this new thread of the conversation by evoking Eugene Odum's (1971) classic work in Ecology and his definition of an ecosystem: In Ecology, the term population, originally coined to denote a group of people, is broadened to include groups of individuals of any one kind or organism. Likewise, a community in the ecological sense includes all of the populations occupying a given area. The community and the non-living environment function together [italics added] as an ecological system or ecosystem (pp. 4-5). Thus, we are reminded of the inherent connectivity between living and nonliving things - tied synergistically for survival - something Indigenous Communities have always known.
For me, the timing is both serendipitous and critical, as I find myself contemplating and exploring recent initiatives and innovative research methodologies that offer provocative insights on how we might diversify conceptualizations and enhance practices (e.g., science, community development, education, etc) broadly within community development. These new lenses offer fresh conceptual and methodological frames that embrace environmental social justice (Eppley, 2017; Kingsolver, 2017), the rights of nature (Linzey, 2013), an earth stewardship approach to science (Sayre, Kelty, Simmons, Clayton, Kassam, Pickett, & Chapin, 2013), and acknowledge the complex interconnectivity between all living beings and the environment (Avery & Hains, 2017; Kassam, 2009). Policies and actions of the current U.S. administration now threaten much of what both CDS and NACDEP propose in the aforementioned statement, and in my opinion, clearly signals to the field that there is much more work for us to do collectively as participating members in our local, regional, national, international, and ecological communities. This call to action serves to galvanize the community so that we may creatively and collaboratively solve the wicked problems faced by the planet. I am particularly inspired by the recent work of Thomas Linzey (2013) and the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF).
According to the CELDF,
"There is a growing recognition that we must fundamentally change the relationship between humankind and nature. Making this fundamental shift means recognizing our dependence on nature and respecting our need to live in harmony with the natural world. This means securing the highest legal protection and the highest societal value on nature through the recognition of rights... we are finding that the human right to a healthy environment cannot be achieved without securing rights of the environment itself. This means recognizing in law the rights of nature to be healthy and thrive (CELDF, 2017)".
In anticipation and preparation for the upcoming CDS-NACDEP conference in beautiful Montana, might we continue to engage in conversations and explore new partnerships that embrace humanity in the context of the rights of nature, and move forward in ways that synergistically bring together our collective diverse perspectives, spirits and practices in ways that pave brave new pathways moving forward.
Avery, L.M., & Hains, B.J. (2017). Oral Traditions: A contextual framework for complex science concepts. Cultural Studies of Science Education (CSSE) Special Issue on Rural Science Education. Volume 12, Issue 1, pp. 129–166.
Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF). (2017). Retrieved from http://celdf.org/rights/rights-of-nature/.
Eppley, K. (2017). Rural science education as social justice. Cultural Studies of Science Education (CSSE) Special Issue on Rural Science Education. Volume 12, Issue 1, pp. 45-52.
Kassam, K-A. (2009). Biocultural diversity and Indigenous ways of knowing: human ecology in the Arctic. Calgary: University of Calgary Press/Arctic Institute of North America.
Kingsolver, A. (2017). Practical resources for critical science education in rural Appalachia. Cultural Studies of Science Education (CSSE) Special Issue on Rural Science Education. Volume 12, Issue 1, pp. 219-225.
Linzey, T. (2013). Corporations, Communities & the Environment. (March 2, 2013). Alternative Radio. National Public Radio (NPR).
Odum, E.P. (1971). Fundamentals of ecology. Philadelphia, PA: W.B. Saunders Company.
Sayre, N., Kelty, R., Simmons, M., Clayton, S., Kassam, K-A., Pickett, S., & Chapin, F.S. (2013). Invitation to earth stewardship. Frontiers in Ecology. 11, 339.