The typical social policy map is inaccurate because it excludes a
major domain - the community. By community, we mean the social place
used by family, friends, neighbors, neighborhood associations, clubs,
civic groups, local enterprises, churches, ethnic associations, synagogues,
local unions, local government and local media.
Between Community and Institution
These associations of the community represent unique social tools
that are unlike the social tool represented by a managed institution.
For example, the structure of institutions is a design established
to create control of people. On the other hand, the structure of
associations is the result of people acting through consent. It
is critical that we distinguish between these two motivating forces
because there are many goals that can be fulfilled only through
consent, and these are often goals that will be impossible to achieve
through a production system designed to control.
The associations in community are interdependent. To weaken one
is to weaken all. If the local newspaper closes, the garden club
and the township meeting will each diminish as they lose a voice.
If the American Legion disbands, several community fund-raising
events and the maintenance of the ballpark will stop. If the Baptist
church closes, several self-help groups that meet in the basement
will be without a home and folks in the old people’s home
will lose their weekly visitors. The interdependence of associations
and the dependence of community upon their work is the vital center
of an effective society.
The community environment is constructed around the recognition
of fallibility rather than the ideal. Most institutions, on the
other hand, are designed with a vision imagining a structure where
things can be done right, a kind of orderly perfection achieved,
and the ablest dominate. In contrast, community structures tend
to proliferate until they create a place for everyone, no matter
how fallible. They provide vehicles that give voice to diversity
and assume that consensual contribution is the primary value.
In the proliferation of community associations, there is room for
many leaders and the development of leadership capacity among many.
This democratic opportunity structure assumes that the best idea
is the sum of the knowledge of the collected fallible people who
are citizens. Indeed, it is the marvel of the democratic ideal that
people of every fallibility are citizens. Effective associational
life incorporates all of those fallibilities and reveals the unique
intelligence of community.
Associations have the capacity to respond quickly. They do not need
to involve all of the institutional interest in a planning committee,
budget office, administrative staff, and so forth. A primary characteristic
of people who need help is that their problem is created by the
unexpected tragedy, the surprise development, the sudden change.
While they will be able to stabilize over the long run, what they
often need is immediate help. The rapid response capacity of associations
and their interconnectedness allow for the possibility of immediate
and comprehensive assistance without first initiating a person in
to a system from which he or she may never leave.
Finally, associations and the community they create are the forum
within which citizenship can be expressed. Institutions by their
managed structure are definitionally unable to act as forums for
citizenship. Therefore, the vital center of democracy is the community
of associations. Any person without access to that forum is effectively
denied citizenship. For those people with unique fallibilities who
have been institutionalized, it is not enough that they be deinstitutionalized.
In order to be citizens, they must also have the opportunity for
When all of these unique capacities of community are recognized,
it is obvious why the social policy map that excludes community
life has resulted in increasing failures.
Human Need Is the Raw Material of the Service Economy
The service economy presents a dilemma: the need for need. As a
million people each year move from goods to service production,
the service industry requires more raw material more need. We can
now see that "need" requires us to discover more human
I have recently observed two examples of this discovery of new human
need. At a conference on service to the elderly, I met a person
being trained as a bereavement counselor. She will receive a master’s
degree in order to help people through their grief after they have
lost a loved one for a fee.
How may people in the United States are feeling that they have a
"need" for that bereavement counselor? Certainly people
grieve; it is a hurt that people have suffered for eons. But does
that grief constitute a need for service? Or does the bereavement
counselor need that hurt more than the person in grief needs her
Another example is a person I recently met in a Canadian city: He
is a recluse manager. This service was developed when a recluse
died and no one found him until fourteen days later. A newspaper
photographer took a picture of the room where he lived. People were
shocked, and the result was the conversion of this death into a
need. The local government created a committee of officials that
decided to respond to the need his death created. They recommended
that the city create a new service recluse management. The committee
also wrote a manual that now guides recluse managers. It tells the
mangers how to find recluses, how to observe them without their
knowing they are being observed, and when to intervene in their
Does the person in grief or the recluse "need" service?
Or does the service economy need grief and recluses? Considering
the gross national product as an indicator of the national well-being,
the answer is clear. If kin deal with grief, it will never be counted
as a product. If a bereavement counselor deal with the grief, our
gross national product will increase. If an old man dies and is
undiscovered for fourteen days, he is worthless. If a recluse manager
controls his death, the service economy will count his death as
a product of value.
In the city of Chicago, where I work, the neighborhoods are falling
down around us. People need work and a decent income. While there
is less and less money for the poor, there are more bereavement
counselors and recluse managers more and more servicers who need
the poor. We may have reached that point where there are more people
in Chicago who derive an income from serving the poor than there
Welfare workers are caught in this dilemma. Do they need the welfare
clients more than the clients need their service? In a service economy,
the welfare recipient is the raw material for case workers, administrators,
doctors, lawyers, mental health workers, drug counselors, youth
workers, and police officers. Do the servicers need the recipient
more than she needs them?
We are in a struggle against clienthood, against servicing the poor.
We must reallocate the power, authority , and legitimacy that have
been stolen by the great institutions of our society. We must oppose
those interests of governmental, corporate, professional, and managerial
America that thrive on dependency. We must commit ourselves to reallocation
of power to the people we serve so that we no longer will need to
serve. Only then will we have a chance to create, invent, produce,
John McKnight has worked with communities internationally, co-authored
Community Building from the Inside Out, wrote The Careless Society;
Community and Its Counterfeits, is a professor, and director of
the Community Studies Program at the Center for Urban Affairs and
Policy Research at Northwestern University.