Individuals, Structures, and Human Agency in Community Development


community development
structure and agency


Community development, especially in developing societies, has focused on mobilizing community members for collective action. Little attention has been paid to creative efforts of individuals engaged in transformative activities that improve their lives and from which other members of a community can learn. This paper examines how individuals creatively engage in activities that improve their households. The research, done in a rural area of northern Malawi, Africa, involved in-depth unstructured qualitative interviews of a number of individuals and careful observations of what was going on in their households. The analysis reveals evidence that creative individuals improved their households’ well-being through meaning-making, learning, and acting while navigating structural imperatives. Some of their actions were counter to social and cultural expectations, others were behavioral outliers, but all were driven by choices each made. Community development facilitators ought to consider identifying creative individuals (could be Christians) in a community, enhancing their agency, and organizing communities of practice around these individuals for other members of a community to learn from or for them to engage in the spreading of the Good News. I term this constructivist community development / evangelism and argue that it is particularly relevant in subsistent, substantive, and allocentric communities where group norms are a significant factor in people’s behavior. These group norms are important for collective action but can stifle individuals’ creativity.
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Copyright (c) 2021 Mike Mtika