Re-Engaging Social Relationships and Collective Dimensions of Organizing to Revive Democratic Practice


  • Paul W. Speer
  • Hahrie Han


The weakening of the everyday practice of democracy around the world presents profound challenges for social scientists working with an applied focus on issues of inequality and justice in social change. This paper examines community organizing (in the US) as an instrument for equitable and just social change, and argues that three interrelated trends are subtly undermining a core practice of organizing: developing social relationships. An expanding technocratic influence on politics, an inflated focus on individual-level metrics for evaluating organizing, and a growing belief that digital technologies and big data leverage greater power, combine to engender an atomized view of people, who are increasingly treated as consumers rather than producers of social change. In contrast, cultivating social relationships fuels the building of community and expanded networks that enables the exercise of social power necessary to effect change. Scholars promoting change for social justice should work to shape tools and measures to serve social dimensions of organizing and support people and collectivities as agents of democracy.