Francis Benyah | Mission Studies
In this article, I aim to add to the literature on the impact of neoliberalism on community development by focusing on two recent seemingly unrelated developments in Ireland. The first is the reframing of ‘community development’ as ‘community activation’ in Ireland’s latest community development programme. I suggest that this ‘community activation’ turn marks a new departure in the social and political embedding of neoliberalism in community development and in Irish society more broadly in that its reframing of both the identity of ‘the poor’ and of the nature of supports that they require individualizes responsibility and action. This, I argue, not only fragments and atomizes communities, it also risks foreclosing any substantive discussion and deliberation of structural issues, thereby posing a threat to democracy. The second development is the concomitant emergence of a new, more critically engaged form of community activism in the form of the so-called ‘water movement’. The actions and aspirations of the women we interviewed within this movement highlight their role in revitalizing and re-energizing communities, animating public debate and redirecting power back into communities. Activation clearly comes in many forms and, under the shadow of neoliberal reforms, results in many different outcomes. How or if the formal community sector chooses to respond to this diversity and what impacts this will have will prove critical to local communities as well as providing important avenues for future research.