Social theory seeks to explain change in society, how it develops, what factors facilitate and inhibit it and what results from it. Social theory can be viewed as a set of tools which are used in constructing our own explanations of what is happening in the society around us (owlnet.rice.edu, 2010).
Community development draws upon social theories to better understand the society around us. Community development is a structured intervention that gives communities greater control over the conditions that affect their lives. Community development works at the level of local groups and organizations rather than with individuals or families. Community development is a skilled process and part of its approach is the underlying belief that communities cannot be helped unless they themselves agree to this process. Community development has to look both ways: not only how the community is working at the grass roots, but also at how responsive key institutions are to the needs of local communities (maaori.com, 2010).
There are eight principles of community development, they are: •Powerless people/ Social justice- Community development acknowledges that ordinary or powerless people need increased access to both resources and power structures. Social justice works towards equity and fairness for all.
•Citizenship and human rights- Citizenship is about what it means to be a member of society, what rights we should have and what responsibilities we should have. Community development has a focus on human rights and is concerned with our collective obligation to ensure that human rights are met.
•Empowerment and self determination- Community development is crucially tied to the notion that we need to work with people in ways that empower; this requires us to be aware of the multitude of small actions that can impact on how people feel about themselves.
•Collective action- The wellbeing of each person depends on the welfare of society at large, while problems might at first appear to be individual ones the task of the community development worker is to identify common themes and structural underpinnings. Community development rests on the view that people can collectively bring about real change in society for the benefit of all.
•Diversity- Community development is based on the premise that the people have different viewpoints and opinions and it encourages a diversity of views, lifestyles and cultures. Some cultural practices or understandings can challenge the principles and practices of community development.
•Change and involvement in conflict- It has been argued that without active opposition we are responsible for the perpetuation of existing unequal social and political relations. However, if we need a preparedness to be involved in conflict we also need to be equipped with conflict resolution skills that allow us to work effectively with people.
•Liberation and participatory democracy- Liberation is a freedom from domination by powerful individuals, ideologies and structures, it is something that people and communities need to do for themselves, you cannot be liberated by somebody else. This furthers the idea that community development workers are facilitators not leaders or experts. Participatory democracy is a system of government that requires a far greater level of participation in all levels of decision making processes from the electorate.
•Challenging TINA (there is no alternative) and the power of example- Community development is an approach that is prepared to engage alternatives (culturally, politically, economically and socially) We can demonstrate these alternatives by the ways we organize at a local level (Kenny, 2006).