Every community development worker should be aware of how false and detrimental ideas become embedded in our social reality through various social theories. To give but one example, a hangover of functionalism is the notion that each individual should agree to carry out his or her designated social role in order to ensure smooth functioning of the society. Law and order campaigns and disciplining deviants (gays and lesbians or representatives of youth subcultures) are based on this notion.
Paradoxically, this notion has found its way into the New Right ideology, which “outsources” all welfare functions to a strong, traditional family and emphasizes the need to socialize children as law-abiding and work-oriented citizens in order to let the market take care of the economic life. Other theories offer explanations why people accept their social role, although it is not in their best interest. For example, looking-glass self concept from social interactionism argues that people act in accordance with labels attached to them by others.
Western Marxism answers the question of why the working class people accept their lot by introducing the concept of ideological state apparatus that comprises media, educational institutions, and trade unions, which allows powerful groups to “manufacture consent” and exercise control through persuasion rather then coercion. Traditional liberal theory, which views individuals as rational, autonomous and self-interested beings, provides no sufficient safeguard against ideological dominance by the superstructure.
As Clark and Cochrane (1998) argue, powerful groups in society will always try to legitimize their position and to present social order which gives them unequal benefits as necessary and desirable. Ironically, think tanks that legitimized neo-liberalism of the recent times have been funded by business elites with the aim of undermining social democracy (Lavalette & Pratt 2006). Feminism tries to find reasons why women accept the traditional construction of gender, which involves devaluation of the feminine and celebration of the masculine.
For example, liberal feminists blame inequality on legal constraints as well as social relations and customs that hinder success of women. Psychoanalytical feminism argues that submission is deeply embedded in women’s psyche, since women fear their own power. New social movements offer hope for change, since they allow their members to redefine their personal and collective identities to their own liking.
As postmodernism holds, there are no universal truths and overarching theories, and people should be free to construct their own (multiple) selves. The role of community development workers is to assist individuals in this process. However, as Shannon and Young (2004) emphasize, social change (and attendant change at the individual level) is only possible if patterns of participation and control over decision-making are altered, which usually involves reclaiming power at the lowest possible level.