Contributions by Robert Fisher, William E. Hershey, Raymond A. Hohl and Marc Lee Raphael
Today's community organizers and social planners have a tendency to ignore their antecedents and to "reinvent the wheel." "What is found in textbooks today had its origins in the day-to-day, trial-and-error experiences of community organizers in the 1920s and 1930s," state Michael J. Austin and Neil Betten in their Introduction to this pioneering study of community organization. The historical analysis of the intellectual and practical roots of community organizing in the United States begins with urban political organizing in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the organizing of immigrant communities by the International Institutes beginning in 1910, and the Cincinnati Unit Experiment from 1917 to 1919.
The authors and their collaborators focus on historical material that has received relatively little attention within the profession. This includes the "organizing manuals" of Steiner, McClenahan, Hart, Pettit, and Lindeman; the emergence, in the 1920s, of physical planning as practiced by city planners and social survey research as practiced by social planners; and the social action approach to community organizing with special reference to organizing the working class. "There is clearly a dualism in this work," comment Betten and Austin. Not only does the book provide insight into the background of community organizing stemming from various social agencies, but it also explores the activities of people and groups that were organizing communities but did not consider themselves community organizers. These include the socialists involved with the Cincinnati Unit Experiment, political machines, an the Catholic Worker Movement.
While the study encompasses a time period from the last years of the nineteenth century to the end of the 1930s, it focuses primarily on the years from 1917 to 1939, when community organizing associated with the social work profession was emerging. The study ends in 1939 with the Lane Report, which was the first effort to identify the educational foundations for training future community organizers.