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Table of Contents
List of Tables
List of Figures
Introduction and problem statement
Appendix A: Interview questions for stage 2 and corresponding theories
Appendix B: Interview protocol
MOTIVATIONS TO GRASSROOTS COMMUNITY ACTION IN THE CONTEXT OF
JADE VANESSA MARCUS
A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
MASTER OF SCIENCE
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
Jade Vanessa Marcus
This document is dedicated to my Father.
I would like to thank my Father for always supporting me and giving me the best
possible advice. I would also like to thank my other friends and family for always being
there for me when my thesis made me cry. My cochairs Dr. Carolyn Wilken and Dr.
Marilyn Swisher have been incredibly kind and patient throughout this process as well.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A C K N O W L E D G M E N T S ................................................................................................. iv
LIST OF TABLES ................................................... vii
LIST OF FIGURES ................................ .. ......... ............................ viii
A B S T R A C T ........................................................................................................ ........... ix
1 INTRODUCTION AND PROBLEM STATEMENT.............................................1...
P o v e rty .......................................................................................................................... 2
S o cial W ell-b ein g ................................................................................................ 3
Community action and well-being..........................................................................4...
Purpose of research .......................... ........... ........................................ 7
A ssu m p tio n s ........................................................................................................ .. 8
L im itatio n s ......................................................... ................................................ .. 9
2 LITERATURE REVIEW ................................................................................... 10
C o m m u n ity .............. ...... ..................................................................................... .. 1 0
Community Theoretical Perspectives................................................................... 14
R ural Sociology: Field Theory ....................................................... ................ 16
Community field .. .................................................................. 17
Social fi eld ........................................................................................... 18
Social M ovem ent..... .................................................................. ............... 19
Community Agency and Action ........................................................ 21
C om m unity D evelopm ent...................................................................... ................ 25
Motivations and Barriers to Community Action .............. ....................................27
M otiv ation s for A action ........................................................................................2 8
Social interaction ....................................... .. ....................... . .......... 30
C om m unity attachm ent ........................................................... .................. 3 1
E ffic a cy ........................................................................................................ 3 3
B barriers to A action .............. .................. ................................................ 36
P o v erty ....................................................................................................... .......... 3 9
D istre ss ...................................................................................................... ........ .. 4 0
3 M E T H O D S ................................................................................................................. 4 2
Approach ............................................. .................................. 42
Site Selection ....................................................................................................... 44
Context of Poverty ... ................................................................ 44
H history of Com m unity A ction.................. .................................................. 45
M e th o d s ......................................................................................................................4 6
Sampling.................... ....... ..... .. .......................47
Stage 1: Key informant interviews for questionnaire development.............47
Stage 2: Local leaders of neighborhood watch organizations...................48
P ro c e ss ............................................................................................................. .. 4 8
D ata A n aly sis .............................................................................................................. 5 0
4 R E S U L T S ................................................................................................................. .. 5 3
5 D ISCU SSION ............................................................................ ....... ........ ............... 69
Self-efficacy ................................. ............................. ............... 70
C om m unity A ttachm ent. ..................................................................... ................ 79
Com m unity Ecology ...... .. ................................ .......................... .............. 85
S o cial S u p p o rt............................................................................................................. 8 7
Participants' R sourcess. .................................................................. ............... 88
P erceived B barriers to A action ........................................ ....................... ................ 92
C o n c lu sio n ............................................................................................................... .. 9 6
6 R E C O M M E N D A T IO N S.............................................. .......... ..............................98
A INTERVIEW QUESTIONS FOR STAGE 2 AND CORRESPONDING
T H E O R IE S ............................................................................................................... 10 2
B IN TER V IEW PR O TO C O L .......................................... ....................... ............... 105
LIST O F R EFEREN CE S ... ................................................................... ............... 108
BIOGRAPH ICAL SKETCH .................. .............................................................. 120
LIST OF TABLES
4.1 Data analysis for question three to understand participants' initial motivation for
action n ...................................................................................................... ........ .. 5 5
4.2 Data analysis for question four to understand participants' family social support..56
4.3 Data analysis for question six to understand participants' domains of resources
for com m unity action ...... ...... ................ ........................... 57
4.4 Data analysis for question seven to understand participants' barriers to
community action .................... .. ........... .....................................58
4.5 Bar graph of participants' resource level scores and the number of participants
w ho identified w ith each resource level.............................................. ............... 59
4.6 Data analysis for question eight to understand participants' perceived low level
of resou rces .............. ...................................... .............. ............................. . 60
4.7 Data analysis for question nine to understand participants' self-efficacy .............61
4.8 Data analysis for question ten to understand participants' self-efficacy...............62
4.9 Data analysis for question eleven to understand participants' perceived level of
responsibility for improving community quality of life......................................64
4.10 Data analysis for question twelve to understand participants' community
atta ch m en t ................................................................................................................ 6 6
4.11 Data analysis for question thirteen to understand participants' community
e c o lo g y ................................................................................................................. ... 6 8
LIST OF FIGURES
5.1 Sources of Community action self-efficacy as predictors for community action ... 72
5.2 Interaction, percieved needs and mastery experience work together as sources of
self-efficacy and as predictors for community action .........................................74
5.3 Feedback loop between mastery experience, social support, psychological state
an d self-efficacy ......................................................................................... 76
5.4 Self-efficacy creates four self-efficacy activated processes as predictors for
community action .............................................................. 79
5.5 Sources of community attachment as predictors for community action ............... 83
5.6 Feedback loop between mastery experience, self-efficacy, efficacy-activated
processes and com m unity attachm ent................................................. ................ 85
5.7 Interaction and social support increase participant resources and contribute to
self-effi cacy .............................................................................................................. 9 1
5.8 Conceptual model of motivations for community action....................................97
Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Master of Science
MOTIVATIONS TO GRASSROOTS COMMUNITY ACTION IN THE CONTEXT OF
Jade Vanessa Marcus
Chair: Dr. Carolyn S. Wilken
Cochair: Dr. Marilyn E. Swisher
Major Department: Family, Youth and Community Sciences
The objective of this research was to uncover the factors that motivate individuals
for community action in poor or distressed neighborhoods. Poverty is a significant
problem in communities across the United States. Understanding the dynamics of
neighborhood grassroots action in poor neighborhoods is important because community
action increases social and material well-being in communities. This project used a
multiple case study design and a grounded theory approach for data collection and
analysis due to the large number of possible predictors of motivation for community
action. The study site was a mid-sized University city in the southeast United States.
The site was selected based on high poverty rates and a history of community action.
Key informant interviews were conducted to identify important leaders of action, and
semi-structured interviews were conducted with local neighborhood watch and
community association leaders. The most important motivations for community action
among participants in this study were having a high community action self-efficacy and
feelings of community attachment. Major barriers to action for the study participants
were apathy among other residents, government bureaucracy, and low levels of available
INTRODUCTION AND PROBLEM STATEMENT
The purpose of this study was to understand the motivations and barriers to
participation in grassroots-level community action within the socioeconomic context of
poverty. The role of resident-level action within the context of poverty is of primary
importance in understanding the quality of life, the realization of human potential and
capacity, community development and social change in poor communities across the
The community has been described as the most important setting for social well-
being (Wilkinson, 1991). Communities are where individual, group and other local
capacities are realized and pursued through interaction with other residents in the
community. Uncovering the actions and interactions of residents of poor communities
can provide insight about how we can work with local residents to create programs and
policies that use, compliment, and enhance community dynamics, as well as improve the
quality of life for the local people.
Residents living in the same locality interact over common issues, and this
interaction gives structure to local life (Luloff & Bridger, 2003). Yet little of the current
research on civic participation has focused on whether neighborhood context influences
participation (Stoll, 2001). Since poverty is characterized by a struggle to meet basic
needs such as food, shelter, utilities and healthcare, for community members living in
these poor areas we need to ask, "What interactions and community actions occur to
address basic needs?"
This project is placed in the context of poor neighborhoods because poverty is a
significant problem in the U.S. today, yet we do not know how the experience of living in
poverty serves as a motivation or barrier to participating in the life of the community.
Poverty is primarily an indication of an individual's or family's economic status.
Distress is a term meant to signify the severely different experiences of communities
based on high unemployment, low income, high poverty, unstable economies, population
outmigration or other socioeconomic problems (Glasmeier, Wood & Feullhart, 2006).
Neighborhoods affected by poverty show symptoms of distress such as dilapidated
housing, poor infrastructure, poor schools and decreases in the quality of life in poor
areas. Although the poverty rate in 2004 was nearly 10% lower than in 1959, the first
year for which poverty estimates are available, both the number and rates of poverty have
risen for four consecutive years to 12.7% and 37.0 million people in 2004 from the most
recent low in 2000 at 11.3% and 31.6 million people (U.S. Census, 2005). In Florida in
2002, the poverty rate was 12.6%. In Alachua County, FL in 2002, 15.1% of all people
lived in poverty.
The family and every individual in it is considered in poverty when a family's total
income is less than the family's calculated poverty threshold, determined by the Federal
government (U.S. Census, 2005). For example, a parent with three related children under
the age of 18 would be considered in poverty if they earned less than $19,223 in 2004.
The official poverty thresholds do not vary geographically, but they are updated for
inflation using the Consumer Price Index (CPI-U).
Poverty exists in a many settings. Over one-third of the nation's poor live in
suburbs (O'Hare, 1996). Contrary to what many people believe, metropolitan areas have
slightly lower poverty rates than rural areas, although rural poverty is less visible. In
2003, 14.2 percent of the population, or 7.5 million people, living in nonmetropolitan
(population < 2,500) areas were poor. In contrast, the metropolitan poverty rate was 12.1
percent in 2003 (United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service,
2004). The Economic Research Service (ERS) defines counties as persistently poor if 20
percent or more of the population has been living in poverty over the last 30 years,
measured by the 1970, 1980, 1990 and 2000 decennial censuses. Using this definition,
there are 386 persistently poor counties in the United States, comprising 12 percent of all
U.S. counties and four percent of the U.S. population. The majority, 340 of 386, of the
persistent poverty counties are non-metropolitan counties (Economic Research Service,
2004). Among the four geographic regions in the U.S., Northeast, Midwest, West and
South, the South has the highest poverty rate at 13.5% (U.S. Census, 2004).
Figueira-McDonough (1995) confirmed the pattern originally described by the
National Research Council in the 1980's. While the poverty rate remained fairly constant
from 1970 to 1980, there was a 75% increase in the number of census tracts with
concentrated poverty. These facts demonstrate that as a nation-wide social problem,
poverty has condensed into neighborhoods and communities (Stoll, 2001; Jarkowski,
The extensive interactions and actions that contribute to the emergence of
community in turn shape the social well-being of local residents (Wilkinson, 1991).
Social conditions therefore, play an important, if not an all-powerful role, in individual
well-being (Wilkinson, 1991). In fact, high rates of poverty and inequality in
predominantly rural areas stand out most dramatically as a factor in community
interaction and social well-being (Joint Economic Committee, 1986). It therefore makes
sense that a threshold must be achieved in meeting basic physiological needs for food,
safety, and other lower order needs, in order to facilitate social well being (Wilkinson,
1991). At the social level, this demand generalizes the needs for jobs, income, markets,
homes and a range of services. Deficits in these components of material well-being give
direct evidence of problems of social well-being (Wilkinson, 1991). Interactions,
participation or association with others is both of instrumental and intrinsic value to
social well-being, and the community is a principal arena of interpersonal association
Understanding the dynamics that occur between meeting basic needs and
facilitating community action in disadvantaged communities has not been addressed by
current research in community studies. This urgency is illustrated by Wilkinson who
makes the point that
where protection and enhancement of material holdings becomes a dominant social
activity, community and the human potential for well-being it supports can be said
to fade into the background, if not to disappear completely from social interaction. (
It is vital that we understand the successful efforts and constant struggles of individuals
and families in poverty so that we can begin to mitigate the sacrifices of well-being that
too many poor American people make each day.
Community action and well-being
The local community is the primary setting and point of contact between the
individual and society (Konig, 1968; Wilkinson, 1991). Here, large scale social problems
are materialized at an individual and group level The actions of local residents in support
of their communities are vital to social and economic viability (Luloff & Bridger, 2003).
Members of disadvantaged groups do engage in collective behavior in order to improve
their situation under certain circumstances (Simon et al., 1998). These actions enhance
the well-being of those involved when they occur (Wilkinson, 1991). Community action
is the process of building social relationships in the pursuit of common community
interests (Wilkinson, 1991; Luloff & Bridger, 2003). These actions are most successful
when people act together to improve material conditions of their shared life, which is
important in addressing the needs in poor neighborhoods. Collective action will occur
because collective action has its roots in the private problems of individuals as long as
there are human beings confronting a harsh physical and/or social environment
(Summers, 1985). This research aims to understand the true roots of grassroots action.
Action is based on the needs and wants of the community, and motivations serve to
stimulate the initial stages of social action (Wilkinson, 1991). A need exists for local
community and economic development efforts from government, Extension programs
and non-profit agencies to better understand the role of action in dealing with the needs
and interests of communities living in poverty.
The concept of community agency, or the mobilization of collective human
resources, has not been well addressed in the research done on community development
(Luloff & Swanson, 1995). An asset based approach is useful for mobilizing the
potential resources in a community. This is when people in communities organize to
drive the development process themselves through identifying and mobilizing existing,
but often unrecognized, assets (Mathie & Cunningham, 2003). Agency represents the
capacity for community action, so this lack of research prohibits social scientists from
understanding how we can mobilize the human potential for development in communities
using this asset-based approach. This shortfall has contributed to the struggle of social policy to
meliorate local efforts to address social problems (Luloff & Swanson, 1995). Additionally, the
failure to incorporate community agency into economic development programs has hindered our
ability to understand and therefore assist community development efforts (Luloff & Swanson,
Examining the nature of community action has been previously approached by community
sociologists who have addressed the question, "how do communities act?" (Luloff, 1990; Tilly,
1973). Luloff states that this is a necessary area of research in order to make relevant
contribution to community studies. The people that live near each other and interact with one
another are the molecules which form the matter of community, and are the agents which
perform the theoretical acts of community. Observing the motivations for action at the
individual level will provide a context for examining the role of human volition in the daily
commerce of community (Luloff, 1990).
More specific evidence further suggests that community action is vital to understanding
and improving communities in poverty. Community action had decidedly positive effects in
communities defined as poor or inadequate in terms of housing, income, population, employment
trends and poverty, and community action (Martin & Wilkinson, 1984). Essentially, high levels
of activeness in communities with high distress yielded receipt of federal funding for community
and economic development. If we can develop an understanding of the motivations and barriers
that impact high levels of action in these distressed, poor communities, we can apply these
findings to facilitate sustainable development and change in impoverished areas throughout the
United States. A further understanding of the nature and motivations of these actions in
distressed communities is the primary goal of this research.
Purpose of research
Extensive research is needed to understand how collective cohesiveness and an increased
well being for citizens in communities emerge out of community activity (Luloff, 1990). The
purpose of this research is to better understand potential social, psychological, physical, cultural
and economic motivations and barriers to participation in community actions within a
community in poverty. This research will explore the underlying forces and the context within
which intervention and development can be planned (Summers, 1986).
While social scientists have long been aware of the importance of group influences and
interactions in socioeconomic deprivation, it has been difficult to formally study these
interactions, because data have not existed to allow the level of insight that a social science
approach can provide (Durlauf, 2000). A community case study of human motivations and
interactions in the particular socioeconomic context of poverty will contribute to this
The objectives of this research are to
1. Uncover how participants describe the factors that motivate individuals to participate in
community action in the context of poverty.
2. Describe the barriers that limit or prevent participation of residents in community actions
in poor communities.
Barrier: any physical, cultural, psychological, or emotional factor which prevents an
individual from acting, namely within the community (Luloff & Bridger, 2003).
Community: a natural and ubiquitous phenomenon among people who share a common
territory and interact with one another on place relevant matters (Bridger & Luloff, 1999).
Community action: the process of building social relationships in pursuit of common
community interests and maintaining local life (Wilkinson, 1970, 1991; Luloff & Bridger, 2003).
Community agency: the mobilization of collective human resources, the local capacity of
people, to manage, utilize and enhance resources available to them (Luloff & Swanson, 1995).
Community attachment: the degree to which residents feel a social and psychological
bond to a shared space with local inhabitants (Wilkinson, 1991).
Community involvement: participation in community oriented activities (Kaufman, 1977;
Distress: the experience of communities based on high unemployment, low income, high
poverty, unstable economies, population outmigration or other socioeconomic problems
(Glasmeier, Wood & Feullhart, 2006).
Grassroots mobilization: resident-level organization of individuals in a community to
collectively act in pursuit of a common goal (Rubin & Rubin, 2001).
Motivation: any physical, cultural, psychological, environmental or emotional factor that
contributes to an individual acting in their community (Bandura, 1994).
Poverty: a person or family is considered in poverty if the family's total income is less
than the family's threshold (Office of Management and Budget's (OMB) Statistical Policy
Directive 14), then that family and every individual in it is considered in poverty (U.S. Census,
Self-efficacy: the belief that one has the capability to perform a particular behavior
(Compeau & Higgins, 1995).
This study assumes that people can be classified into two degrees of community action;
active and inactive. It also assumes that community residents and key informants will answer the
questions thoughtfully, carefully and honestly. Also, residents are assumed to be poor, working
poor, or at least living in a poor community because the location of the study is in a geographic
area that falls within the demographic and statistical guidelines of living in poverty and does not
distinguish relative poverty between each individual interviewed.
A limitation to this study is that by using a case study design, the sample will not be
representative to all impoverished communities and will only be able to describe and explain the
particular experiences of residents in the community in this study.
Another limitation is that the study of community action has been relatively unexamined
within the specific socioeconomic context of poverty and no previously tested methods or
instrumentation are available to work with this particular population.
The following sections review the current literature about the concepts in the
research question. First I will elaborate on the meanings and theoretical nature of
community and community action. Then there is a review of previous concepts and
research findings that have attempted to explain the motivations and barriers related to
community action. There is also a brief review of relevant poverty literature.
Community has been defined in several different ways. The Greek meaning of the
word community is "fellowship". Aristotle argued that people came together in a
community setting for the enjoyment of mutual association, to fulfill basic needs, and to
find meaning in life (Christenson, Fendley & Robinson, 1989). Today's concepts are
similar to this historical perspective. Sociological definitions emphasize interpersonal
bonds, such as a shared territory, a common life, collective actions, and mutual identity
(Wilkinson, 1991). However, in both the sociological context (Hillary, 1955) and in
ordinary language and thought (Plant, 1974), one common denominator of community
substance stands out, social interaction (Wilkinson, 1991).
Schamelenbach (1961) says that community is a natural state of being in relation to
others. Wilkinson states that community "simply refers to the fact that one naturally is
connected to other people" (1991, pp. 6). Christenson et al. define community as "people
that live within a geographically bounded area who are involved in social interaction and
have one or more psychological ties with each other and with the place in which they
live" (1989, pp.4). Community usually arises in territorially based relationships within
the locality (Wilkinson, 1991). A significant portion of our meaningful interaction takes
place in a defined spatial area through local resources such as work, education, driving on
roads, or buying groceries (Christenson, Fendley & Robinson, 1989).
Etzioni offers an alternative perspective on the definition of community, denying
the need of a locality for a community to exist, and questions the benefits of community
(2000). The strength of relationships between individuals who share the same values and
norms create an identity that can be defined as a community. These values are
established through moral dialogue and are maintained by informal social controls rather
than laws (Etzioni, 2000). However, laws must reflect these values so that individuals in
the community feel the regulations imposed on them are just and will voluntarily
subscribe to these laws. Individuals engage in social bonds, but they also maintain a
strong sense of self-identity and autonomy (Etzioni, 2000).
New urbanism offers another perspective on the role of the community locality. It
stresses that the physical design and built environment can encourage resident interaction
and social cohesion to rebuild a sense of community, which some scientist feel is lost
(Katz, 1994). This approach tries to build community by integrating private residential
space with surrounding public space and careful design and placement of public space
(Talen, 1999, pp.1363). Community elements arguably can be built into localities by
accounting for them in the planning process. However, Talen criticizes the new urbanist
perspective condemning it for its lack of empirical evidence about the relationship
between town design and community attachment (1999).
The concept of connectedness and interaction is prevalent in Putnam's social
capital theory (2000). This perspective argues that people feel an obligation toward one
another in communities characterized by high levels of trust, strong norms of reciprocity,
and dense networks of civic engagement (Putnam, 2000). This enables people to work
together for the common good (Luloff & Bridger, 2003). Some social scientists have
defined social capital simply as social networks or institutional relations (e.g.,
relationships between civic organization and the government) (Caughy, Campo &
Muntaner, 2003). However, some research reveals that social capital can have a
negative impact due to in-group bias in community associations. Stole (1998) observed
that some community organizations that increase trust among their members also make
them less trusting of those who do not belong to the association.
Coleman's (1988) rational choice theory claims that a persons actions are "shaped,
redirected, constrained by the social context; norms, interpersonal trust, social networks
and social organization are important in the functioning not only of society but also of the
economy" (pp. 96). Others, like Hawley, include social interaction in their definition of
Hillery (1955) and Willis (1977) summarized much of the classic rural sociological
community literature and suggest four main components for defining the concept of
community (Christenson, Fendley & Robinson, 1989). The first is that a community
involves people. Secondly, a place or territory should be an element of community
(Hillery, 1955). The third element is social interaction, and the fourth is a psychological
identification, or a common attachment with a community (Christenson, Fendley &
Interactions, or association with others is both of instrumental and intrinsic value to
social well-being and the community is a principal arena of interpersonal association
(Wilkinson, 1991). People who live together tend to interact with one another whether or
not they participate in extra-local structures as well (Wilkinson, 1991). Ostrander
discusses the key importance of social relationships in both rural and urban communities
in ameliorating poverty in her review of the work of Duncan (1999) and Danziger and
Lin (2000) about the social contexts of poor people's lives (2001). The research in both
pieces captures the way people in poverty understand and create their perceptions of their
day-to-day lives. Ostrander (2001) underscores the importance of this understanding in
developing effective policies and programs to alleviate poverty. Knowledge of
relationships among individuals and organizations in a community provides information
to use to predict the range and/or breadth of potential community responses to local
problems, both in the short and long term (Luloff, 1990).
We study community because the emergence of community is essential to the
satisfaction of human needs, especially the need to not feel alienated from society
(Greisman, 1980). Over the last decade, many scholars have argued that the local
ecological context is central to understanding the factors that affect such diverse
processes as socialization, workforce participation, intellectual development, successful
aging, physical and mental health and persistent poverty (Luloff & Bridger, 2003; Claude
et al., 2000; Hylton, 1995; Tigges et al., 1998; Wilkinson, 1991; Wilson, 1995, 1996).
Healy (1998) also argues that the neighborhood is a useful level for understanding
everyday social interactions. A community theoretical perspective is appropriate to study
the motivations to grassroots action.
The community is a field of social interaction with the capacity to influence and
shape the well-being of participants (Summers, 1986). An examination of community
focuses on the social life of people whose behaviors give the territory its social meaning
(Wilkinson, 1991). A community theoretical perspective can help us examine social and
structural problems. It also provides an arena for applying such knowledge in
intervention and prevention to improve individual and community quality of life.
Community Theoretical Perspectives
Warren's "great change" theory discusses the transformation of community life.
He argues that communities have become more internally differentiated as they have
become increasingly reliant on extra local institutions and sources of income (1963, 1971,
1978). This causes the ties that connected all parts of a community to break. Following
World War II, this trend forced local decisions, policy and program creation to extra-
community systems outside of the locality (Warren, 1963). Local people had decreasing
control over their immediate ecology, but increasing social and economic opportunities
with the larger society. This process of creating more vertical (outside of the locality)
ties has increasingly attenuated the importance of local relationships and the diverse
intra-community (horizontal) interactions and activities in people's daily lives (Luloff &
Warren's concept of a changing nature of community provides the context of the
systems theory approach (Luloff, 1990). This approach views the persisting patterns of
social relationships among interacting social units as the center of attention. The systems
are adaptive entities that minimize changes from outside the community and decrease the
impact of these changes on the internal structure of community (Warren, 1978). Systems
theory assumes that the community status quo is healthy and provides for resident's basic
needs. This approach does not adequately address the dynamics of a disadvantaged
population because it does not consider the necessary changes and actions that can occur
within a community.
The massification of society approach also attempts to explain the historic barriers
to community agency. Shils's (1972) argument explained the abandonment of a territorial
or locality-based community for a larger, mass-societal community. This suggests that
larger systems undermine community and individual well-being (Luloff & Bridger,
2003). These processes are viewed as undemocratic because they reproduce the class
interests of local elites and do not necessarily represent the majority (Luloff & Swanson,
1995). Structural or macro-level forces have an effect on community functioning and
well-being. A micro or more individual level approach is necessary to allow the
examination of interactions and events that lead to grassroots community action in order
to understand individual action.
Macro-level or systematic approaches to understanding community look at the
large-scale infrastructure, institutions and societal level trends that can affect community
from the top down. They do not focus on the complexities and nature of local dynamics
within communities. Therefore they do not permit an examination of the grassroots level
social forces that exist on a more micro or individual level. Glennerster et al. (1999)
discuss the importance of a neighborhood level focus as well. It is important to recognize
the horizontal and vertical linkages between local activities and the larger society without
dismissing local activities as irrelevant (Christenson, Fendley & Robinson, 1989). A
community or neighborhood can exist with close linkage to the larger society and still
retain its identity and viability because it provides a basis for the local population to
engage in community actions (Meegan & Mitchell, 2001; Christenson, 1982).
Grassroots community action can therefore shape the ecology and identity of a
community. It would be valuable to know exactly how resident level social forces
facilitate the persistence of horizontal linkages in communities, as well as how these
forces or actions shape local quality of life.
Two views about the model of community are important. The first has its origins
in classic rural sociology and stems out of the struggles of isolated, primarily
homogenous, poor rural areas. The second consists of theories that stem from the social
movement model, which grew out of the urban experience. This perspective focuses on
the ways neighborhood organizations link together to create broad based social networks.
Rural Sociology: Field Theory
Field theory presents a framework for understanding how community emerges
through social interaction and participation (Kaufman, 1977; Wilkinson, 1979,
Wilkinson, 1991; Luloff & Swanson, 1995). Community is a natural and ubiquitous
phenomenon among people who share a common territory and interact with one another
on place relevant matters in the interactional perspective (Bridger & Luloff, 1999).
Wilkinson focuses on interaction as the persistent feature of local life, stating that "social
interaction delineates a territory as the community locale; it provides the associations that
comprise the local society; it gives direction to processes of collective action; and it is the
source of community identity" (Wilkinson, 1991, pp., 34). Field theory argues that the
interactions of community members are the foundation of community that links the other
three elements of a community together, people, attachment and locality. This perspective
explores the fundamental organization of interdependence among people and focuses on
the ways collective action emerges.
Interaction creates the framework, motivation, and social linkages necessary for
action and social participation. It therefore affects the social behavior and organization of
people. People behave and act purposively in response to their interactions and the
impressions they draw from connecting with others (Luloff & Bridger, 2003). Such
conditions contribute to action, which is generally seen as purposive efforts seeking
social change at the local level (Wilkinson, 1991). A threat from an out-group imposed
on a community increases social cohesion. In turn, the opportunity to engage in
community action is high when internal cohesion is high (Luloff, 1990). The desired
end-state of field theory is that community members engage in associational action
(Luloff, 1990). A field theoretical perspective moves beyond the calculation of essential
features of a locality, such as institutional structures, to an examination of the dynamic
processes of human interaction that are indicative of community (Luloff, 1990).
From a field theoretical perspective, a community is a dynamic field, a term used in
both behavioral and social sciences (Mey, 1972; Yinger, 1965). The use of the field
concept is more inclusive and more indicative of dynamics as opposed to arena or stage,
which denote the context but not the activity, which is critical (Wilkinson, 1970). It is
dynamic because it is in a continuous state of change. The term field also refers to the
quality of a community as a complete and integrated whole (Wilkinson, 1991). The
community field consists of actors, associations and organizations and its activities are
directed toward specific interests (Wilkinson, 1991). It cuts across other organized
groups and across other interaction fields in a local population and integrates all of these
diverse fields into a generalized whole. The theoretical community field emerges when
people interact and facilitate this core element of community.
An important quality of a community field, as defined by Wilkinson (1970), is that
its character does not come from the collective properties of its parts, various social
fields, but from the outcome of the interaction of these parts. Community field is
therefore emergent. As the community field arises out of the various special interest
fields in the locality, it asserts comprehensive community interests in the various spheres
of local activity (Wilkinson, 1991). The key component in this process is the creation and
maintenance of linkages and channels of interaction among social fields that otherwise
focus on more limited interests (Bridger and Luloff, 1999).
Wilkinson (1991) defines a social field as an unbounded whole or "an emergent
structure in a dynamic process of social action." They are unbounded because the
elements that comprise a field are the acts of people and not the physical or symbolic
features that are typically used to delineate boundaries. An act can occur in more than
one field at a time because social fields are unbounded (Bridger & Luloff, 1999). Social
fields, such as schools, government and community groups, are loosely bounded arenas
of interaction. Community evolves as members of these fields interact with each other
over issues relevant to their mutual interests (Wilkinson, 1991). The presence of such
fields creates opportunities for collective action, but does not guarantee or facilitate the
emergence of collective action (Luloff & Swanson, 1995). Field theory is a non-
deterministic view focusing on the dynamics of emergence (Wilkinson, 1970). The
nature of the emergence of these actions within the socioeconomic context of poverty is
of particular interest in this research.
A field theoretical or interaction approach is receiving more attention in poverty
research. Durlauf (2000) presents a new framework for the study of individual behavior
and social interactions. This new approach emphasizes how social context and social
interdependencies influence the ways in which individuals make choices. Group-based
explanations of poverty have become more important, due to the increasing evidence that
individual-level explanations are inadequate for understanding many differences in
socioeconomic outcomes. Durlauf argues that socioeconomic outcomes depend upon the
composition of the groups which we are members over the course of our lives. Such
groups may be defined along many dimensions, including ethnicity, the neighborhoods in
which we live, our schools, and our places of work (Institute for Research on Poverty,
2005). Durlauf used community interactions used as measures of social dynamics within
local populations. This provides empirical evidence for a memberships-based theory of
Social movement theory identifies community as a geographic place, the bonds that
people share, the shared concerns about specific issues, and a set of obligations and
responsibilities people assume (Rubin & Rubin, 2001). From this perspective,
community organizing is about solving present day problems (Rubin & Rubin, 2001).
Several theoretical frameworks have emerged from broad social movement
theory; including social constructionist and new social movement theories (Langman,
2005). New social movement theories focus on collective identity and participation in
collective action (Langman, 2005). These theories tend to value participatory,
democratic relations and decentralized forms of organization (Castells, 1997).
Social movement researchers often focus on the factors that motivate people to
take part in collective action. Questions of when and how people come to join social
movements, or form them in the first place, can be approached from both a macrolevel
and a microlevel perspective (McAdam, McCarthy, & Zald, 1988). Typically, people
tend to associate with people similar to themselves (Klandermans, 1992, pp. 88). From
the microlevel perspective, people participate when they are closely linked to the
associational movement networks required for action (McAdam, 1994). Face to face
interaction is the most effective way of getting people involved in social movements
The voluntary association is the basic social infrastructure of a social movement.
When individuals participate in voluntary associations they build social relationships and
access to social resources (Stoll, 2001). Their participation also enhances their social and
economic prospects (Stoll, 2001). Social movement theory identifies organizations as
either expressive or instrumental (Gordon & Babchuk, 1959; Woodard, 1986). Social
clubs and sports organizations are examples of expressive organizations. They provide
pleasurable interaction among members and participants often participate to increase their
self-esteem (Stoll, 2001). Instrumental organizations, such as political and PTA
associations, are task oriented. People participate to influence the creation or
maintenance of a desired condition (Stoll, 2001).
Empowerment is the core goal of organizing for Rubin and Rubin (2001).
Empowerment "is a psychological feeling that individuals have when they believe they
can accomplish chosen goals; it is also a political or organizational strength that enables
people to collectively carry out their will" (Rubin & Rubin, 2001, pp. 77). Personal and
social changes rely on empowerment (Bandura, 1988). Some studies indicate that
empowerment operates through the self-efficacy mechanism (Bandura, 1986). People feel
empowered when they recognize that their contribution helps the group succeed.
Empowerment grows through a positive cycle where personal and collective successes
reinforce one another (Rubin & Rubin, 2001). This cycle can in turn build individual
self-efficacy and motivate individuals to act.
Community Agency and Action
Locality orientation is a central theme in most definitions of community action.
Locality typically refers to local identification of actors and beneficiaries and to the
distinctively local nature of problems or goals (Wilkinson, 1970). Martin's (2003)
research confirms that communities regard their locality as a meaningful place for
community action to occur. Wilkinson further states that
This interest, which local residents have in common
whether or not they experience it consciously, is pursued in
social interaction and thus is shared. This particular shared
interest that arises in social interaction-the shared interest in
things local- gives the elemental bond of the interactional
community. (pp. 35, 1991)
Residents living in the same locality inevitably interact over common issues and
this interaction gives structure to local life (Luloff & Bridger, 2003). Individuals and
organizations begin to understand common needs and wants when they interact
(Kaufman, 1959; Wilkinson, 1979; Luloff& Swanson, 1995). Meeting the needs of
local people, especially the needs for collective involvement over identified common
issues, is the importance of community (Wilkinson, 1991). Community agency is the
ability or capacity of local people to organize and enhance their available resources to
address local issues and problems (Bridger & Luloff, 1999, Luloff & Bridger, 2003;
Luloff & Swanson, 1995).
Community agency as a social phenomenon emerges in the context of a locality's
people, their talents, and their ability to learn and work together toward common goals
(Luloff & Swanson, 1995). Their collective assets and abilities synergize to develop
community agency when residents and groups interact. This reflects not only the
motivations for social action, but also the collective capacity of the individual or
community for social action. Individuals engage in community action when they exercise
their potential capacities and participate in the creation of social structures (Kaufman,
1959; Wilkinson, 1991).
Collective action can be a powerful mechanism in achieving social change
(Pratkanis & Turner, 1996). Therefore, fostering community agency is a primary
objective of community development efforts (Luloff & Bridger, 2003). Community-
based action is the practical application of community agency. Community action is the
process of building social relationships in pursuit of common community interests and
maintaining local life (Wilkinson, 1970, 91; Luloff& Bridger, 2003). This kind of
focused action is the foundation of the community development process because it
represents deliberate and positive efforts designed to meet the general needs of all local
residents (Marcus & Brennan, 2005).
Community agency and development can be seen as the process of building
relationships to increase the capacity of and use the full human potential of local people.
Mobilization for collective action can generate a sense of communion among those
actively involved in pursuing a common cause (Summers, 1986). Efforts to help people
understand and actualize their individual and community potential are essential to
motivate people and keep them active in both the short and long term. Researchers
uncovered an empirical relationship between the presence of local capitalism and
civically engaged localities with increased socioeconomic well-being in an analysis of
over 3,000 U.S. counties (Tolbert, Lyson & Irwin, 1998). This demonstrates the potential
importance of action in poor communities.
Figueria-McDonough's research shows that organizers must maximize the
internal resources that are special to each community (1995). This includes recognizing
the untapped strength of groups surviving in deprived communities as a basis for active
empowerment (Figueria-McDonough, 1995). Agency is more than the sum of its parts
when communities act (Luloff & Swanson, 1995).
Field theory argues that interactions are the building blocks of communities.
Interactions contribute to community agency, the capacity to act, which facilitates
constructive community action. Community action is measurable and is the primary
indicator of the emergence of community in this theory. Community action and
development has been examined in past literature. Qualitative descriptions of actions in
small communities (e.g. Moxley, 1985; Ploch, 1976; Preston, 1983), statistical analyses
of local actions and government programs in samples of municipalities (Hirschl &
Summers, 1982; Luloff & Wilkinson, 1979; Martin & Wilkinson, 1984; Wilkinson et al.,
1984), and studies of the effects of action programs on community well-being (Johansen
& Fuguitt, 1984: 161-82; Krannich & Humphrey, 1983; McGranahan, 1984) are some of
the contributions (Wilkinson, 1991).
Community agency may entail strong social solidarity and a sense of common
purpose. However, it may also entail uninspiring efforts to organize committee meetings
to mobilize local capital for business or structural improvements (Luloff & Swanson,
1995). These efforts do not take into account the shared needs, interests and
understanding of the residents that comprise a community (Luloff & Swanson, 1995).
The macro-structural characteristics of a community, such as labor force structure, its
demographic profile or economic infrastructure, do not in fact reveal the capacity of a
community to mobilize their human resources through agency (Luloff & Swanson, 1995).
Micro level approaches often involve the examination of participation by individuals in
community-oriented activities providing a more in-depth understanding of interpersonal
resources (Kasarda & Janowitz, 1974; Riger & Lavrakas, 1981; Goudy, 1990).
Community depends on interaction, but this does not mean that the interaction
must have its roots in positive sentiments (Bridger & Luloff, 1999). For example, a
community will act when unusual or adverse events threaten local residents (Wilkinson,
1986). Wilkinson argues that the potential for community action persists and can come
into play at crucial moments when people act or react to conditions to enhance their
threatened situation (1986).
Wilkinson contends that community has and continues to be an important factor
in individual and social well-being. This is evident at crucial moments, when people act
together to express common interests in the place of residence (Wilkinson, 1991).
Summers (1985) also maintains that there will be community as a form of collective
action as long as there are human beings confronting a harsh physical and social
environment. This is because mobilization has its roots in the private troubles of
individuals. At the base of these problems are needs for necessary material goods for
biological survival and security from physical harm (Summers, 1985). Social needs
begin to predominate, when these needs are secured (Summers, 1986). Individuals
quickly discover that they are not alone when they share their needs with others who
share a common space. Private troubles become public issues around which people are
able and sometimes willing to mobilize for collective action (Summers, 1986). Lack of
resources and restricted community development efforts cause individuals to interact and
begin to understand common needs.
Agency and the interactional perspective recognize that local people have the
power to transform and change society when they work together (Wilkinson, 1991).
Wide spread interest, support, and participation in a local action indicates the presence of
a viable community (Luloff, 1990).
Local activity is vital for community development (Luloff & Swanson, 1995). In
turn, fostering community agency is central to community development efforts (Luloff &
Bridger, 2003). How do we foster community agency to initiate local activity for
community development? What are the motivations for these actions and interactions?
What may prevent people from fostering agency and utilizing their human potential and
capacities? It is important to clearly identify the meanings of the fairly common phrases,
community development, development of community and development in community.
Community development is the process of building relationships that increase the
adaptive capacity of people who share common territory relationships (Luloff &Bridger,
2003). Fields of locality-oriented action emerge out of the interactions among a local
population when this happens (Wilkinson, 1991; Luloff & Bridger, 2003). The
development in community is distinctly different from the development of community
(Kaufman, 1959). Development in community is cultivating the social processes which
take place in a locality and accomplishing other tangible development tasks like
economic growth, modernization, and improved social services (Summers, 1986).
Development of community is the emergence of the theoretical community field
(Wilkinson, 1991). However, Wilkinson notes that development in community may
facilitate the development of community, and that this is needed to improve social well-
Luloff and Wilkinson (1979) and Martin and Wilkinson (1984) found that both the
structural components of a community and measures of community solidarity contributed
significantly, though independently, to creating community development. Lloyd and
Wilkinson's (1985) study highlights the strong relationship between community activity
and development of community, but the level of local economic well-being tends to
increase with community activity and solidarity.
Hirschl and Summers found that citizen groups, organized for local economic
development, were the single most significant determinant of job growth in 44 Wisconsin
communities (1983). Their findings show how the foundation of community action and
the presence of community can facilitate developments in community. This underscores
the dynamic relationship between these two concepts. Economic development tops the
list of local officials' perceived needs. There is a strong market for this localized
approach to development (Camasso & Moore, 1985; Reinhard & Summers, 1985).
Well-being is directly enhanced when communities exhibit agency and work
together to solve common problems and develop community (Bridger & Luloff, 1999,
2001; Luloff, 1998; Luloff & Swanson, 1995; Wilkinson, 1991). Claude et al. confirmed
this relationship through a study of rural communities in Pennsylvania (2000). They
found that residents rated community well-being higher in communities characterized by
high levels of activity (2000). Community well-being was not correlated with success.
Residents were more likely to have higher perceived social well-being than residents in
communities with high levels of success and low levels of activity in those places with
high levels of activity and low levels of success in community development efforts
(Luloff, 1998). The positive correlation between community activity and community
well-being underscores the importance of building the capacity for community activity in
community development efforts. Community development efforts and community
activity can be useful in improving the quality of life in poor neighborhoods.
The collective capacity of volition and choice, however narrowed by structural
conditions, makes the notion of community agency important in understanding
community well-being. Like individuals, communities make choices and act on them.
How they make these choices, how their perceptions of local issues are constructed, and
the ability of the members of the community to find and process information are
important factors in the use of their economic and social resources (Luloff & Swanson,
1995). The primary focus of this research will be on the motivations of agency and
action on the individual level and the concepts that shape these motivations.
Motivations and Barriers to Community Action
Barriers and motivations to participation coalesce and reinforce one another
because people are capable of overcoming barriers when they are highly motivated
(Klandermans, 1987). The main strategies to mobilize residents for a movement are to
maintain and/or increase motivation and/or to remove barriers (Klandermans, 1987).
Excluding residents from participation is a barrier. In order to enhance motivation or
decrease barriers, research and knowledge of these two factors are needed. Few
longitudinal studies about intended and actual participation limit the discussion of these
motivations and barriers to participation (Klandermans, 1987).
Motivations for Action
Klandermans developed a model of social movement participation, based on a
comprehensive review of pertinent research examining an individual approach or micro-
level participation in social movements. The model includes four steps; (a) becoming
part of the mobilization potential, (b) becoming a target of mobilization attempts, (c)
becoming motivated to participate, and (d) overcoming barriers to participation (1997
;Klandermans & Oegema, 1987 ). Research about mobilization and participation during
the Dutch peace movement identified that the motivation to participate was primarily a
result of collective incentives (Klandermans & Oemega, 1987). This underscores the
importance of the forces that shape the third step in Klandermans' model and the
objective of this research. In his model, motivation or willingness to participate in a
specific collective action is a function of the expected costs and benefits of participation
(Simon et al., 1998). The goal of the movement is the collective good. Those who
identify with the movement's cause benefit from attaining this goal, even if they
individually did not participate in the collective action (Klandermans, 1987). Non-
contributors that may ultimately benefit from these actions are termed free-riders.
People derive part of their self-worth and esteem from their membership in groups
and communities, according to social psychological theories of identity (Hogg &
Abrams, 1988; Tajfel & Turner, 1986). People will voluntarily participate or join when
they feel a social identification with a group or cause. This behavior is an indication of
the strong identification (Klandermans, 2002). In a study about group identification and
the explanation of participation in protest, Klandermans (2002) found that identification
predicts participation in action efforts and helps to overcome lack of participation in
community action (Klandermans, 2002). For example, Simon et al. observed that
identification with the gay movement or with unions of the elderly predicted protest
participation better than identification with the broader categories of gay and the elderly
in general (1998). Similarly, in the context of the women's movement, willingness to
participate in collective action directly increased with members' collective identification
as women (Kelly & Breinlinger, 1995).
Ideological and social incentives were also primary motivations to act in the peace
movement. The increased interactions of participants and the importance of informal
social networks created incentives in these situations (Klandermans, 1987). The authors
relate their findings to Azjen and Fishbein's theory of reasoned action (1989). The
collective motive and the potential rewards of the action determine together the attitude
toward participation in collective action (Azjen & Fishbein, 1989). Attitude and
subjective norm codetermine the intention or willingness to participate in collective
High social support conditions act as a motivation to grassroots action and provide
a means by which residents can fulfill their neighborhood responsibilities in a satisfactory
way (Vasoo, 1991). Social support refers to the degree of cooperation of leaders, degree
of participation by residents, degree of assistance from government, and the financial
ability of the grassroots organization (Vasoo, 1991). Therefore, inadequate social support
adversely affects citizen participation.
Researchers found that the majority of people were motivated by community
concern in a study of motivations to volunteering with AIDS victims (Omoto & Snyder,
2002). People also volunteer to express personal values or humanitarian duties, or due to
the influence of other participating members in their community. This model describes
the community as providing a backdrop for groups, organizations and individuals to
participate in community volunteer activities. The goal is to promote some form of social
change while potentially increasing societal cooperation and civic participation (Omoto
& Snyder, 2002).
In field theory research, both macro-level structural forces, as well as interactional
factors were found to have independent influence on participation in a flood insurance
program (Luloff & Wilkinson, 1979). Community involvement is defined as
participation in community oriented activities (Kaufman, 1977; Wilkinson, 1991).
Individual level participation, memberships, and activity with community groups are
measures of involvement (Kasarda & Janowitz, 1974; Riger & Lavrakas, 1981; Sampson,
1988; Wilkinson, 1991; Luloff& Swanson, 1995).
A variety of factors influence community action. This review has revealed the
following factors that can motivate individuals to participate in community action: Social
attachment, ideological attachment, collective incentive, social support, community
concern and humanitarian duties. Additional research about motivations for action
suggests that the most significant predictors are social interaction, community
attachment, and self-efficacy.
Participation in community based organizations and groups facilitate social
interaction. Interaction between and among social groups promotes community
development and identity (Wilkinson, 1991). Knowledge of the relationships among
individuals and organizations in a community provides information for predicting the
range and/or breadth of potential community responses to local problems, both in the
long and short run (Luloff, 1990). Interaction with community members is a factor in the
literature about community action (Kaufman 1977, Wilkinson, 1991; Luloff & Swanson,
1995). Connections and interactions within the community increase communication
between community members. This provides support and consensus for solving local
problems and overcoming barriers to effective action (Simon et al., 1998).
Attachment transcends the simple sharing of space by local inhabitants, and
provides a social and psychological bond that serves as the basis for social interaction
(Wilkinson, 1991). Previous research suggests a linkage between community attachment
and community action because attachment influences the extent to which residents are
willing to interact and participate in community based efforts (Hummon, 1990;
Wilkinson, 1991; Theodori, 2000; Theodori & Luloff, 2000). Attachment may also affect
community action as an outcome (Wirth, 1938; Kasarda & Janowitz, 1974). Martin
(2003) emphasizes the importance of "place-framing" or neighborhood identification in
initiating community action in his study of 4 grassroots associations in St. Paul
Empirical studies have examined factors related to community attachment. These
include duration of local residence (Austin & Baba 1990; Goudy, 1990; Kasarda &
Janowitz, 1974; St. John, Austin, & Baba, 1986; Theodori & Luloff, 2000); home
ownership and race (Austin & Baba, 1990); income and number of children living at
home (Riger & Lavrakas, 1981); age and level of education (Riger & Lavrakas, 1981;
Stinner et al., 1990; Theodori & Luloff, 2000); social interactions (Theodori & Luloff,
2000); and marital status, presence of children, children's ages, and religious status
(Stinner et al., 1990).
Relevant research about individual's community attachment is important for
understanding participation in communal and civic activities and general mental health
(Davidson & Cotter 1989, 1991; Pretty, 1990; Pretty, Conroy, Dugay, Fowler & Williams
1996; Pretty& McCarthy, 1991; Prezza & Constantini, 1998). Individual sense of
community references a specific place or geographic identity (Pretty et al., 1996). People
are more likely to improve their local conditions and the conditions of their fellow
community members when they feel that they are a part of a community (Omoto &
Snyder, 2002). The increased resources, confidence and esteem that come from the
experience of community reinforce individuals' psychological empowerment (Corrigan,
Faber, Rashid & Leary, 1999).
Community provides a source of collective self-esteem and valued social identity
for individuals when they identify with and connect to their locality (Crocker &
Luhtanen, 1990). Community members develop increased feelings of efficacy and
accomplishment when a community is successful in organized action (Hughey et al.,
Community based volunteer associations grew out of attempts to change aspects of
the locality in a study of locally oriented volunteer activity in working with AIDS issues
(Omoto & Snyder, 2002). This is because participants lived near each other and shared
community identity characteristics such as minority status, job classification or housing
block (Omoto & Snyder, 2002). These community action structures were created,
developed and maintained to serve the purposes of community change (Omoto & Snyder,
2002; Hughey, Speer & Peterson, 1999). Identity coupled with a locality creates a sense
of community attachment.
Other research points to the powerful effects of a shared community attachment. In
a laboratory study, researchers stressed a common fate among a group of unrelated
individuals and cooperation was cultivated from of this social dilemma (Brewer &
Kramer, 1986; De Cremer & Van Vugt, 1999). Individuals begin to see that what is good
for the collective community is also good for them. Additionally, the presence of a
common feature, even if trivial, among a group of people will foster group cooperation
(Ellemers, Wilke & Van Knippenberg, 1993). The closer people feel to an issue,
category, identity or other group distinction, the more likely they are to participate in
actions to better their quality of life.
Bandura (1986) defines self efficacy as "People's judgments of their capabilities to
organize and execute courses of action required to attain designated types of
performances. It is concerned not with the skills one has, but with judgments of what one
can do with whatever skills one possesses."(pp. 11). Self-efficacy, the belief that one has
the capability to perform a particular behavior, is an important construct in social
psychology (Compeau & Higgins, 1995). Self-efficacy perceptions influence decisions
about what behaviors to undertake (e.g. Bandura et al., 1977; Betz & Hackett, 1981), the
effort exerted and persistence in attempting those behaviors (e.g. Barling & Beattie,
1983; Brown & Inouye, 1978), the emotional responses of the individual performing
these behaviors (e.g. Bandura et al., 1977; Stumpf et al., 1987), and the actual
performance attainments of the individual with respect to the behavior (e.g. Barling &
Beattie, 1983; Locke et al., 1984, Schunk, 1981; Wood & Bandura, 1989). The broad
application of self-efficacy across diverse domains of behavior contributes to its
popularity in contemporary motivation research (Graham & Weiner, 1996).
There are four main influences on self-efficacy. The most effective way of creating
a strong sense of efficacy is through mastery experiences (Bandura, 1994). Individuals
"gauge the effects of their actions, and their interpretations of these effects help create
their efficacy beliefs." (Pajares, 1997, pp.3). This concept relates to community
involvement. Researchers found that the best predictors for community action and
participation in a flood insurance program for low socioeconomic status residents were
previous experience in community action and previous experience handling floods
(Luloff & Wilkinson, 1979). The second way of creating efficacy is through vicarious
experience. Seeing similar people succeed by "sustained effort raises observers beliefs
that they too possess the capabilities" to succeed at the given task (Bandura, 1994, pp.72).
Verbal persuasions from others also are a source of self efficacy beliefs. They are a
weaker source of efficacy beliefs than the two former sources, but persuaders can play an
important role in the development of these beliefs (Bandura, 1994). The final source of
efficacy beliefs in Bandura's model is one's psychological state. Anxiety, stress, arousal
or fatigue can alter individual thinking and efficacy beliefs (Pajares, 1997).
Self-efficacy influences choices about which behaviors to undertake, the effort and
persistence exerted in the face of obstacles to the performance of these behaviors, and
ultimately the mastery of the behaviors (Compeau & Higgins, 1995). There are three
distinct but interrelated dimensions of self efficacy. (1) Magnitude refers to the level of
task difficulty an individual feels is attainable (2) Strength refers to the level of
conviction one has about their judgment (3) Generalizability indicates the extent to which
perceptions of self-efficacy are limited to particular situations (Compeau & Higgins,
An important factor in accomplishing change is a sense of self-efficacy, or a feeling
that something can be done (Bandura, 1989). Pratkanis and Turner examined the failure
to achieve widespread change during antinuclear activism in America (1996). The failure
was apparently due to the widespread belief that the problem was so immense, it would
be pointless to try (Pratkanis & Turner, 1996). Belief in the impact of one's actions is an
indicator of self-efficacy. However, additional research found that peace workers who
were highly active in the movement had high levels of personal and group efficacy
(Edwards & Oskamp, 1992).
Bandura identifies four major efficacy-activated psychological processes (1994).
Cognitive processes include personal goal setting, visualization of success, problem
solving, task orientation and resiliency. Individuals with a sense of efficacy "will set
challenging goals and use good analytic thinking which pays off in performance
accomplishments." (Bandura, 1994, pp. 73). Motivational processes occur when people
form beliefs about what they can do, they anticipate likely outcomes of their actions, and
plan courses of action to realize their future plans. People with a strong efficacy exert
greater effort when they do not master the task at hand. Their strong perseverance
contributes to task achievement. Affective processes include peoples coping capabilities
and how much stress, anxiety and depression they feel in threatening or difficult
situations. Perceived self-efficacy helps regulate anxiety arousal. The stronger the sense
of self-efficacy, the more courageous an individual will be in taking on taxing and
threatening activities. Selection processes influence the types of activities and
environments people choose. People may avoid tasks that they deem too advanced for
their capabilities, but they will "readily undertake challenging activities and select
situations they judge themselves capable of handling" (Bandura, 1994, pp.77).
Pajares concisely describes the effects of high self-efficacy
Self-efficacy beliefs help determine how much effort people will expend on an
activity, how long they will persevere when confronting obstacles, and how
resilient they will prove in the face of adverse situations- the higher the sense of
efficacy, the greater the effort, persistence and resilience. (1997, pp. 4).
Additionally, Pajares states that individuals with a strong sense of personal competence
have greater intrinsic interest in activities, set challenging goals and maintain a
strong commitment to them, heighten their efforts in the face of failure, more easily
recover their confidence after setbacks, and attribute failure to insufficient effort or
deficient knowledge and skills which they believe they are capable of acquiring."
I will examine the levels of self-efficacy of community members living in poor
neighborhoods. By understanding their efficacy, I can understand how this may shape
community members decisions to perform community actions in the face of poverty.
Community action stems out of one's potential or capacity to act. A further
understanding of the person's belief in their capacity to act should provide insight about
the motivations for community action.
Barriers to Action
Action episodes cannot occur without human involvement. It is important to
develop an understanding of how such actions evolve (Luloff, 1990). The political
openness of a community's democratic structure may encourage and facilitate local
participation across diverse fields of interest (Luloff, 1990). Martin and Wilkinson
uncovered the important interactive effect between socioeconomic status and
participation in a public affairs program (1984). Community members with low income
had low participatory skills and low community activity as well. These barriers
disenfranchise entire segments of a community population, who in turn become excluded
from community processes, and can adversely affect community development activities
(Martin and Wilkinson, 1985).
Isolation in rural areas poses a serious threat to the well-being of its residents
(Wilkinson, 1991). In a study of different poor neighborhoods, Figeuria-McDonough
confirmed information originally reported by the National Research Council (1993).
Poverty rates have remained fairly constant, but poverty has become increasingly
spatially concentrated (1995). She found that segregation (racial isolation, essentially) is
one of three key indicators of social disorganization strongly associated with poverty
levels over time (Figueria-McDonough, 1995). In rural areas, the principal barriers to
community interaction are deficiencies in resources for meeting needs and inadequate
social infrastructure for services (Wilkinson, 1991). Wilson and others point to the
causal role of social isolation in producing large-scale socioeconomic problems (1987,
1996; Anderson, 1999).
Luloff and Swanson discuss community participation and the barriers to activity in
their 1995 article "Community Agency and Disaffection: Enhancing Collective
Resources." They argue that the relationship between community participation, local
democratic institutions, and the degree to which citizens feel a sense of community
ownership reflects the degree to which citizens believe they are a part of the local
decision-making process. Citizens are then willing to accept and act on local decisions,
and this allows the community greater access to its human resources (Luloff & Swanson,
1995). This enhances community agency. A redistributive effect of community
development activities will likely occur when efforts are made to enfranchise those
formerly removed from the decision making process (Luloff & Swanson, 1995). Periods
of social and economic crisis can enhance the potential for community action (Ravitz,
1982). Additionally, when democracy, choice, and information are maximized, the
potential for the expression of individual and community agency is highest (Luloff &
Frequently, the barriers to community action arise from lack of resources to meet
needs and inadequate social infrastructure of service, associations, and channels for
collective action (Wilkinson, 1991). Rothman (1975) found that the inverse relationship
between poverty and formal networks of social interaction was due mostly to lack of
resources, reinforced by lack of experience and task orientation among the impoverished
population. Klandermans identified potential barriers to action as "perceived inefficacy
of collective action, distrust of the behavior of others, or costs of participation that are not
outweighed by benefits." (Klandermans, 1987, pp. 529). A low sense of community
action self-efficacy can be a barrier to action.
Racism, sexism, ageism, uncritical acceptance of authority, and other social
characteristics that are reproduced through agents of socialization create serious barriers
to community agency (Luloff & Swanson, 1995). The quality of life improves when the
barriers to community interaction are reduced in either rural or urban settings (Wilkinson,
1991). Culture is independent of economic and social structures, but it interacts with
these structures and therefore is of great importance in making sense of community
development processes (Luloff & Swanson, 1995).
The poverty rate in 2003 was 12.5%, up from 12.1% in 2002 (U.S. Census, 2005).
This translates to about 35.9 million people living in poverty, up 1.3 million from 2002.
If we include the "near poor", the percentage of the population whose income is .01 to
25% more than the poverty threshold increases 4.5% or by nearly 13 million people.
These trends place increasing pressures on national and state legislators to become more
responsive to the practical problems of society (Summers, 1986)
The lives of Americans have become increasingly socially complex the 1970's due
to the loss of 10 to 15 hours per week of leisure time (Harris, 1987). Making a living
demands more time and energy and takes local citizens away from grassroots action
In his book The Politics of Poverty, Donovan very clearly articulates the experience
of poverty in America.
Poverty in the United States, if it means anything, decrees that its victims shall not
participate in the diverse opportunities which the world's richest economy provides
almost as a matter of course for those millions of its citizens who are not poor. As
a social phenomenon, poverty in this country means poor schools, bad
neighborhoods, some of the worst housing in Western industrialized civilization,
poor health, and extraordinarily poor prospects for effecting any fundamental
change in the system. (1967, pp. 93-94).
In the 1960's the Lyndon Johnson administration recognized the problem and
created a "War on Poverty". One of the most important pieces of Lyndon Johnson's
administration was the creation of the Economic Opportunity Act. This legislation
established the Community Action Program (CAP) to encourage local communities to
define their own priorities in solving local problems. The act stated that agencies must be
"developed, conducted and administered with the maximum feasible participation of
residents of the areas and members of the groups being served." (Economic Opportunity
Act 1964; Adler 1994). In a testimony before Congress to encourage passage of the Act,
Attorney General Robert Kennedy explained the requirement of "maximum feasible
The institutions which affect the poor-education, welfare, recreation, business,
labor- are huge, complex structures, operating far outside their control. They plan
programs for the poor, but not with them. Part of the sense of helplessness and
futility comes from the feeling of powerlessness to affect the operation of these
The community action programs must basically change these organizations by
building into the program real representation for the poor. This bill calls for,
"maximum feasible participation of residents." This means the involvement of the
poor in planning and implementing programs: giving them a real voice in their
This act, and Kennedy's comments, frames the contemporary approach to
Although poverty might seem as an easily understood concept, researchers use a
variety of methods to define poverty. Roosa and colleagues identify measures used to
study the poverty experience (2005). One is an income-based approach, like the federal
government's definition of the poverty threshold (Roosa et al., 2005). Economic distress
is economic pressure or hardship that results in psychological distress from financial
difficulties (Barrera et al., 2002). Other distress measures are hunger and food insecurity,
and social exclusion (Roosa et al, 2005).
Distress is defined as the different experiences of communities based on high
unemployment, low income, high poverty, unstable economics, population outmigration
and other socioeconomic problems (Glasmeier, Wood & Fuellhart, 2006). However,
there currently is no universally accepted measure of distress. A survey of agencies in
1995 suggested that a diverse set of agencies at the federal and state levels makes
distinctions among locations based on the severity of economic circumstances
(Fullenbaum & McNeill, 1995). In a study on community distress, researchers used three
different measures to understand the severity of this concept. They found that regardless
of the measure used, there is a core pool of long-term economically distressed counties in
the United States. (Glasmeier et al., 2006).
Crowder and South (2003) discuss the most common measures of distress. These
focus on census tract poverty rates and poverty population concentration within and
across tracts of individual cities or metropolitan areas. Other indicators of distress are
disproportionately high rates of poverty, joblessness, female-headed families, teenage
school dropout rates and welfare receipt (Rickets & Sawhill, 1988). Hughes calls these
tracts "deprivation neighborhoods" (1989). Severely distressed neighborhoods are those
tracts that have all characteristics of distressed tracts plus exceptionally high teenage
school dropout rates (Crowder & South, 2003).
Crowder and South (2003) conducted a study on the relationship between
neighborhood distress and academic achievement. They found that the detrimental
impact of neighborhood socioeconomic distress on school dropout increased significantly
over the past quarter-century. They suggest that this is a probable repercussion of the
increasing geographic concentration of urban poverty.
This chapter discusses the methods and procedures of the research. First I describe
my research approach and design and site selection. I then describe the methods of data
collection which include sampling, and the two stages of data collection. Lastly, the data
analysis methods are described at the end of the chapter.
Grounded theory approaches facilitate the examination of a wide range of
conceptual possibilities in community action research. In this approach, the researcher
selects participants based on an identified outcome variable and then gathers data that is
used to describe, conceptualize and relate the data through a theoretical lens to better
understand the phenomena in question. The phenomena under study in this project were
potential motivations for community action.
The wide range of concepts and relationships possible in a community action
dynamic should be understood holistically, then inductively grounded into theoretical
relationships to attain the individual-level insight required to address the research
question. This is because, "When theory is derived from data, it is more likely to
resemble the raw social reality, rather than using theory to speculate reality." (Strauss &
Corbin, 1998, pp. 24).
This epistemological approach creates a methodological coherence. This is when
the research question matches the components of the data collection methods and
methods of analysis (Morse et al., 2002). Scientific rigor is achieved through this and
other verification strategies outlined in this section in order to enhance the validity and
reliability of the data and analysis for this study (Morse et al., 2002). Case studies can be
used to obtain "the intricate details about phenomena such as feelings, thought processes,
and emotions that are difficult to extract or learn about through more conventional
research methods." (Strauss & Corbin, 1998, pp. 11). Understanding people's thoughts
and motivations behind their community actions requires this kind of data.
A multiple case study design is appropriate for this research question because I
selected the dependent variable (community activity) a priori and this design lets me
focus on cases of interest. Additionally, a case study is "an empirical inquiry that
investigates a contemporary phenomenon within its real-life context, especially when the
boundaries between phenomenon and context are not clearly evident." (Yin, 2003, pp.
13). Case studies permit researchers to include a large number of variables in order to
understand the way in which they interrelate (de Vaus, 2001). A qualitative approach
frequently uses this design because it allows the inclusion of a large number of variables.
Theory building case studies, as defined by de Vaus (2001), are used to help
develop and refine the relationships that exist within a case and create a theory that
articulates the observed social phenomena. This is where we begin with a basic inquiry,
look at real cases and then establish a more specific set of propositions after data
collection and analysis (de Vaus, 2001). In this case, the researcher will ground the data
to relevant, empirically tested community science theory.
Yin (1989) distinguishes the difference between holistic and embedded units of
analysis. There is no holistic unit in this study; the comprehensive context is a
community in a mid-sized southeast University city. This level of abstraction permits me
to gather a variety of information in order to fully understand and describe the
community as a whole. The units of analysis are the individual residents who live in the
community. Individual residents provide the data based on their interactions within the
community. These cases are then compiled to create a comprehensive perspective of the
community. The selection of units provides a strong foundation for the case study design
because as described earlier, people and their interactions are the core elements of
The most important need for a successful case study is to find cases that will
provide a valid and challenging test of theory (de Vaus, 2001). The community for the
study was selected for a variety of reasons including a history of community action in the
context of poverty.
Context of Poverty
The community meets all of the qualifications of a community plagued by
persistent poverty. Community action increases social and material well-being. It is
therefore important to understand how these actions occur in poor neighborhoods to
address the needs of residents.
A study conducted by CACI Marketing Systems in 2000, as well as ESRI Business
Solution in 2004 provided a comprehensive sociodemographic analysis of the county in
order to restructure and focus the county's strategic plan. This yielded valuable
descriptive information about the population of the study and articulated the level of
poverty in some parts of the county. The area under study has the lowest per capital
income of the county at $12,512 and a median household income of $26,241 which is
72.6% of the state's median income. The geographic area for the study was identified by
local government zoning and planning maps as a community redevelopment area.
Of the adult population of 10,523, 31.7% of individuals and 29.2% of families live
below the poverty level (Census Bureau, 2000). Forty-four percent of children (age 0-
17), 26.6% of adults (18-64) and 16.4% of senior citizens live in poverty in the area.
The population has a relatively high concentration of African-American residents
(77%). Twenty-one percent are white, .2% are Asian-Pacific Islander, and 2% are other
races. Nearly half the population is between 25 and 64 years of age. Thirty-seven
percent of all families are female headed families (FHF). Fifty-nine% of all FHF live in
poverty and 73.5% of these families have children under the age of five. The area also
has the highest percentage of people without a high school diploma in the county, 30%,
well above the national percentage at 19.6% (Census Bureau, 2000).
History of Community Action
The fact that they community is poor does not fully justify its relevance to the
study. Preliminary research and experience in the locality under study uncovered
important community action history. Community organization and activity at the
grassroots level has increased in this community over the past quarter century. The
subsequent increased attention to this area from the rest of the city might be due to the
residents taking initiative, becoming aware of what is going on, and expressing the
situation and needs of the community to the city and county commission.
One of the most striking examples of community action is the increasing number of
neighborhood crime watch groups and community associations within the past ten years;
indicating the manifestation of community activity. Within the area there are seven
identified active neighborhood associations/crime watch groups represented in this study.
There are about 20 formal and informal neighborhood organizations.
The research occurred in a two-stage process. The first stage consisted of
interviews with community key informants. The second stage was personal interviews
with the leaders of the 15-20 existing neighborhood watch organizations identified in the
Key informants can play a crucial role in providing detailed information about
actions and events across a community (Bridgeland & Sofranko, 1975; Clark, 1968;
Claude et al., 2000; Krannich & Humphrey, 1986). If selected carefully, key informants
provide insight into community processes that are not available from other sources
(Schwartz, Bridger & Hyman, 2001). Key informants such as elected officials, planners,
business leaders, community organizers, non-profit agency representatives, neighborhood
representatives and religious leaders are essential to gather the community wide
information needed to fully explain the context of this community (Schwartz, Bridger &
The accessible population of key informants was people living or working in the
community under study who are knowledgeable of, or involved in, local grassroots
community development efforts. The sampling frame included leaders or representatives
of the local neighborhood groups, as well as people from various institutions and
programs that work directly with the community under study. The names of key
informants were obtained through public lists from the local police department and the
community resource center at the University. Some key informants were identified
through snowball sampling wherein key informants were asked at the end of their
interview if they could recommend any other people in the community who could
Based on the information and understanding of the community gained from stage
one, one of the prominent themes which recurred in the data was that the best asset or
resource in the community was its people, more specifically, the leaders of community
groups. I decided to focus on the motivations to community action of only active
members in the community so that the research focus could be the important resources of
local leaders. The most important group of local leaders is the organizers of the
grassroots neighborhood watch and community associations, the sampling frame for the
second stage. Many of the key informants pointed to the neighborhood watch and
community association leaders as the most important leaders in the community. They
associated these leaders with community activity and community development. Key
informant data helped to select neighborhood watch leaders as the sample for stage two.
Stage 1: Key informant interviews for questionnaire development
I completed 15-20 key informant interviews over a two-month period for the first
phase of research. The information collected from key informants provided context and
insight into the community, the holistic unit of analysis, and also served to tailor the tone,
content and personalization of the semi-structured interview questionnaire that utilized in
the second phase of data collection. Some examples of what key informants were asked
during this procedure are:
* How important do you feel that the participation of local individuals is to
community development efforts?
* What is likely to happen to the local quality of life during the next five years?
* What programs or policies have been implemented in the past five to ten years to
improve the quality of life in your community?
The full interview protocol is in appendix A. General probes (i.e. "tell me more
about that") and specific probes such as "why do you think these problems exist," were
used to obtain the depth needed to more fully explore the research questions.
These interviews helped clarify language, history, culture and common phrases in
the community, increasing the reliability of the instrument used in stage two. The
response patterns that emerged from these interviews led to a better understanding of
important topics in the community and served to guide the development of the items
included in the interview used in the second stage of the data collection process.
Stage 2: Local leaders of neighborhood watch organizations
This stage of data collection consisted of 15-20 focused interviews with the leaders
of the neighborhood watch organizations in the community. Focused interviews suit a
case study design. The goal of case studies is to understand a phenomena in its real life
context, which can be done through interviews since the primary focus is, "to generate
data which gives an authentic insight into peoples experiences" (Miller & Glassner, 1997,
pp. 126). Researchers use "qualitative interviewing because it provides us with a means
for exploring the points of view of our research subjects, while granting these points of
view the culturally honored status of reality" (Miller & Glassner, 1997, pp. 127).
I first contacted participants with a letter describing the purpose of the research
project. I made a follow-up phone call to each potential participant to set up interviews at
their residences or in public establishments such as the downtown library or community
I conducted personal interviews, which lasted from 30-100 minutes at a location
identified by the subject. Semi-standardized interviews use a number of predetermined
questions and identified topics (Berg, 2004). The interview style was conversational, but
followed a specific set of questions based on the key informant interviews from the case
study protocol (Yin, 2003). I typically asked these questions in the same order, but
"interviewers are allowed freedom to digress; that is, the interviewers are permitted (in
fact, expected) to probe far beyond the answers" to the prepared questions (Berg, 2004,
pp. 81). I wanted to allow for the free flow of information and description of the
participant's experience using an open response format, but also ask specific
demographic information making the design semi-standardized.
The protocol for stage two used some of the questions from the key informant
protocol, and new questions were developed to address the nature and scope of the
motivations to grassroots community action. I developed questions from a multistage
development process as recommended by Berg (2004). First I created a list of concepts
and theoretical frameworks from the community action literature that I wanted to
empirically test. I developed several questions for each concept. An expert panel
reviewed the draft questions to develop the final questions. The questions and their
corresponding theory are available in Appendix B. I put the questions in order through
discussion with the expert panel and assembled them into the schedule in Appendix A.
The theoretical basis for each question probes into the concepts under examination as
predictors of and motivations to community action.
An additional theory was used to develop the semi-structured questionnaire for the
second stage to focus more closely on predictors and motivations for action. An
ecological framework of citizen participation relates participation to the physical,
economic and social environmental contexts as predictors for participation in grassroots
community organizing (Perkins et al., 1996). (Complete protocol of stage 2 can be found
in Appendix A).
Precision is an important standard for research. The questions used in this study
did not provide highly precise data, but they provided detailed understanding of the
dependent variable. Interviewing is useful for investigators who are interested in
understanding people's perceptions to learn how people come to attach certain meanings
to phenomena or events (Taylor & Bogdan, 1998, pp. 98). Open response questions in a
semi-structured schedule in a personal interview venue was the best method for
understanding peoples reasoning and logic behind the concepts, and therefore precision
was not a priority in this study.
The principal investigator was the only person conducting interviews in order to
increase reliability. The principal investigator advised the participants concerning
consent to participation at the start of the interview. The investigator answered any
questions before the participants signed the statement of consent. Interviews were
recorded and transcribed verbatim to allow for an in-depth analysis.
The data analysis consists of content analysis of the verbatim interview scripts
(Travis et al., 2000). This allowed me to make valid inferences from the semi-structured
interview data (Weber, 1990). This is a technique for systematically describing the form
and content of written or spoken material and is frequently used to codify the responses
to open-ended questions (Weber, 1990). Strauss and Corbin divide data into four levels of
abstraction starting with codes, the basic cues taken verbatim from the data (1998).
Codes are placed into categories, and then placed in themes which compose the larger
central phenomenon under study (Strauss & Corbin, 1998). The central phenomenon is
community action for this study. Throughout the process the researcher relates the
themes and categories to one another and the central phenomenon.
Data analysis also used the comparative technique of constant comparison, or
systematic comparison. This technique compares phenomena in the data with other
experiences, concepts from the literature or in the data to suggest categories, properties
and propositional statements about the subject under inquiry (Glaser& Strauss, 1995;
Strauss & Corbin, 1998). This process helps the analyst understand the phenomena
through its properties and dimensions in order to see how this concept emerges from the
data in varying conditions (Strauss & Corbin, 1998). The constant comparison method
helps to create close connections between the data and theory in an inductive process
because the analyst is forced to consider the scope of diversity in the data (Glaser &
Strauss, 1995). Glaser and Strauss delineate four stages of the constant comparison
method; (1) comparing incidents applicable to each category, (2) integrating categories
and their properties, (3) delimiting the theory, and (4) writing the theory (1995).
Pyett describes the role of the researcher in the analysis process as follows
The researcher's task is not to distinguish between reliable and unreliable
informants but to apply sociological theory, together with additional historical and
contextual information, to develop an understanding that reaches beyond the
perspective of the participants. The theoretical insights that the researcher brings to
the interpretation should be not only of academic interest but also, he or she hopes,
ultimately of benefit to the participants or their community. (2003, pp. 1173).
Following this type of analysis philosophy, I allowed the concepts to emerge from
the interview data, and then grounded the phenomena into the theories described in the
review of literature. This yielded important information about the facilitation and
cultivation of grassroots participation in poor communities.
Data analysis was concurrent with data collection because the I transcribed and
coded data after each day of interviews. This "forms a mutual interaction between what
one knows and what one needs to know." (Morse et al., 2002, pp. 12). The iterative
process of data collection and analysis occurring at the same time is very important to
reliability and validity (Morse et al., 2002). Two other research colleagues reviewed the
data and my content analysis of codes and categories to enhance reliability (Huberman &
Miles, 1994). There were few disagreements about the content analysis and the final
analysis is described in chapter four.
The primary data analysis was conducted with the Stage 2 interview data of the
neighborhood watch group leaders. I conducted and transcribed 16 interviews. The
lengths of the transcripts ranged from three pages to eight pages (single spaced, 12 pt.
font). I went through each transcript, question by question, and following the content
analysis method, coded each datum onto an index card. I labeled the cards on the upper
right hand corner with the question number and subject number to organize the data by
question (or concept), as well as for easy reference to the original transcript for quotes
and clarification. Approximately 450 codes emerged from the data. I placed codes into
categories, and then organized categories into themes. I describe the findings through the
question number and order of the interview schedule.
The following chapters will explain and describe the data in the context of relevant
theory. This will complete the grounded theory process and enhance our understanding
of the community action phenomenon.
I will describe the results and analysis in this section. Table 2 presents the results
in summary form. First, I will restate the question I asked the participants. Then I will
state the concept under investigation in the question and list the emergent themes and
categories describing the phenomena. I used codes to illustrate participants' responses. I
present the findings in the order in which I asked the questions and list the emergent
themes and categories in descending order.
Question one (1) provided data about participants' length of residence in their
neighborhoods. Mean length of residence was 35 years, the median was 38 years, the
range was seven to 55 years, and the standard deviation was 14.7 years. One
participant's length of residence was relatively short, seven years, compared to the
majority of the participants. The median may be more representative of the sample than
the mean because of this outlier.
Question two (2) asked participants how long they had been the leader of their
neighborhood watch or community association. The mean length of their leadership role
was nine years, the median was 6 years, the range was one year to 40 years and the
standard deviation was 10.4 years. Most leadership positions were one-year
commitments, but many of these participants were serving for an extended period. The
median time may also be more representative than the mean because one participant had
been involved for 40 years and was an outlier.
Question three (3) asked, "What originally inspired you to become involved with
your community work?" This question explores participants' initial motivation for
involvement. Three themes emerged, perceived needs (59%), sources of efficacy (26%),
and increasing human resources (11%). Percentages indicate the proportion of codes for
each question that fall under each category and theme and not the percentage of
Perceived needs included three categories of initial motivation to action; problems
in the neighborhood, need for local leadership, and meeting general needs in the
neighborhood. Problems in the neighborhood comprised over one quarter of the results,
26%. Problems included drugs, crime, dilapidated housing, and safety concerns. Under
meeting general needs, 23%, initial motivations were items such as, "I wanted to address
needs," and "the old neighborhood was going down." In general, participants expressed
their desires to meet the great needs that exist in their neighborhoods. The need for local
leadership, 12%, emerged through items such as addressing the bad reputation of the
area, the need for a community spokesperson, low neighborhood participation, and a
desire for more government participation.
Sources of efficacy contained two categories. The first was previous experience,
and the second was psychological state. Under previous experience, 12%, participants
mentioned concepts like "I've always been involved," "I was socialized from my
parents," and "you can see immediate change when you act." They also referenced
experiences in other social movements or actions like the civil rights movement.
Psychological state, 14%, included codes for humanitarian interests and stubbornness.
Participant responses included "I have a concern for people," "I want to help out," and "It
makes me feel good to do something for other people."
Participants wanted to mobilize the human potential that they saw as stagnant in
their neighborhoods. The increasing human resources category, 11%, represented
participants desires to "motivate others," "inform others to bring change," "give people
ownership" and "rally people to the cause." They discussed a general desire to empower
other neighborhood residents to work for the betterment of the community.
Table 4.1- Analysis results of participants' responses to the question, "What inspired you
to become involved in your community work?"
Question Codes Categories Themes Phenomena
In descending order In descending
#3 1. Drugs, crime, 1. Problems in the Perceived needs Initial
poverty neighborhood motivation for
What inspired 2. Neighborhood 2. Need for local action
you to become representation, leadership
involved in your increased participation
community 3. Address basic needs
work? 3. Meeting general
4. Always been
involved, worked in 4. Mastery experience Sources of
Civil Rights efficacy
5. Humanitarian 5. Psychological state
6. Inform others to
motivate others to act Increase human
Question four (4) asked, "How does your family feel about your leadership role in
the community?" Two categories emerged from this question: Supportive and
concerned/no interest. A majority of the responses (75%) were supportive and included
"They are supportive," "They're ok with it" and "Very proud." Concerned family
members (25%) thought participants "did too much" or were uninterested in community
Table 4.2-Analysis results of participants' responses to the question, "How does your
family feel about your leadership role in the community?"
Question Codes Categories Themes Phenomena
In descending In
#4 1. Supportive of me, 1. Supportive Family social
How does your O.K. with it, very proud support
family feel 2. Do too much work, 2. Concerned/no
about your not interested interest
Question five (5) inquired about participants other forms of volunteer work. The
percentages for this question indicate the proportion of participants and not codes.
Nearly two-thirds, 63%, of the participants were involved in volunteer and civic
endeavors outside of their community watch work and responsibilities. They listed a
variety of organizations including churches, local schools, various public community
programs, local nonprofits, workers unions and political involvement. The remaining
third of participants, 37%, were only involved in their neighborhood work. Neighborhood
watch work consumes a great deal of time. Almost half of the participants still worked
full-time and did not have enough time and energy to devote to other endeavors.
Question six (6) asked, "When you are working as a community organizer, who
else do you count on or work with to get things done?" This question uncovered the
domains of resources participants use. Two themes emerged from the data. Resources
were accessed through participants' community environment (68%) and personal
environment (32%). These percentages indicate the proportion of codes and not
proportion of participants, in each category and theme.
More than two-thirds of the resources participants' access was in their community
environment. This theme contained three categories, government agencies, non-profit
agencies and resource-type dependent agencies. Government agencies (42%) included
entities such as codes enforcement, the local police department, public works, city
planning and the school board. Non-profit agencies (15%) included churches and a
county environmental preservation organization. Resource-type dependent agencies
(12%) developed from such responses as "whoever has the resources we need to get it
done," "depends on the project" and "whoever is accountable." Participants' personal
environment contained two categories of human resources, neighbors crime watch
members and family. Neighbors and crime watch leaders were one quarter, 24%, of the
responses and family members were 7%.
Table 4.3- Analysis results of participants' responses to the question, "When you are
working as a community organizer, who else do you count on or work with to
get things done?"
Question Codes Categories Themes Phenomena
In descending order In
#6 1. Codes 1. Government Community Domains of
When you are enforcement, local agencies environment resources
working as a police department,
community public works
organizer, who 2. Churches, 2. Non-profit agencies
else do you environmental
count on or groups
work with to get 3. Whoever has the 3. Resource-type
things done? resources, depends dependent agencies
on the project
4. Neighbors/crime Personal
watch members environment
Question seven (7) asked, "What are some of the things you've had to overcome to
get things done in your community?" Three prominent barriers emerged from this data
with six categories overall. The most prominent barrier, which composed one-third of the
responses, was apathy, 33%. This category included items such as lack of participation,
people "don't want to change," complacency, and the fact that they have "Been trying to
do so long, nobody care." Another important perceived barrier to action was the
bureaucracy of government agencies composing one-quarter, 25%, of the responses.
Participants mentioned concepts like the length of time required for the bureaucratic
change process, slow communication and "not knowing where the buck stops" to make a
request to get something done. One-fifth of the responses were concerned with the lack of
resources (19%). This describes both a lack of financial resources, such as grants and
subsidies, as well as a lack of human resources in the form of participation and levels of
Table 4.4- Analysis results of participants' responses to the question, "What are some of
the things you've had to overcome to get things done in your community?"
Question Codes Categories Themes Phenomena
In descending order In
#7 1. People don't want 1. Apathy Barriers
What are some to change, lazy, don't
of the things care
you've had to 2. Slow 2. Bureaucracy of
overcome to get communication, not government resources
things done in knowing where the
your buck stops, red tape
community? 3. Financial resources, 3. Lack of resources
4. Historical neglect 4. Bad perception
5. Antiquated attitudes 5. Racial barriers
6. People only help 6. Reactive
when something participation
Bad perception of the locality and the historic neglect of this locality by the
government and the rest of the community were barriers (11%). These attitudes
developed over time and are slowly decreasing, but still impose detrimental effects.
Perceived racial (6%) barriers and reactive participation (6%), or activity initiated solely
by a negative event in the community, were the last two barriers identified.
Question eight (8) asked participants, "On a scale from one to ten, one being the
lowest and ten being the best, how much do you feel that you have the resources needed
to get things done?" The mean was 4, the median was 4, the mode was 5, the range was
from 1 to 7 and the standard deviation was 2.0.
Table 4.5-Bar graph of participants' resource level scores and the number of participants
who identified with each resource level
with each 1.5
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Resource level score
Participants also provided justification for the relatively low scores on their ratings
of resource-level. Low government resources (55%) was the largest factor in their low
scores. This category, capturing more than half of the responses, included items like low
funding, not enough grants, and the government not making the poorer neighborhoods a
priority. A complimentary explanation of the low resources is the low access to
resources (27%). This refers to events when resources are only found when something
adverse happens, when people are not aware of available resources, or when participants
cannot mobilize the human resources in their neighborhood through participation in local
action. Additionally, one participant mentioned the importance of knowing and
contacting the right people to coordinate necessary resources.
Table 4.6- Analysis results of participants' responses to the question, "On a scale of one
to ten, one being the lowest and ten being the best, how much do you feel like
you have the resources you need to get things done?"
Question Codes Categories Themes Phenomena
In descending In
#8 1. Low funding, not 1. Low government Perceived low
On a scale of 1- enough grants, poor resources resources
10, one being neighborhoods not a
the lowest and priority
ten being the
best, how much 2. Not knowing 2. Low access to
do you feel like about resources, resources
you have the other residents will
resources you not participate,
need to get resources are only
things done? found when
Question nine (9) was a two-part question about participants' perceived level of
self-efficacy. First, participants were asked, "How much of an impact do you feel you
work in the community makes?" They were asked to choose from an ordinal scale with
the options of(1) a lot of impact, (2) some impact, (3) a little impact or, (4) no impact.
Almost two-thirds of the participants (63%) thought that their work had a lot of impact in
the community. Fifteen percent said that their work had some impact and 23% said that
their work had a little impact. No participants felt that their work had no impact at all.
Secondly, participants were asked to give three examples of times where they felt
that they had made the impact they previously described. The events that illustrated these
impacts were composed of two themes, mastery experience and verbal persuasion.
Mastery experience was the prominent predictor of participants self-efficacy
containing 86% of the responses for this question. Three categories emerged under this
theme, reported in decreasing order. More than one-third of these mastery experiences,
38%, were expressed through the various tangible physical changes in the neighborhood.
These were improvements to the neighborhood infrastructure, such as removing
condemned housing, building more sidewalks and streetlights, attaining new playground
equipment, and increased police patrol. For individual and incremental changes (24%),
participants discussed various examples of individuals in the neighborhood who have
benefited from community efforts. Participants stated that, "The impact is big on an
individual level." In the third category, seen overall change, 19%, participants talked
about how they have seen the neighborhood improve over time, and that "We took care
of problems so, I know we've made a difference." The second theme, verbal persuasion
(14%), included things such as "people tell me" and "talking to old students." No
categories emerged from this theme.
Table 4.7-Analysis results of participants' responses to the question, "How much of an
impact do you feel your work in the community makes?"
Question Codes Categories Themes Phenomena
In descending order In
#9 1. Getting rid of 1. Tangible physical Mastery Self-efficacy
How much of an condemned changes Experience
impact do you feel housing, new
your work in the sidewalks,
makes? equipment 2. Individual/
2. Individual incremental changes
3. I know we've 3. Seen overall
made a difference, change
4. People tell me Persuasion
we've made a
Question ten (10) asked, "What keeps you energized to keep working in your
community when times are hard or others don't participate or help?" The central
phenomena I examined through this question were the effects of self-efficacy and the
factors that helped participants maintain their motivation for action. Three themes
emerged, motivational, cognitive and affective. The first theme, motivational (61%),
included three categories, described in descending order. Humanitarian motivations,
40%, played a significant role and included concepts like the love of the people and love
of the area. Participants said that, "It's fulfilling when people are mobilized" and cited a
"desire for the betterment of others." Reciprocity motivations, 11%, were motivations
that come from another person who helped the participant in the past, or having a role
model and ideas such as, "When you have, you give." The last category, responsibility,
10%, is illustrated in the following quote. "If I don't do it, it ain't gonna get there." The
essence that there was work to be done and someone has to do it created the participants'
perceived sense of responsibility as a motivational factor.
The second theme, cognitive factors, 24%, contained only codes which described
participants' stubbornness and perseverance in the face of obstacles. Nearly one quarter
of the answers referenced these concepts and many responses were stubbornness and
perseverance verbatim. Their responses also included items such as, "I don't accept no,"
"I don't give up," and having an "unforeseeable drive." From the third theme, affective
factors, 16%, two categories emerged. Optimism (8%) represents the potential
participants see for the future of their neighborhood. The last category for affective
factors was belief in God (5%) and one outlying code for guilt.
Table 4.8- Analysis results of participants' responses to the question, "What keeps you
energized to keep working in your community when times are hard or others
don't participate or help?"
Question Codes Categories Themes Phenomena
In descending In descending
#10 1. Love of people, 1. Humanitarian Motivational Self-efficacy
What keeps you love of area motivations
energized to keep 2. Role model, 2. Reciprocity
working in your someone gave to
community when me in the past
times are hard or 3. If I don't do it, 3. Responsibility Cognitive
others don't it won't get done
help? 4. I don't accept 4. Stubbornness/
no, I won't give up perseverance
5. See future 5. Optimism Affective
potential, it may
get there 6. Belief in god
Question eleven (11) was a two-part question. The first part asked, "How
responsible do you feel for the quality of life in your community? How responsible do
you feel for being a leader?" Four answer categories emerged from this question and
answers were split evenly over the categories. Percentages for this question represent the
proportion of participants who identified with each category and not the proportion of
codes for each category. Participants said they felt either (a) responsible for the
community (25%), (b) not responsible (19%), (c) responsible for myself(19%), or (d) I
don't know (25%).
The second part of question eleven sought an explanation for their answer and
asked, "Why do you feel responsible?" The data was divided into two themes, personal
influences and environmental influences. Many categories emerged from this data
because the levels of felt responsibility were evenly distributed. Percentages indicate
proportion of codes for each category and theme. Personal influences was the most
prominent theme, 69%, and categories will be listed in descending order. In desire of
positive outcomes, 29%, respondents said things like, "I want the community to look
nice," "I want to see change," and "I will do whatever I can to make things better." Self-
efficacy beliefs, 14%, were items such as, "I have so much to offer," "He who has much,
much is required" and "people look up to me." Commitment to their neighborhood as
home (9%), participants' upbringing (9%) and the feeling that everyone is responsible
(9%) were the last three categories in the personal influences theme. Pride and the
empowerment of others were two codes that did not fall into a designated category under
the theme of personal influences.
One quarter of the data fit under the environmental influences theme, 26%. Two
categories emerged. Physical environment, 17%, includes items that express the need in
the neighborhood locality. Interpersonal environment, 9%, represents the support of
other people or leaders in the neighborhood.
Table 4.9-Analysis results of participants' responses to the question, "Why do you feel
responsible for the quality of life in your community?"
Question Codes Categories Themes Phenomena
In descending In descending
#11 1. I want to the 1. Desire of Personal Perceived level
Why do you community look nice positive outcomes Influences of
feel responsible 2. I have so much to 2. Self-efficacy responsibility
for the quality offer, people look up beliefs
of life in your to me
community? 3. I live here 3. Home
4. Brought up this 4. Upbringing
way 5. Everyone is
5. Everyone is responsible
6. The neighborhood 6. Physical Environmental
needs it environment Influences
7. People support my 7. Interpersonal
Question twelve (12) also had two parts. The first part asked participants, "How
much do you think that people feel like they are a part of this neighborhood?" This
question provided information for understanding the concepts and indicators of
community attachment as a motivation for community action. Four answer categories
emerged from this question. Participants identified their fellow residents' belongingness
to the neighborhood with (a) feel apart of this neighborhood (46%), (b) homeowners feel
apart of this neighborhood (9%), (c) people do not feel apart of this neighborhood
(27%), or (d) I don't know (18%). Participants perceived other residents' to be relatively
attached to their neighborhood.
The second part of question twelve asked participants, "What do you think leads
them (other residents) to feel like they belong?" This question uncovered the indicators
of community attachment. Several categories emerged that describe the reasons,
according to the participants, that people come to feel a part of the neighborhood.
Involvement/participation, 25%, was the most prominent indicator of feeling a part of the
community. Duration of residence (18%) correlated with a sense of belongingness or
attachment. Many of the resident's families had lived in the neighborhood for multiple
generations, and many were born and raised in the neighborhood and have since raised
their children and grandchildren there. Community pride, 14%, included things like
wanting the community to look nice, having a love of the area and "valuing their
community and home." Homeownership (12%) was a component of attachment.
Communication (8%) included things like knowing what is going on around the
neighborhood and community and being knowledgeable of the resources available.
When people have shared experiences (6%) together, these experiences were indicators
of their attachment to the community.
The closely related final category was having interactions, 6%, with other members
of the neighborhood. Miscellaneous codes mentioned were having self-worth, trust of
others, feeling safe, the common thread of living together and being a caring person as
reasons to feel a part of the neighborhood.
Table 4.10-Analysis results of participants' responses to the questions, "How much do
you think that people feel like they are a part of the neighborhood? What do
you think leads them to feel like they belong?"
Question Codes Categories Themes Phenomena
In descending order In descending order
#12 1. Active in 1.Involvement/partici Community
How much do community activities pation attachment
you think that 2. Lived in locality for 2. Duration of
people feel like a long time residence
they are a part 3. Want area to look 3. Community pride
of the nice, valuing the
4. Homes are 4. Homeownership
What do you investments in
think leads community
them to feel 5. Being 5. Communication
like they knowledgeable of
belong? resources, know what
is going on
6. Go through good 6. Shared
and bad times together, experiences
work on projects with
7. Talk to other 7. Interaction
Question thirteen (13) asked participants, "If you could have any three things in the
world for your neighborhood, what would you wish for? Perhaps within the physical,
social and economic environment?" Three themes emerged from this data, wishes for the
social environment, physical environment and economic environment. The most
important theme was the social environmental wishes, which included more than half of
the participants' responses, 55%. The first category in this theme was participation,
21%, which referred to people participating more in community and neighborhood events
and issues, as well as people becoming empowered and taking more responsibility. The
second category was resources for the youth and elderly, 14%. These were things like
recreation programs, community centers and after-school programs. Education, 11%,
included things like vocational programs, parenting classes and improved public
education. Cultural programs, 5%, included theatre, dance and more African-American
cultural activities. A stronger faith base and more family time were two outlying codes
for this theme.
Four categories emerged under physical environmental wishes, 39%. The
categories are listed in descending order. Beautification of the neighborhood, 16%,
included things like picking up trash, planting flowers and having nicer yards.
Infrastructure improvements, 9%, included items such as speed humps, street lighting and
informational signs. Safety (7%) from crime and drugs and environmental protection
(7%) were also wishes for the physical environment.
The economic environment (7%) was the least important theme. People wished for
more money for improvements and more local business. Two miscellaneous codes were
political leadership and preservation of older homes.
Table 4.11-Analysis results for participants' responses to the question, "If you could have
any three things in the world, what would you wish for and why?"
Question Codes Categories Themes Phenomena
In descending order In descending
If you could
have any three
things in the
would you wish
programs, home visits
4. Dance, theatre,
5. Pick up trash, plant
flowers, paint over
6. Protection from
crime and drugs
7. Create more
8. Money for
2. Resources for youth
4. Cultural programs
The goal of this study was to understand the factors that motivate people to act at
the grassroots level in the context of poor communities. Action is a vital component of
community development. Social scientists, extension professionals and other community
practitioners need to know what can be done to foster community action in order to
enhance local quality of life and well-being (Luloff & Swanson, 1995). Another research
goal was to explore the barriers that prevent people from taking local action. This
chapter will connect the results from the participant interviews to relevant concepts and
theoretical framework, and complete the grounded theory process.
This study was placed in the context of poor, distressed neighborhoods. However,
economic disadvantage did not emerge in the data as a factor of community action.
Participants may be in a more fortunate economic situation than other neighborhood
residents and are not necessarily living in poverty, but living in a neighborhood where
poverty rates are high. Since poverty or distress have never prevented the participant's
from being active, it would not emerge in their response as a factor for community action.
Additionally, Klandermans (2002) discusses the importance of individual
identification with a group or cause as a motivation for grassroots action. Identifying
yourself as a member of an active group of poor residents may not produce uplifting or
motivational attitudes. Therefore, participants would not associate being poor with their
motivations for being active or involved in the neighborhood association.
Participants discussed problems such as speed humps, playground equipment,
streetlights, crime and drug dealing as community needs or concerns. Concerns about
decaying infrastructure and other related problems are probably indicators of distress.
This is because these problems may represent the different experiences of communities
that have high unemployment, low income, high poverty, unstable economics, and other
socioeconomic problems (Glasmeier, Wood & Fuellhart, 2006). Distress and a concern
for the community's needs may therefore be predictors of community action. However, I
found no clear connection between poverty and community action in this research.
The participants are highly efficacious individuals. I found that they have a high
sense of self-efficacy, and consequently possess the adaptive benefits of self-efficacy.
This is a principal motivator for grassroots community action. The concept of self-
efficacy is useful for understanding motivations to community action and for interpreting
the findings of this study. According to Bandura's theory, every individual has an
internal system which allows them to, "exercise a measure of control of their thoughts,
feelings, motivation and actions." Efficacy is defined as
people's beliefs about their capabilities to produce designated levels of
performance that exercise influence over events that affect their lives. Self-efficacy
beliefs determine how people feel, think, motivate themselves and behave.
(Bandura, 1994, pp. 1)
Efficacy plays an important role in the explanation of these data. Self-efficacy is a
task-specific characteristic. When I refer to self-efficacy in this discussion, it is in
reference to participants' community action self-efficacy. Three questions were designed
to directly test this theory. I propose a model to fit all of the study's concepts
dynamically and collectively.
Question nine yielded very important evidence about participants' self-efficacy.
Individuals gauge the effects of their actions, and their interpretations of these effects
help create their efficacy beliefs (Pajares, 1997). All of the participants were aware of
the impact of their work. Nearly two-thirds, 63%, felt that their work had a lot of impact,
the highest rating possible on the scalar response. The participants are aware of their
capabilities as grassroots community leaders because of the high rates of perceived
success. Outcomes interpreted as successful raise self-efficacy and contribute to high
participant self-efficacy (Bandura, 1994).
The emergent themes from the second part of the question, mastery experience and
verbal persuasion, were the justifications for participants' evaluation of the impacts they
have. These results also support the self-efficacy model. Bandura identifies mastery
experience as one of the four sources of efficacy, and as the most effective way of
building self-efficacy (1994). The data support this model because 86% of the answers
fit into the mastery experience theme. "I think I feel like most of the time it's just that I
can look back and see a lot of things we have accomplished. The things that stand out I
guess are the GED classes we have, the computer classes we have." This was how one
participant described one of their impactful events. Participants' past experiences with
community work, including seeing projects come to fruition, accomplishing change in
their neighborhoods, and actions reaching back to the civil rights movement, are primary
sources of their beliefs.
The following quote captures the model well, "I certainly feel like I made an
impact because if I didn't, I wouldn't be here spinnin' my wheels for such a long time."
Accomplishing tasks along the way and the development in participants' communities
provides the endurance to pursue development of community (Wilkinson, 1991,
We will see later that efficacy also appears to be a source of enduring and
perseverant motivation for community action. Additionally, verbal persuasions are one
of the four sources of efficacy established by Bandura (1994), and this also emerged from
Sources of Self-efficacy and
Figure 5.1: Sources of Community action self-efficacy as predictors for community
Question three also substantiated participants' high self-efficacy. Participants
described what had initially motivated them to become involved in community crime
watch work. Perceived neighborhood needs were an important predictor for action,
corroborating research findings that community concern motivates residents to act
(Omoto & Snyder, 2002). These include all neighborhood problems that were either
recognized by the participants, or recognized and discussed with other neighborhood
residents. People behave and act purposively in response to their interactions and the
impressions they draw from their connections with others (Brennan, 2005). Such
conditions contribute to action (Wilkinson, 1991). Participants heard concurring attitudes
regarding the needs of the neighborhood through interactions with other residents. These
interactions then enforce the perception of these needs. Additionally, participants'
mastery experience in solving problems allows them to see neighborhood needs more
Sources of Self-efficacy and
Figure 5.2: Interaction, percieved needs and mastery experience work together as sources
of self-efficacy and as predictors for community action
Participants cited two other categories as motivations to initial action in the
neighborhood watch, previous experience and psychological state. These categories fit
Bandura's model of self-efficacy (1994). Some of the participants' previous experience
dated back. For example
Well, when civil rights in the 1950's, I was very much involved with that. I went
up to the second march in Alabama. We did picketing here, I was arrested in two
or three places right here in Florida. We did sit ins and all stuff. I was the first
black who got a card to the library here. I was the first black who integrated the
United Way board. I was the first black to join the democratic club at the time.
Such intense and powerful experiences afforded the participants a solid foundation
of self-efficacy. People learn that they are a powerful and capable agent of change when
they have seen the effect and impact their individual actions can make. Previous
experience was the strongest source of efficacy in this study, in accordance with
Humanitarianism was the primary component of psychological state. There may be
an interesting feedback loop that cyclically motivates individuals to act. People receive
positive messages from individuals when they participate in a positive action. The
positive message lets the participants know that what they were doing was successful and
is valued by others. This social support influences their psychological state because
participants feel better about themselves knowing that their actions have a positive effect
on others. Participants continue to be motivated to act in order to maintain that positive
feeling. Participants' awareness of their positive effect on people builds self-efficacy.
Sources of Self-efficacy and
Figure 5.3: Feedback loop between mastery experience, social support, psychological
state and self-efficacy
Some participants expressed a desire to empower and enable other residents to act
as their motivation for initial action. They wanted to mobilize the untapped human
resources available in the neighborhood. One of the barriers participants faced was the
lack of participation from other residents. Social reformers, like the participants, can see
the long and intermediate-term benefits of mobilizing human potential (Bandura, 1994).
Participants' motivation to mobilize the local human resource potential may also
motivate them to overcome the barrier of low participation. This motivation in the face of
apathy is one of the benefits of high self-efficacy.
Question 10 was similar in nature to question three. It asked participants what kept
them energized to do their work, especially in the face of the many barriers they cited.
The themes that emerged from this question, motivational processes, affective processes
and cognitive processes match three of Bandura's four major efficacy-activated
psychological processes (1994).
Humanitarianism is a psychological motivation for community action. One
participant described the motivation as
What keeps me energized is the need, and knowing that whenever someone is
being helped its quite rewarding to be able to assist them when they are in need.
That's the thing that energizes you.
These finding concur with those of Omoto and Snyder's (2002) because people
participate in action to express humanitarian interests. The rewarding feeling of helping a
fellow resident provides more social support and feedback to one's motivational
Participants directly expressed their innate stubbornness and unyielding strength to
accomplish tasks in their community no matter what the obstacle. This was an indicator
of participants perseverance and resiliency in their community action work, and therefore
to their self-efficacy. Perseverance and resiliency are the most common indicators of the
efficacy activated cognitive and motivational processes (Bandura, 1994). One would not
be willing to give up on accomplishing a task if they have a strong belief in their
capabilities to accomplish that task. "Oh, I don't like for folks to tell me no. I don't
accept no. I just immediately think of a way to get around the no because I do always
think there's a way." Self-efficacy beliefs determine how much effort people expend and
how long and in what ways they will persevere in the face of obstacles (Bandura, 1994).
These neighborhood watch leaders knew that their community's needs were valid and
reasonable. Additionally, they felt that if they weren't the individuals initiating the
process, the solutions would never come to pass. One participant talked about her
resiliency in dealing with government bureaucracy
Sometimes just getting frustrated with the red tape and going to one agency and
saying, no, not this agency. And how 'bout you? Not you, who then? So just
going through that sometime frustrate people and people just give up, but I don't
care. I stay on the phone until you say fine. I'm persistent. You know they say the
old squeaky wheel gets the oil. I'm one of those people that I will worry you until
they say ok. Sometimes you gotta just be there and just keep doing it until
somebody says alright.
Three or four participants used the same "squeaky wheel" metaphor, demonstrating
their shared characteristics of perseverance and self-efficacy. Also, a few participants
talked about how a role model had inspired them to keep going in the face of obstacles.
The vicarious experiences of leaders from participants' pasts served as a source of
efficacy, as indicated by their strong perseverance.
The third theme and component to Bandura's efficacy activated processes were the
affective processes. Participant's optimistic views and their beliefs in God helped to
develop their coping capabilities in the face of barriers (Bandura, 1994). Their optimism
shows that they see the potential that can be realized in their community through
continued action, and this fuels the vision they have for their neighborhood. "When I look
around me and I see that need, and maybe for a while longer something might click."
The adaptive benefits of affective processes help reduce stress and anxiety, allowing
participants' motivation to remain relatively high (Bandura, 1994).
Sources of Self-efficacy and
Figure 5.4: Self-efficacy creates four self-efficacy activated processes as predictors for
Attachment to community emerged as a significant motivation for action. People
are more likely to improve their local conditions and the conditions of their fellow
community members when they feel like they are a part of a community (Omoto &
Snyder 2002). Question two provided information about participants' attachment to their
neighborhood. The median for years of leadership was 6, showing participants'
commitment to their leadership role in their neighborhood associations. The leadership
position in most cases is a one-year commitment, but I found that (a) no one else was
willing to step up to the role and/or (b) residents were pleased with the work that was
being done in many of the cases. Many participants were so strongly attached to the
purpose and mission of the neighborhood watch groups that they had little to no desire to
relinquish their leadership responsibilities. One participant said, "This is what I want to
do, this is what I am. Not gonna give up."
Question twelve examined the role of community attachment in motivating
grassroots action. Duration of residence was a primary indicator of community
attachment or belongingness, which corroborates previous findings. Previous studies
have found that length of residence correlates strongly to community attachment (Austin
and Baba 1990; Brown 1993; Goudy 1990; Kasarda and Janowitz 1974; St. John, Austin,
and Baba 1986; Theodori and Luloff 2000). A median residence period of 38 years is a
long time by any standards, a strong testament to the high level of community attachment
among participants, which in turn led to a high investment of time and energy in their
neighborhoods. When this participant was asked what made her feel connected to the
community she said, "Question one; [I've lived here for] Forty-nine years. My father
was raised there, I was raised there, my aunt still lives there, my grandmother lives there.
I mean, it's home."
Several other categories that emerged under this theme corroborate the literature
about attachment and community action. Homeownership was the third most important
indicator of community attachment. Austin and Baba also found that homeownership was
a predictor for community action (1990). The psychological difference between renting
and owning a home can affect one's motivation to act.
I think that homeowners feel so much a part. We have a lot of rental property in
our area and sometimes folk may not care that much about rental property, it's not
the same. Renting and owning are just two different things to most people. I'm not
saying that all people aren't taking care if they're renting. But homeownership
gives a sense of pride and a sense of worth, and when they own that home they
want to take care of it and get involved and feel a part in the neighborhood so we
have a lot of that going on.
The investment in a home can motivate residents to engage in activities that
enhance and protect their investment. "The pride of ownership, the learning that goes
into maintaining property, and the sense that a variety of basic problems have been
solved are all empowering to community residents." (Rubin & Rubin, 2001, pp. 79). One
participant said, "It's like people have an investment there in terms of their lives and
that's why when something comes up, [drug dealing], they feel like hey, this is mine, you
don't have a right to come in here." Pride in ownership, can build esteem and efficacy in
residents' community action efforts.
It was kind of like we had to deal with [drugs] 'cause we basically, its not [wealthy
area of town] folks! And you get that feeling like well, you've got to put up with
that stuff. And finally it was like, you know, no, we don't have to put up with that
stuff. Just because we're not living in five hundred thousand dollar homes doesn't
mean we have to live with drug dealers next door. And you know, I think people
have seen that they do have a voice in that and they can make something happen.
Community pride was another category under the attachment theme. Residents
stated that people feel a sense of belongingness when they take pride and care about their
neighborhood. One participant describes this as a source of motivation: "You have to
have pride and feel a part of something in order to keep things neat and in place. You
have to feel a part of it." This creates a valued social identity for individuals as they
identify with and connect to their locality (Crocker & Luhtanen, 1990; Turner, Hogg,
Oakes, Reicher & Wetherell, 1987). People will voluntarily participate or join when they
feel a social identification with a group or cause (Klandermans 2002). This behavior is
an indication of their strong identification. A sense of pride and belongingness is an
indicator of attachment, and a predictor for action.
The last component that emerged as an indicator of community attachment was
having common experiences. One participant described this sense of camaraderie vividly
In think when they see each other. Feel each other's concerns. When they are with
each other through trials and tribulations. When they are with each other through
death, through births, through hard times. When they know that somebody is
watching out for them. When they can just stand in their yards and talk and share a
moment that is common to them. When they feel safe enough to feel a part, to
move around. When they're asked, and when they're listened to. When they speak
up and when we follow through.
Here, the link between sharing common experiences and length of residence is
present. Both are significant indicators of attachment.
These common experiences may also be memorable interactions and
communications between residents, both of which appeared as indicators of community
attachment. Attachment influences the extent to which residents are willing to interact
and engage in activities together (Hummon, 1990; Brown, 1991; Fischer, 1991;
Wilkinson, 1991; Theodori, 2000; Theodori and Luloff, 2000). Interaction and common
experiences breed communication. Connections and interactions within the community
increase communication between community members providing support and consensus
for solving local problems and overcoming barriers to effective action (Simon et al.,
1998; Simon et al., 2002). These basic interactions are the building blocks of community
(Wilkinson, 1991). The data show that these concepts are indicators of community
attachment, and are most likely not mutually exclusive. Common experiences,
communication, and interaction may all have dynamic interactions with each other. I did
not examine these interactions well enough in this study to make a prediction about the
strength and direction of these relationships.
Sources of Self-efficacy and Self-efficacy
Community Attachment Activated
Interaction Persuasions Cognitive
Res urces Community Action
-- action Selective
Perceived needs I --
T Mastery Experience
Length of Communityr Homeownership
Figure 5.5: Sources of community attachment as predictors for community action
The last category that emerged as an indicator of attachment is an interesting
finding of this study. The data suggests that involvement and participation in community
activities lead residents to feel they are a part of the neighborhood. How can
participation be an indicator for community attachment if community attachment is a
motivation for participation in community action? A cyclical relationship my be present
between participation in community activities and attachment. Participation generates
positive feelings of attachment. This leads residents to continually participate in order to
maintain those positive feelings, creating a positive feedback loop. The participants
exhibit behaviors that indicate the presence of this feedback loop (high attachment) in
their motivational processes.
When participants have had a positive mastery experience in community activities,
that experience confirms participant's beliefs in their attachment because it acts in a
feedback loop. Mastery experience is the most important source of self-efficacy beliefs
(Bandura, 1994). Previous experience in community action raises participants' self-
efficacy. This experience generates the efficacy activated selection processes by
influencing the types of activities and environments in which participants choose to act
(Bandura, 1994). Participants will select environments they judge themselves capable of
handling. By selecting to participate in more community activities based on previous
experience, participants further cultivate their interest (or attachment) in their
neighborhood, as well as the social networks that surround them (Bandura, 1994).
Therefore, participation in community action increases self-efficacy, which then
increases community attachment. In sum, attachment previous experience and self-
efficacy are inter-related. A feedback relationship exists between participation and
Sources of Self-efficacy and
Figure 5.6: Feedback loop between mastery experience, self-efficacy, efficacy-activated
processes and community attachment
Question thirteen examined the ecological framework of citizen participation. This
relates participation to the physical, economic and social environments as predictors for
participation in grassroots community organizing (Perkins et al., 1996). The data support
the model. Participants identified "wishes" for neighborhood improvements. Most of
these existed within the social environment, physical environment, and a small
percentage discussed improvements for the economic environment. It was expected that
economic improvements would emerge as a larger theme because of the poor
socioeconomic context of this study. Participants may possess positive adaptive
perceptions about their neighborhood. Living in a poor area has not prevented them from
being active, so they would not need economic improvements to make their
neighborhood perception better.
Over half of the "wishes" for participants' neighborhoods were social in nature,
mostly that other residents would participate in community action. Social reformers
strongly believe that they can mobilize the collective effort needed to bring about social
change (Bandura, 1994). It therefore makes sense that the largest category for this
question was participant desire for increased levels of participation. Participants also
wanted to empower others to act in their community. Personal and social changes rely
extensively on methods of empowerment (Bandura, 1988). Vasoo (1991) contends that
over the long run, grassroots mobilization and citizen participation should encourage
people to become more self reliant in social and economic activities and participate more
in neighborhood and community activities. Various governments use this mechanism to
encourage local residents to take an active interest as volunteers (Vasoo, 1991). Many
local problems which cannot be solved without the cooperation of grassroots leaders and
the capacity of its residents (Vasoo, 1991). Participants were not involved in these
endeavors to accomplish everything on their own. Many of them suggested that they
were merely a "catalyst" for action by informing participants of what resources were
available and wanted their residents to be independent so they knew how to act on their
own. One participant ingeniously described this process
A lot of times I think education and educating people to what's out there, and what
they can do is something that gives them- that empowers them. It's like if I know
abut the guy in the codes office, I know the guy, I've met him. I've sat down next
to him at meetings, I know what he looks like so if I have a problem, I don't mind
picking up the phone and saying, 'Walter, here's what the problem is and if you
don't know the answer, who might? Who can I call'. So ... again, education is the
key for me because if I know how this thing is supposed to work then if I have a
problem, I don't feel intimidated about calling.
Education can be a powerful tool in motivating others to act. It empowers residents
by informing them of the resources they can use to make a difference, and likely build
their community action self-efficacy. Studies indicate that methods of empowerment
operate through the self-efficacy mechanism (Bandura, 1986). Education and awareness
of community resources emerge as a source of self-efficacy. I will continue this
discussion later in the chapter.
It was interesting that beautification and infrastructure improvements were the
largest categories under the physical environment theme. These improvements are both
very tangible effects of change: It provides comfort, satisfaction and a sense of
accomplishment to local residents because they can actually see the difference they made.
Tangible change also emerged as an indicator of participants' self-efficacy. The visibility
of change is very important for participants' belief in the process of community change,
as a testament to their actions and as reminders of their previous experiences. Tangible
reminders are helpful in times of frustration and fatigue because there has to be a reason
to keep "spinnin' your wheels".
High social support appears to be an important contributor to community action
motivation. Three-quarters of the families of participants were supported their
participation. This finding corroborates Vasoo's study, which suggested that high social
support conditions act as an incentive or motivator to grassroots action (1991). This is
important for the sustainability of community action tasks. According to ecological
theory, one's family is their most immediate and intimate social environment, followed
by their neighborhood, and community (Bronfenbrenner, 1986). Six of the participants
mentioned that their spouses were also involved in community activities. Approval by
people who are important to the participant make it easy for them to devote their time and
energy to their community work. This is because social support can eliminate potential
barriers to action like guilt from not spending more time with family. Social supporters
therefore contribute to participants' belief in the purpose of their community tasks, as
well as their abilities to accomplish them.
However, lack of social support from an intimate partner was the cause of one
participant's divorce. During the interview, this participant was describing the support
she currently receives from her family, and then said, "That's one of the reasons how
come I don't have a husband today. He didn't like my going out bit and I knew back then
it wasn't gonna work and you know it was time for him to hit the door." This participant
has high attachment and devotion to her work in the community which allowed her to
overcome negative social support.
Nearly two-thirds of the participants were active in organizations and programs
outside of their neighborhood watch work. When I asked participants about what they
were involved in, many had difficulty recalling all of the organizations and causes they
had belonged to throughout the years. Seven of the participants were retired and had
enough free time to devote to community work. The other participants worked full time
and could not afford to commit to other activities than the neighborhood watch group. I
concluded that these participants interact across diverse social fields and cultivate the
emergence of a community field, according to field theory (Wilkinson, 1991). Their
tasks and actions focused on development in their community, which theoretically lead to
the development of community (Summers, 1986). Participants can be identified as
theoretical agents of community development because of their varied interactions and
task accomplishments in their neighborhoods.
Another implication of the extensive and diversified community involvement of
participants is that their interactions lead to increased communication and networking.
Through these interactions, participants develop an understanding of what to know, and
most importantly, who to know in the community in order to get tasks accomplished.
These interactions put leaders in contact with many human, financial, infrastructural,
social and political resources, enabling them to fill the needs of their neighborhoods. The
increased resources, confidence and esteem that come from the experience of community
and community action further develops participants' psychological empowerment, in
concurrence with previous research (Corrigan, Faber, Rashid & Leary, 1999; Rogers,
Chamberlin, Ellison & Crean, 1997; Zimmerman, Israel, Schulz & Checkoway, 1992).
More resources and higher efficacy in community action can contribute to individuals'
motivation to action.
The awareness of available resources is important to discuss with respect to
participants' perceived barriers to action. The bureaucracy of government agencies was
one of the primary perceived barriers. Bureaucracy is easier to maneuver when you
know which person or office you need to contact, as well as when you personally know
the person you need to contact to get a permit, or get updates on new grants and
programs. One participant described it as, "we try to establish partnerships with some of
those [agencies] so they can be ongoing, not just for the moment, ongoing." Another
participant, who had worked in the community all her life, said that, "you need to know
how to keep your hand on the pulse with the activities and reactions, and pro and actions
and nonactions and everything else." Participation in diverse activities and interactions
increases community knowledge, and therefore increases access to resources by virtue of
I continue the discussion about community resources using data from question six.
This concerned who the participants count on to accomplish tasks for their neighborhood,
or essentially, the accessible resources they use to accomplish these tasks. The resources
from participants' personal environment, family and fellow neighborhood watch
members, provide the positive effects of high social support as a motivation for
community action. The people in participants' personal environment exist in the same
geographic area, or locality as them. They interact with these people frequently (Luloff,
1990). Consequently, participants' personal environments facilitate positive interactions
that lead to social support and become a resource for community action, as well as a
source of community action self-efficacy.