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Social Action - Overview

Page history last edited by Robert Hackett 4 years, 4 months ago

Front Page / Bonner Program Resources / Social Action / Overview



Social Action

Overview  |  Guides  |  Campus Examples  |  Documents to Download


Social action aims to change policies and is a core strategy for the “justice oriented citizen” described in “What Kind of Citizen? The Politics of Educating for Democracy” by Joel Westheimer and Joseph Kahne (American Educational Research Journal; Summer 2004).  The other two models of good citizen — personally responsible and participatory — are mirrored in the direct service and service leadership approaches that have been a part of the Bonner Program from its beginning.  


With the support of Scott Myers-Lipton, professor of sociology from San Jose State University, we have begun to introduce a community engagement course model through which students learn social action theory and practice while also launching (or joining) a social action campaign during the academic semester in which the course is taught.  


As Scott writes in the forward to his book, "Change! A Student Guide to Social Action:


"This approach “has the student analyze a problem and develop a solution, but also implement it. Instead of just reading about social change, students learn about it by actually doing it. Of course, students will still use ‘book knowledge,’ but the idea is that this knowledge will be challenged by what is learned from social action, by developing a more critical and deeper understanding of public issues and community change by integrating praxis with theory, while at the same time changing social structure.  Thus, this book provides an action-oriented, solutions-based experience of social change.”


In some instances, the campaigns students take on will be inspired by conditions confronted through their direct service in the community.  It may be informed by a community-based research project they conducted with as part of a class project.  And, in the process, they will come to understand an issue by researching a PolicyOptions Issue Brief that brings together information on the scope of the problem, past policy milestones, current policies, model programs or policy options, and key organizations and individuals.


In other words, learning how to engage in social action rounds out the skills, knowledge, and collective action goals of the Bonner Program model for student development and community engagement.  


Main Areas of Competency for Community Change Studies 


Tools of collective action 

  • Skills in eliciting participation 
  • Bringing people together to participate
  • Developing consensus 
  • Community organizing 
  • Developing leadership 
  • Moving people into action 
  • Developing programs 
  • Building coalitions, alliances and partnerships 
  • Building broader efforts and movements 
  • Using different strategies for impact – services, development, advocacy, etc. 
  • Developing accountable, sustainable organizations 
  • “Managing”, starting with being systematic, leading teams, And then developing advanced management and leadership skills  

Strategic thinking, analysis, and reflection (STAR)

  • Self-awareness and identity 
  • Understanding culture, race, class, gender, etc. 
  • Centering your work in community values 
  • Understanding the environment in which you work, power analysis, economics, social structure, culture 
  • Reflective practice 
  • Strategic thinking, planning 
  • Action research, especially participatory action research (PAR) and Citizen Monitoring 
  • Evaluation and organizational learning  

Issue expertise (e.g. public health, women’s issues, community development)

  • Understanding the immediate issue or project 
  • Understanding its root causes 
  • Understanding underlying policy issues 
  • Understanding how decisions are made, who makes them, and what points of intervention exist
  • Identifying potential partners and allies 
  • Being equipped with the facts and technical analysis needed 
  • Developing vision and direction for achieving growing, longer-term success on the issue