Finally, a book that offers a practical yet well-researched guide for practitioners seeking to hone the way they show up in citizen space. At a time when public trust in institutions is at its lowest, expectations of those institutions to make people well, knowledgeable, and secure are rapidly increasing. These expectations are unrealistic, causing disenchantment and disengagement among citizens and increasing levels of burnout among many professionals. Rekindling Democracy is not just a practical guide; it goes further in setting out a manifesto for a more equitable social contract to address these issues. Rekindling Democracy argues convincingly that industrialized countries are suffering through a democratic inversion, where the doctor is assumed to be the primary producer of health, the teacher of education, the police officer of safety, and the politician of democracy. Through just the right blend of storytelling, research, and original ideas, Russell argues instead that in a functioning democracy the role of the professionals ought to be defined as that which happens after the important work of citizens is done. The primary role of the twenty-first-century practitioner, therefore, is not a deliverer of top-down services, but a precipitator of more active citizenship and community building.
And then finally there is thé book by Cormac Russell. Many people know his TedTalk, others hung on his lips during a speech, still others have experienced his ABCD training. And everything, really everything Cormac has told, experienced, gained insights and especially heard from hundreds of communities all over the world is now packed in 253pages in this book. It is the future standard work for professionals in community building. And then it is so beautiful as a citizen of Deventer (Netherlands)that this international book just starts in Deventer. With Carin and Lotte, two local residents who lit the fire in themselves and in the neighborhood to make their neighborhood the warmest community in the whole world. They did this together with hundreds of local residents and a red-yellow scarf… Cormac Russell makes it clear that neighborhoods can only grow stronger if it is really about the story of the people who live there. How to visualize that story and almost protect it from the benevolent meddling of institutions, you read in Rekindle Democracy. But also how professionals can support residents, by choosing radically (in the best meaning of this word) for the story of the community and less for the policy story of the institutions. “The Cavalry” in Cormac Russells words. The book is many, but literally well worded. Time and time again, it makes clear to us that social change does not start with big words, but with small inspiring actions by a sometimes (still) small group. Ordinary people who are able to share passion, deeds and human warmth. That is not a special story. Rekindle Democracy makes it clear to us that this is happening all over the world.
Most discussions about community speak on platitudes; instead Cormac dives deep into the sociology of what it takes to actually create community. He introduces us to Connectors, Conductors, Circuit Breakers and Dynamos. For all those familiar with Malcolm Gladwell and his seminal book, The Tipping Point, and his definitions of Mavens, Connectors and Salespeople – Cormac’s philosophy will be easy to grab hold of. Aside from Gladwell and Russell though, few burrow down into the mechanics of how community actually happens.
Two things ring true in Cormac’s book. The first is that we are not problems to be solved, waiting passively to be served. Each one of us are opportunities to be realized, both for ourselves and in the context of those around us in our communities. It’s not that our government needs to be participatory … our society needs to be also.
And second, Cormac continually uses the word “rekindle.” He doesn’t propose revolution or disruption, so often bantered around in reformist communities. Anyone who’s spent time camping knows that gathering kindling for the camp fire is the management of the resources at hand, a process in itself – and one of continual exploration. It’s using what’s nearby to provide heat, warmth and sustainability. Whether conscious or not, Cormac is using this metaphor in his vision of an inclusive resourceful society.
If you are truly are concerned about being part of the solution during these tumultuous times, where the only thing that is certain is uncertainty - Russell's "Rekindling Democracy" would be an excellent guide to take you on your journey.
Since my first encounter with Cormac he has become a source of inspiration, wisdom, encouragement, and challenge for me in my community building with my neighbours. But deeper than that he has become a companion on a journey of discovery assisting me, and many others, to find the hidden treasure in the abundance of our communities. This book is another wonderful encounter with Cormac offering deep insight, knowledge, stories, theory, wisdom, experiences, and good examples.
As always with all my encounters with Cormac I come away thinking I have learned something deeply transformative, revolutionary and ground-breaking. But strangely I always feel this isn’t necessarily anything I didn’t know already (sorry Cormac!). The wisdom chimes deeply with something rooted in me, and my encounters with my neighbours. I feel like I am being encouraged to join in a beautiful symphony being played around the world by making links to the moments of magic that I’ve experienced when the invisible assets within my neighbours become visible in all their abundance.
I believe you will come away from reading this book not only more equipped to build community alongside your neighbours using an asset-based approach, but also feeling more able to be a better citizen, neighbour and human being!"
Attending a Cormac Russell presentation always leaves me wanting more. More stories, more lessons and more revelations. Rekindling Community is that more. It's the complete Cormac. A guide to rethinking, refreshing and reversing the current course of our democracies in favour of nurturing the caring actions of so called ordinary citizens. And of course as Cormac nicely illustrates this is not a pipe dream. Everyday, everywhere people are stepping up and doing their bit – caring for each other as well as for the birds, rocks, trees... Rekindling Community lets them know their actions count. It connects the dots between what they and others are doing. And it reminds us that when we confront adversity with love and ingenuity, democracy breaks out.
Cormac is an inspirational author and academic who challenges the mainstream through his authentic and credible arguments for the importance of citizen centred approaches.
Through this book, Cormac pulls no punches in holding up the mirror to those in power presenting to those who operate in the civic realm to be mindful when then show up in communities through programmes and outside interventions. This book constructively challenges the current state of our society through a carefully interwoven narrative that reflects on the wider economic and structural nature of society and accentuates the importance of the local through powerful stories
It provides a wake up call to those in power to reflect on the way society is organised and how citizens can reorganise civic space to genuinely build community power. By powerfully presenting the argument of the neighbourhood as “the primary unit of change” it presents a challenge to capitalism and post-industrial society calling for reclamation of the commons.
In current times as the state further relinquishes control and greater expectation is placed on citizens to take the lead through the rise of centralised ‘people powered’ approaches the book contains powerful lessons for those who work in the civic space and beyond. It asks those who are in power to think differently about how they deal with national tragedies to not see this as a failure of the systems and institutions, and further evidence we need more services but a need for citizen centred approaches that encourage the power of communities to mobilise their assets to build relational power and to bring about change from the inside out.
One of the biggest challenges the book presents is to those who are developing ABCD practice within the context of their institutions. It opens up some powerful questions that enable those involved to reflect on the challenges in procuring or commissioning an Asset Based approach and the potential inherent conflicts it presents.
As well as presenting a challenge to the institutions, organisations and corporations that intervene in the civic realm, the book also presents an opportunity for those involved in developing and enabling citizen led approaches to reflect on their own role in building community power.
The book presents a powerful argument for those working in the civic realm to reflect and think about how they can uphold the principles of collaboration rather than competition. It seeks to bridge the divide between actors in the social change space holding up them to account and challenging them around the values of co-operation rather than competition.
It opens up the opportunity to explore why an allegiance or alliance of organisation working around citizen led activities needs to be convened.
But most importantly, the book leaves a rallying cry to the people… “we are out best hope for the future, but only if we can learn to act powerfully together and become its fruitful producers”
This is a magnificent book. If like myself you are a professional it will cause you to think, to reconsider and to be inspired to do better. It is at times both uncomfortable and thought provoking.I read it, and wanted to talk to Cormac about it! Always the sign of a good book when it sets you off on a train of thinking and ideas. Mandy Cowden.
It is time to reboot democracy by rekindling community. Cormac Russell subtly weaponises this seemingly benign and fluffy thought with an argument that hits hard if you let it. It is not institutions or the state that help people survive or thrive. In every instance – from heat waves to healthcare – the solution is Community. Connectedness and active citizenship are shown to be foundational for wellbeing yet systematically undervalued and undermined.
Neighbourhoods are places in need of recovery and maturation. This book is searching for White Swans – “communities of place where the culture of reciprocity is palpable”. The journey takes a sweeping route through mass manipulation and the commodification of care, cargo cults and disabling professionals, the marginalisation of society by economic imperatives and the need for a more neighbourly economy.
The clarion call is for “a greater level of relatedness at the street level”, which is clearly outside the realm of service provision but uniquely within the competence and control of people in the neighbourhood. The book is brimming with solutions, there are many inspirational stops along the way, and true to Russell’s long term commitment, it always comes back to using local assets to grow civic power and community wellbeing.
[I wrote this review in Jan 2019; the book is of even greater relevance now as we begin to emerge from the pandemic with more widespread understanding of the importance of local community action]
In the face of racism, climate change, the erosion of democracy, a growing gap between rich and poor, and epidemics ranging from loneliness to COVID-19, Cormac Russell reminds us that there is no substitute for the power of the people. Rekindling Democracy demonstrates that these overwhelming global problems can best be addressed at the scale of our neighborhoods and that the key agents of change are our neighbors working together as a community. Citing examples from all over the world, Russell gives us reason to believe that our local efforts are part of a global community building movement that is truly transformative.
All of my professional life, and all my life before that, I have watched as professionals of all kinds have made their careers by trying to help people who are 'marginalised'. Sometimes, this work and these interventions have been life saving. Other times, these interventions have made bad situations worse. This book is essential reading for anyone in the health and social care sector who plies their trade in communities that they do not live in and, to be brutal, do not understand. Reading this book will help any professional to avoid their work becoming (to quote the title of another great book) part of a 'Poverty Safari'.
Rekindling Community is a timely reminder of what's essential to a healthy democratic societies -- the ability to mobilize community assets for the common good, the daily practice of democracy with neighbors, and strong local economies that share wealth. There's no more relevant book today as we suffer so deeply from social isolation, political polarization, and widening inequalities. To heal as a nation and meet daunting 21st century challenges like climate change, we must first restore our ability to work together. Rekindling Community shows us how.
Cormac Russell puts right the absence of a coherent political narrative that places citizens at the centre of democracy by creating it here with a wonderful cast of conspirators who join him in questioning certainties, in challenging the masters of maintaining the status quo and in seeing through the masks of love worn by progressives and professional helpers. We’re invited on a voyage of discovery towards a citizen-centred democracy that starts small with neighbourhoods as primary units of change, but thinks big with citizens, not governments, as the primary producers of a future characterised by free expression and free association for all.
Rekindling Democracy is one of those books that repay more than one reading especially if, like me, you keep finding yourself nodding along and agreeing. A part of the pleasure is thinking of who to gift a copy to, whilst remembering to keep your own note filled copy. Releasing nuggets and the every present turn of phrase inviting to be shared. To find your core ideas and beliefs so eloquently summarised and then developed and taken to new places is comforting and also on reflection part of the challenge. Rekindling Democracy is the call to us all; the sub title – a professional’s guide - leaves me not quite shaking my disquiet. I don’t want the professional’s guide to working in citizen’s space; I want the citizen’s guide to extending what feels like the precious spaces of being able to exercise our citizen muscles. I look forward to the citizen’s guide to taking back our spaces from the professionals. I also look forward to seeing developed is the political sphere, the current framing of the citizen’s space. There is both the diagnosis and the way to respond. The book is full of practical models and frameworks, ideas and ways of behaving which will be of value to all people of goodwill. There is a moment and mood which is precious and I hope is captured before the system exerts its pulls of reverting back to the norm, of linking in those who champion people over procedures, place over policy and connections over processes. One of those books you hope everyone making decisions and looking to make a difference has read, reflected on, taken notes and most importantly acted in the spirit of Rekindling Democracy.
Our postman, a man from Niger once told me: “I am surprised that you Belgians tend to turn to the administration for issues which you could easily resolve on your own. If you only spoke with your neighbors …” Why do we need to recover our ability to act for the common good with our neighbors? And how shall we do it? As I work with my own village, Rekindling Community gives me the words to answer the former and criteria to put in place the latter. The book does not stop there, as it opens pathways for institutions to reshape their role so that neighbors regain the space for local democracy to flourish.
This book pulls together all the currently available literature and themes that surround the Asset-Based Community Development movement, combined with his own experiences, into one, easy-to-read and accessible tome of the field. It's a must-read for anyone interested in ABCD, and all future theoretical development will be standing on the shoulders of this giant.
Having heard Cormac talk about communities previously, I was intrigued as to how his ability to inspire an audience would translate to text. This book definitely provides the combination of inspiration and challenge that we’d expect from him. Cormac challenges us to consider our position personally and professionally within society, and even if we think we are attempting to facilitate change alongside communities – are we really doing that? His Seven Habits of Institutional Radicals and Seven Habits of Highly Connected People, help us reflect on how effective we actually are.
There are some fantastic quotes that sum up the dilemmas many of us working in the service sector face. For example, “community building is not simply about referring people to different programs; instead it is about disrupting power within professions and relocating authority to uncredentialled people and their associations”. This is key as the risk is that statutory institutions think they have achieved a relocation of care into the community by purely involving the third sector, however this can be just another tier of institution, and not an ‘associational life’. As Cormac writes ‘social progress is about the expansion of freedom, not the growth of services’. ‘Rekindling Democracy’ addresses some of the challenges of our ageing society, and describes the tendency for institutions to think ‘how are we to reach everybody and ensure that everybody’s needs are met?’. The reality is institutions will never achieve this, we cannot replace the functions of community, however, so much energy and resource is spent on trying to do more rather than do less and shift power.
Cormac talks about cultural atrophy how people lose confidence in their own power as they hand it over to ‘professional helpers’, and how what people used to do for themselves and each other has been ‘outsourced to serviceland’. The answer, Cormac believes is in ‘connections, networks, associations and social movements, and that this can be achieved by redefining institutions and relocating authority to people and associations. In his conclusions, Cormac warns us of progressives, I think many of us will relate examples of ‘top down’ innovations, using all the correct terms such as ‘asset based community development’ but actually delivering an institutionalised model and not embracing the real ethos of the social change that this book describes. It won’t be easy flipping from institutionalising behaviour to deinstitutionalising behaviour across society, but Cormac helps navigate this challenge and introduces a range of examples and authors to guide the way.
I read this book in one sitting, and felt as inspired as I always am with what Cormac has to say. This book will allow me to stay challenged, to reflect, to share and to reposition my thoughts and actions as I continue to strive to do the right thing in the right way. The seven essential functions of a rekindled community, Cormac reminds us cannot be found in the board room, but on our streets
From the 19th Century Charities attempting to augment public sector intervention in addressing pauperism, through to the professionalization of community development, we have in recent times, been forced to critique community engagement strategies which by and large have become exclusionary, impoverishing, patronizing, paternalistic and homogenising.
"Rekindling Democracy" moves us from colonial and post-colonial models which disempower ( and still do) towards, and this is the genius of Cormac Russell, asking agencies how to "create more space so communities can provide the things they value". There are countless books on Participation, Community Development, Citizenship and Local Democracy but few have powerfully and internationally illustrated and evidenced what HAS been achieved when communities cease being "colonized by top-down institutional ways and grow power from the inside out"
This is in my view, after 40 years in social work and community development a seminal work from the pen of Mr Russell. Only those working in local town halls or charities willing to grasp the questions posed, meet the challenges and shift their mindsets, will be able to appreciate it!
Cormac has provided us with nothing less than a manifesto on how to live well and how we all need to act to provide this good life. His great talent of getting a message across with easy to understand thoughts and stories allows the reader to engage and feel that they are part of the narrative. The subjects covered are abundant and the depth of Cormac's knowledge and experience comes very much to the fore.
As he says in the book
"...we are human, fallible, finite, and fabulous. Gloriously interdependent with all that was and is to be, from stardust to the salty tears of a lover’s grieving remembrance, we are our brothers’, sisters’, and planet’s keepers. Onwards!"
Onwards, indeed. A book for people serious in changing the way we live for the better.
Rekindling Democracy offers information, evidence, self-reflection & challenging questions that are relevant anytime but invaluable during this pandemic! With a mix of practical learning points, shared examples of community stories from around the world & a call to action, this book has encouraged me to understand the mistakes that I’ve made in labelling communities & trying to ‘fix’ things but has fired me up to develop my thinking & connections in my professional & personal work. A Fire Soul!
This book is a welcome and clarifying contribution to contemporary community building. Cormac places Asset Based Community Development into historical and comparative context. He looks back to founding ideas and integrates them into an overall understanding of where we are and how we got here. Here he carefully reviews a wide range of influences on ABCD and applies their insights in clear and memorable ways.
An insightful ABCD practitioner himself, he is always on the lookout for rich and clarifying examples, which once described leave us permanently on the lookout for both dangers and authentic openings to do real community work…to find and make effective use of our own often overlooked assets. In this moment when many talk of a hoped for “recovery,” Cormac shows the way to understand ABCD at its core as a process of discovery.
When Cormac describes a way forward it is memorable. In keeping with the best of ABCD practice, he is constantly making the invisible, visible. And as importantly, he constantly points us to the next logical next step, once assets are revealed, that of making the unengaged, more engaged; the strangers at the margins, truly welcome. The discoveries tested out in practice and adapted going forward.
More than just a critique of the dysfunction of the current social, economic and political system, Rekindling Democracy: A Professional’s Guide to Working in Citizen Space is an invitation, a call to action, to re-ignite and re-imagine our communities. A must read.
In the tradition of Ivan Illich, Cormac Russell brings to life heartfelt stories of honesty, provocation and hope that reclaim health for communities and the commons. The habits and tools described within these pages demonstrate a different form of public service one based on assets and assent not deficits and dependency. Not only essential reading but essential practice for professionals tasked to stand alongside communities.
I warmly recommend Conrad Russell's timely book about the threat to democracy and how to secure it by community action.. Democracy is morphing into plutocracy. We see the signs all around us, not least in the rise of extremist politics and societal challenges posed by marginalised communities ravaged by recession, austerity and now, a pandemic.
What to do? In Rekindling Democracy, Cormac Russell shines a brilliant light upon the problem. The solution is to rekindle our communities, not by top down parachute drops to alleviate poverty but to enable people to empower themselves by building on the social and skills assets they already possess, focusing upon what is "strong" rather than that is "wrong". Thereby, democracy is rebooted.
According to Russell, there is an ever growing divide between the people and the governments that are elected to serve them:
"The role of government should be one of service and not to be confused with service provision; being of service in a democracy involves supporting community driven provision, not replacing it".
As Russell reminds us in this upbeat and inspiring book: "The effective state recognises that civil society does not in fact expand commensurate with the number of citizen's needs addressed by the state but to the extent that people's assets are connected and expressed in free space.
" Our job as citizens is to do together what we cannot do apart and what institutions can never do appropriately for us: care for our shared freedoms and responsibilities and in doing so, get better at being human together and encourage pour institutions to become extensions of us, in service to us".
Rekindling Democracy is a call for more cooperation. Russell provides evidence of what can be achieved by being more rational about people and their potential. I applaud his clarion call:
"I believe if that we are waiting for our systems to reform and our leaders to redeem themselves, nothing will change. We are our best hope for the future but only if we learn to act powerfully together.
If a citizen-centred democracy is to flourish, we must nurture new space for bottom-up citizen-led action for things that are dome collectively by citizen's and and agencies working together as co-creators and co-producers"
John Nickson is the co-founder of www.ourcommongood.org.uk and the author of Our Common Good and Giving is Goof for You (Biteback Publishing)
In Rekindlindling Democracy: A Professional’s Guide to Working in Citizen Space, Cormac brings insights from years of experience at the coal face of civic and community life. He shares with us a breadth of experience that sheds light on many of the key challenges facing society and highlights how we might shift our thinking to reveal the true power and potential of community in addressing those challenges. It is a timely book in the current global context and presents an alternative view that is rarely articulated in hegemonic structures but is critical in our work to develop a just, equal and sustainable society
Cormac’s book Rekindling Community is a valuable antidote to professional and service-led ‘solutions’ which can often get in the way of the very outcomes they seek. In the spirit of ABCD he weaves theory with the many stories he has gathered from his own extensive practice to build a compelling argument for change.
Good work goes on in every community, in every place on earth. Cormac gives us a philosophy and framework for encouraging us to build on the best that is within and all around us. To enter the world in this way makes us a better, stronger people.
I loved the book. I read this while on retreat to the Abbey of Gethsemane. Which is appropriate as it gave me time to digest so much!
It is hard to be critical of this book. I have read, listened, watched, and have been blessed to be around Cormac in different settings for a few years now, and have enjoyed our friendship. So, much of what I read resonated with my experience of you, along with John McKnight, Peter Block, Walter Brueggemann, and so many others. Great company and simply notes the respect that I have for these friendships and the work that they, and you, are all about. Working towards the common good.
I found a deep spiritual element in the book at times, maybe connected to our Judeo-Christian DNA that originally espoused non-dual oneness with God and others…and later manifested itself in a Trinitarian mutuality of a 3-in-1 God, where relationship is the key characteristic that makes one God and one humanity flow into one another.
I loved reading some of the examples of your work with others. The project in Ayrshire that we discussed obviously got my attention as well as others. It actually inspired me to begin thinking about to check out Ayrshire, as well as a couple of other ABCD projects and tie into the church’s re-functioning in neighborhoods and how the trinitarian/relational impulses in humanity (and in Physics) move us towards community.
The 7 habits were helpful and practical.
The art of conductorship was a good reminder. I used some of that material in a recent sermon using the language around leading, following, and connecting…as well as how to work collaboratively in order for others to grow in personal and corporate agency.
The conclusion was especially concise and could stand alone as a separate piece and summary. I shared that with some of our community hub board members.
You have several thoughts and concepts that I could see being explored even more. Perhaps developing some sort of seminar/training session out of each part? A follow-up book or appendix of some sort?
Overall, you took a narrative thread of rekindling communities into a book that is helpful, well put together, and follows a pattern that is accessible to both beginners and practitioners in building the common good.
At last a book that brings together in one place all those ideas that support and build on Asset Based Community Development practice. It was great to see some of Cormac Russells' blogs reworked - and to see a host of new stuff that I had not come across like Stan Hallett. Even though I was familiar with many of the stories, it was good to see the way they are used to deepen our understanding of community building. As a former Social Worker, District councillor and Community Builder, I got lots from this - whatever the question, community is the answer - or at least a big chunk of it - this book gives us the ways we can unleash the powers of community. Thank you!
In many cases communities are an untapped resource to provide the support systems needed to ensure the sustainability of services and the population itself. Well intended professional support can cut across these embryonic networks and associations. The trick is to know when to leave communities alone to provide support to their members and when, with permission, from the community to provide external support. Cormac captures these important themes and outlines the risks of well –intended support and the need to allow communities to do things by themselves.
In this significant contribution to explaining the “why: of ABCD in depth, Cormac Russell puts ABCD in context by accounting the costs and causes of delegating the irreplaceable functions of community life to systems and services that reduce citizens to deficient clients and needy consumers. He offers an accessible critique of the cultural forces that ABCD confronts and tells memorable stories that illuminate the small, local, relational alternatives to colonization by expert institutions that ABCD organizes in order to rekindle democracy.
Cormac Russell’s understanding of successful marketing techniques and the “Institutional Assumption” Cormac has highlighted the grip professional care services has on our society. ‘Rekindling Community’ helps us understand that if we want to regain autonomy over our own lives and share a sustainable future we would do well to build stronger communities rather than expect Government to meet your needs and turn us into service users. Ralph Peake MHK