Handbook of Rural Development

Handbook of Rural Development

Elgar original reference

Edited by Gary Paul Green

Although most countries in the world are rapidly urbanizing, the majority of the global population – particularly the poor – continue to live in rural areas. This Handbook rejects the popular notion that urbanization should be universally encouraged and presents clear evidence of the vital importance of rural people and places, particularly in terms of environmental conservation. Expert contributors from around the world explore how global trends, state policies and grassroots movements affect contemporary rural areas in both developed and developing countries.

Chapter 4: Grassroots rural development: models of development, capacity and leadership

Stephen P. Gasteyer and Cameron (Khalfani) Herman

Subjects: development studies, agricultural economics, development studies, economics and finance, agricultural economics, environment, agricultural economics, environmental sociology


Grassroots development is a process of intentional social change that privileges local organizing, visioning and decision making. According to Gaventa and Lewis (1989), it is an alternative to trickle-down approaches to local development in poor communities. Trickle-down approaches have a long history in rural community development and have been associated by some scholars with legacies of colonialism, corruption and attempts by powerful, urban-based elites to extract resources from rural communities and places (Tacoli 1998). While most prominently discussed in the developing-country context, the concept is also applied to local organizing in the United States, Canada and Europe, specifically through the study of ‘grassroots organizations’ in marginalized communities (see, for example, Scott 2002). This chapter focuses on grassroots approaches to development in rural communities in the United States and the global arena. The overview draws on relevant community development literature to contextualize the practice of grassroots development. Additionally, the chapter examines a few case studies to illustrate how grassroots development is implemented in different rural communities throughout the world. A brief discussion of grassroots development’s capacity to improve the human condition closes the chapter. Whether in developing or industrialized nations, the process of rural community development has often been driven by agencies and forces outside of rural communities themselves. For centuries, nation-states have encouraged development based on export-oriented extraction of natural resources from rural areas as a critical component of national wealth creation.

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