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date: 10 December 2022

Community-Based Organizationslocked

Community-Based Organizationslocked

  • Amanda I. SeligmanAmanda I. SeligmanUniversity of Wisconsin-Milwaukee


Community-based organizations (CBOs) have been and remain a common vehicle for delivering services and promoting local improvement in the United States. CBOs were a subset of voluntary organizations, which the 19th-century French observer Alexis de Tocqueville saw as central to American democracy. They complemented the work of government. Since at least the 19th century, in US history, people have formed, joined, and volunteered for CBOs. However, historians have often taken for granted the existence of specific organizations and have not done much to explain them as a general phenomenon. CBOs are often treated as relevant actors in historical scholarship, but their larger institutional and collective history awaits a new synthesis. Historians should begin by explaining the development of different kinds of CBOs.

The main types of CBOs are social service organizations, autonomous organizations, networked organizations, and Alinsky-style organizations CBOs. Settlement houses were the most visible form of social service organizations in the 19th century. Among membership organizations, two types predominated: CBOs whose individual histories were primarily autonomous and those that were formally allied with other similar groups. Some connected groups were created within a network, and others developed relationships as they grew. The work of Saul Alinsky (1909–1972), often considered the “father of community organizing” in the United States, was particularly important. Alinsky practiced and promulgated a form of professional organizing that centered on identifying local leaders and helping them create sustainable, power-oriented CBOs.


  • Political History
  • Urban History

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