MA Politics

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Democracy in Action: The Practice and Politics of Community Organising

Course unit fact file
Unit code POLI71222
Credit rating 15
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


The Politics department is delighted to offer this new module in partnership with Citizens UK North West.  Created in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Citizens UK is now a national organisation with 17 local ‘chapters’, and around 100 staff.  Some of their successful campaigns include work on the Living Wage.

Community organising is a form of citizen political participation.  It focuses on counter-hegemonic forms of citizen-led mobilisation and lobbying, to generate social change.  It typically has a focus on social justice and the interest of groups with less formal power.  The term is most closely associated with high-profile writings of Paulo Freire, known for his work on critical pedagogy, and the work of the theorist and activist Saul Alinksy, known for his work in Chicago in the 1970s, and his pithy and distinctive advice to citizen activists such as, “if your people are not having a ball, there’s something wrong with the tactic” (Alinksy, 1989, p.128). 

Community organising has evolved into a number of ‘schools’ or traditions, which have been adopted across many diverse contexts around the world, including in the UK.  Indeed, community organising-style tactics were credited with helping the election of Barack Obama, who had been a community organiser in Chicago.  It remains a topical and relevant topic for those interested in effective forms of citizen particiaption.  It also offers rich ground for academic debate around the heavily debated and contested views on power and social change.   

Students will undertake practical activities with citizen groups in Greater Manchester.  These experiences, and other empirical examples would be used to understand theory. 


The course unit aims to:

  • introduce students to the theories and practice of community organising
  • offer students opportunities to develop a community organising project in practice
  • reflect on the experiences of community organising in practice
  • critically assess theory against the experience and examples from practice; and critically assess the experiences of practice against the theory
  • build employability skills

Learning outcomes


•           Describe the core underlying principles of community organising from at least one school of approaches

•           Demonstrate a working knowledge of key strategies of organising

•           Critically reflect on the theories and practice of community organising

•           Assess the implementation of a specific project and its wider implications

•           Critical reflection integrating theory and practice

•           Analysis of the dynamics of social change

•           Engage with selected publics/communities

•           Understand the methods of conduct a power analysis

•           Develop ideas towards mobilising strategies

•           Greater awareness of strategies for mobilising social change

•           Community outreach and public engagement

•           Qualitative research


Week 1.           Introduction to Community Organising

Week 2.           Anger, Problems & Issues

Week 3.           Power and self interest

Week 4.           Listening and relational power

Week 5.           House Meetings (1st assignment due)

Week 6.           Listening & Ethics

Week 7.           Power Analysis

Week 8.           Negotiation Role Play

Week 9.           The Power of Stories

Week 10.         Action, Assemblies & Turn Out

Teaching and learning methods

The course will be taught through ten two-hour workshops. Some of the workshops will be held off-campus to conduct hands-on community organising work.  Each of the workshop sessions will cover a mix of the academic readings, and some practical content, with practical experiences integrated into the module. Students will be expected to read key texts in advance of seminars.  The workshops will enable direct engagement with the theories and principles, and applied learning about how those ideas might could and do work in practice. 

Attendance at workshops is compulsory. If you know in advance that circumstances beyond your control will prevent you from attending a seminar, you should contact me as soon as possible to explain your absence.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written assignment (inc essay) 75%
Report 25%

Feedback methods

Students will be organised into small groups to undertake a reflective process of community organising.  The assessment will be individual, and consist of a project report of 1,000 words worth 25% of the overall grade, due in week 5, and a final essay of 3,000 words, worth 75% due at the end.

Recommended reading

Alinsky (1971/1989) Rules for radicals, New York: Vintage Books

Ritchie, A.  (2019) Inclusive Populism. University of Notre Dame Press.

Bolton, M. (2017) How to Resist. London: Bloomsbury Publishing

Bunyan, P. (2021) ‘Hallmarks of the Political in Community Organizing: An Arendtian Perspective’, VOLUNTAS: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations, 32(4): 910–920.

Chambers, E.T. (2018) Roots for Radicals. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Freire, P. (2000) Pedagogy of the oppressed. 30th anniversary ed. New York: Continuum.

Gecan, M. (2002) Going Public: An Organizer’s Guide to Citizen Action. Boston, US: Beacon Press.

Lukes, S. (2005) Power: a radical view. 2nd ed. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Ledwith, M. (2010) Participatory practice. Bristol, UK: Policy Press.

Stout, J. (2010) Blessed Are the Organized. Princeton University Press.


Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Practical classes & workshops 20
Independent study hours
Independent study 130

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Elizabeth Richardson Unit coordinator

Return to course details