Author: David Horton Smith
Date of Publication: 2000
This volume explores the world of grassroots organizations and outlines their history while differentiating them from the more familiar paid-staff nonprofit organizations. David Horton Smith, a leading scholar on the nonprofit and voluntary sector, examines the available empirical research on the topic and analyzes the theoretical concepts that have come to define such associations. He affords the reader a complete, detailed description of the nature and characteristics of grassroots organizations, their formation, structure, leadership, life cycle, effectiveness, and their integral role in postmodern societies.
Forty years ago, David Horton Smith set out to define the field of nonprofit studies. Among the results of his efforts were the founding of ARNOVA and the launching of the journal NVSQ. Thirty years later, in 2000, he published Grassroots Associations, and with it, he has attempted to remake the field. The book is a detailed argument that nonprofit scholarship has put most of its energies into only a small portion of the field, leaving the majority of real nonprofits in the dark. As a corrective measure, he says, we need to toss out our old paradigms and build a new foundation. Henceforth, nonprofit studies should be centered on community-based grassroots organizations and forms of voluntary action. Other forms of work in the field and other forms of associations can be studied as variants of the underlying model.
Speaking on behalf of the Community and Grassroots Section, that works for us. It’s not that corporate nonprofits or non-grassroots work in the public interest doesn’t count; only that it’s had its time acting as the center of the universe. A grassroots paradigm shift could be a good thing.
The book is highly typological and systematic. Smith covers the major distinctions among forms of individual and collective action, forms of organizations, and choices made in the formation, structure, actions, goals, and leadership of NPOs. His analysis is comprehensive and expansive.
It would be great if one could use this book as a point of entry into the field, and to start one’s research with Smith’s new paradigm. But this is not a book for beginners. It is a high-level, detailed theoretical work designed to challenge the assumed knowledge and practices of experienced researchers and practitioners. It should be considered essential reading for advanced grad students and scholars. It provides a new map for people for whom this terrain is not unfamiliar.
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