International Development, Community, and Environment


Alinsky Style Organizing

Document Type

Book Chapter


This chapter provides an overview of how Saul Alinsky’s practices of building democratic power have shaped modern day community organizing. It explains why the Alinsky tradition is useful to the study of community organizations through a description of his enduring core principles of collective power, “native” leadership, and confrontational politics. The chapter makes the case for the continued relevance of Alinsky’s main tenets as well as the need to critique and adapt those methods to new contexts in the 21st century. While it focuses primarily on Alinsky-style organizations, this chapter takes into account a larger ecosystem of organizations and the varying schools of thought that influence the practice of community organizing. It also offers a critique of where Alinsky’s approach falls short in confronting racial and gender barriers to engagement in building power for social change. In addition to exploring the development of Alinsky’s organization, the Industrial Areas Foundation, the chapter features themes of organizational structure and process as they relate to Alinsky’s core principles that are reflected in similar types of organizations. The chapter brings together the theoretical underpinnings of Alinsky’s approach with the practical implications for how community organizing has progressed. It describes where community organizing today diverges from traditional Alinsky-style organizing, especially in trends towards the professionalization of practice, new organizing practices, and the nationalization of grassroots organizing through intermediaries.

Publication Title

Handbook of Community Movements and Local Organizations in the 21st Century (Handbooks of Sociology and Social Research Series)

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Alinsky, community organizing, community organizing networks, democracy, mediating institutions