Presented at the 12th International Academy for Intercultural Research (IAIR) conference in Rapperswil-Jona, Switzerland on July 26, 2022.
Community development, which aims to increase the agency and solidarity of community members in order to improve the well-being of communities as a whole as a well as the individual members of those communities. Community development practice occurs in many different forms, such as part of governmental agencies, non-governmental agencies, community-based participatory research, and service-learning programs at universities. The communities that receive support and aid via community development programs can be local to the practitioners or can be communities distantly removed from the practitioners – even communities in a different country. Unfortunately, too often international community development (as well as international aid) has characteristics uncomfortably similar to neo-colonialist practices and cultural imperialism. This is because receiving communities are sometimes expected (or even required) to adopt the cultural worldviews, beliefs, and traditions of the people providing the community development aid in order to continue qualifying for the support. Then, in a damaging cyclical fashion, the developmental support and aid is made necessary because of the manner in which previous support was provided, leading to a cycle of negative outcomes requiring even more support. Fortunately, there are more ethical and impactful ways of engaging in international and cross-cultural community development that avoids many (if not all) of the possible negative outcomes. In my presentation, I will use the Social Capitals Framework to discuss the ways in which communities share different types of capital (e.g., human capital, natural capital, etc.). I will then focus on the concept of cultural capital, which are the ways of living, traditions, values, beliefs, and worldviews that a community shares to make sense of the world. I will discuss how international and cross-cultural community development should be practices in such a way that cultural capital is at a minimum not damaged but ideally actively supported and even celebrated. I will utilize data collected via interviews with community members of a community (N = 8) in Guatemala that has received support from various international community development initiatives over the last several years. Based on a thematic analysis process, I will discuss the way in which the interviewees experience international community development efforts in the context of protecting and supporting cultural capital. I will conclude my presentation with specific suggestions for best practices and better engagement in international and cross-cultural community development.