John McKnight makes the argument that the institutionalization of services is destroying our communities because institutions assume responsibility for actions more properly and effectively delivered by communities themselves.

Over time community members even come to believe that the institutions do a better job then they do, and the weakening of communities become permanent.  Essentially, we have shifted from being citizens of community to consumers of services delivered by institutions.

He gives many examples, including health (accomplished fundamentally by exercise and good diets, not created by hospitals); safety, (accomplished fundamentally by busy and friendly neighborhoods, not created by police) and education (accomplished fundamentally by families that read and talk, not delivered by schools in instructional settings). In fact, McKnight argues that where large social problems exist institutions often make them worse. Schools take kids who do not read well, and after housing them for ten years fail them.  Hospitals are homes to infections and sickness. Prisons do not rehabilitate but spread crime networks, etc. Institutions perpetuate inequality.

By employing a social model that understands society as a place composed of only institutions and individuals, we have created institutions that are counterproductive for the individuals they are created to serve.  According to McKnight, “we have become too impotent to be called real citizens and too disconnected to be effective members of community” (p. 172).

Community, he argues, in contrast to institutions:

“… provides a social tool in which consent is the primary motivation, interdependence creates wholistic environments, people of all capacities and fallibilities are incorporated, quick responses are possible, creativity is multiplied rather than channeled, individualized responses are characteristic, care is able to replace service, and citizenship is possible. (p. 167)

 

McKnight recently coined the term the “abundant community” to refer to a self-sufficient, competent community that creates collective accountability through relationship to other people (2010).  The abundant community is the antithesis to our consumer society. In a new formulation McKnight argues that we must stop relying on the services provided by institutions and return to “the wisdom of those community cultures that is our priceless legacy” (2010, p. 63).

 

References

McKnight, J. (1995). The careless society: Community and its counterfeits. (p. 161-172). 

McKnight, J. & Block, P. (2010). The abundant community: Awakening the power of families and neighborhoods.