Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




N. Shulman




My thesis focuses on Citizen Action Groups. Such groups are defined as being self- initiated in a local community, by citizens for the purpose of taking action to change or maintain their immediate situation. For instance, demanding redevelopment of a neighborhood or opposing the construction of a highway through a community. The STOP SPADINA group in Toronto is a well-known example of the latter.

My objectives were to analyze the citizen action group as a unique and significant form of social participation and to collate a body of information for use in further study.

This analysis was concerned with the social relevance and implications of the citizen action group as an untapped source of power for creating change in community structure and attitudes.

In addition, the analysis addressed the relationship between citizen action groups and theories on social participation, class and power. Based on a review of the classical and current literature dealing with participation and integration, the citizen action group was analyzed as a secondary group which expresses the interests and needs of individuals and provides them with a means of interaction and participation, thereby helping to integrate them into the social life of the urban community.

This analysis also included a study of two types of participation - Community Organization Agencies and Social Movements because they have certain characteristics which are applicable to citizen action groups.

Finally, from the review of participation literature - two facts became evident, one, the importance of social power - in Bierstedt's terms of numbers, organization and resources in the nature, operations and success of the citizen action group and secondly, the affect which social class has upon this power and inevitably upon the outcome of the group's activities. From this relationship, a MODEL emerged in which social class is classified as an independent variable affectlng the intervening variable of power, which in turn determines the dependent variable - which is, the degree to which a group achieves, its goals.

From this review of the literature a collection of information applicable to Citizen Action Groups was derived and formulated into a Conceptual Framework which was then used to study and compare two existing citizen action groups in Hamilton - the York Opposition Union and the Durand Neighborhood Executive, These groups represent different socio-economic backgrounds but both were organized to stop change in their respective neighborhoods.

As a result of the analysis of these groups, several conclusions could be drawn:

1- The study of the York Opposition Union and the Durand Neighborhood Executive, provided evidence to support the belief that the social class background of a group determiries the amount of power it possesses and consequently, the degree to which it achieves success. This became evident because class accounted for the differences between the groups in their numbers, their access to resources and the type and quality of their organization - in short , the groups' social power and the final outcome of their activities .

On the basis of social class, the groups were also found to differ in the degree to which they fulfilled functions, as a secondary group, at the individual and community levels of society.

In addition, the study of these groups demonstrated the utility of the Conceptual Framework as an analytic tool in examining the citizen action group as a form of social participation.

On the basis of these conclusions, it was felt that the objectives of this paper had been fulfilled. However, as a result of this thesis, several observations were drawn concerning the implications of the emergence of citizen action groups.

Beyond the success or failure of any specific citizen action group in any one community, the concept of "citizen action in the urban community" can be evaluated as to its potential power. As a source of energy and ability that have largely been untapped, the citizen action group has the potential to change attitudes and values, thereby promoting social responsibility in the use of property and co-operation instead of conflict between powerful vested interests (government and citizens) which can act as a control to check and balance the power of goverment.

The emergence of citizen action groups also has the potential to create structural changes such as establishing communication channels and participation avenues which give citizens access to decision-making processes and to information which is in itself a course of control.

It has been stated that: If the power to resolve urban problems lies in the hands of those who make decisions; it is equally true that power also lies in the hands of those who define the alternatives upon which decisions are made.

A final implication emerging from the analysis of citizen action groups, is the fact, that the citizen action group, is a form of social participation, which has the potential power to define the alternatives upon which decisions concerning urban life are made. As such they can perform an essential role in planning and controlling the urban environment and in relating the individual to his community.

McMaster University Library

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