What is 'bottom-up' social development

Social development is an encompassing term for “processes of change that lead to improvements in human well-being, social relations and social institutions, and that are equitable, sustainable, and compatible with principles of democratic governance and social justice” (UNRISD, 2011: 2). Bottom-up social development refers to actions conceptualised, incepted, developed and led by members of the local community. The objectives and concerns of bottom-up initiatives respond to evolving community needs. Contrary to ‘mainstream’ aid programmes that withdraw from intervention sites once objectives have been achieved, bottom-up initiatives develop in the community and stay in the community.

The benefits of community-based and community-led initiatives are many and acknowledged worldwide. Scientific studies have documented positive outcomes in the social, economic, educational and health domains (Cornish et al., 2014; Murray & Crummett, 2010; Phillips, 2004; Skovdal et al., 2013). We also know that community mobilisation is a powerful means for pushing the voice of disenfranchised communities (Campbell et al., 2010; Campbell & Jovchelovitch, 2000).

An important point for grassroots movements and organisations is their role vis-à-vis that of the State. Bottom-up groups and organisations can be effective partners of the State, but they cannot and should not replace the State and its provision.

Underground sociabilities

Underground sociabilities are forms of social life that are made invisible to mainstream society by geographical, economic, symbolic, behavioural and cultural barriers. The hidden nature of these sociabilities is socially constructed by dominant representations, institutional control, social exclusion and social psychological mechanisms such as denial of the conditions and living patterns of others. Historically associated with violence, exclusion and marginality, these sociabilities are frequently brought to the surface by eruptions that involve violent and/or criminal behaviour. Examples of how mainstream societies come face to face with their subterranean sociabilities include the many battles between the police and drug trade bosses in the streets of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo in the last decade and, in a completely different context, the summer riots of 2011 in London.