Community Organizations in the Foreclosure Crisis: The Failure of Neoliberal Civil Society

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35 Scopus citations


This paper looks at the prehistory of the foreclosure crisis in Cleveland, Ohio, in order to understand the effectiveness of civil society organizations in mitigating its impact on the city's neighborhoods. Social theorists and movement activists have often postulated civil society as an authentic and voluntaristic realm in which we constitute and act on shared values. The voluntary nature of civil society organizations also, it is argued, make them more responsive, adaptable, and effective in meeting the needs of the communities they operate in. The question is whether or not this has held true in the contemporary crisis. I find that in the 1970s, Cleveland's community-based organizations were instrumental in securing resources from government and private philanthropies to deal with the urban crisis. The unintended result of this success was a general rationalization of Cleveland's civil society around narrow practices and market-based conceptions of value. In the process, civil society was transformed into a political technology that solved various dilemmas of rule, but at the same time it was transformed into a civic monoculture that made the city especially vulnerable to foreclosure. A key implication of this analysis is that civil society has been transformed into an object and stake of urban politics and, as a result, it should not be expected to protect society against neoliberal institutional transformations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)73-101
Number of pages29
JournalPolitics & Society
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • civil society
  • community development
  • foreclosure
  • urban politics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Political Science and International Relations


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