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Collaborative Competence as Relational Praxis Among Community Organizers: The Reproduction of, and Resistance to, Systems of Oppression


This dissertation is a mixed-method, multi-level examination of relational empowerment processes among organizers of an academic workers’ union. Participants were union organizers; 29 organizers participated in the network questionnaire, and a sub-set of 12 participated in semi-structured, in-depth interviews. Using social network analysis (SNA) and qualitative analysis, this study investigated the relational empowerment element termed collaborative competence, which attends to the functioning of the organizing group and serves to build power via social support and group cohesion. This research is value-driven, examining, in context, how community organizers address the reproduction of systems of domination (e.g., racism, sexism) in order to build power and make socially just change. Understanding transgressions in a visceral, embodied manner was instrumental for individuals to engage in this process. Additionally, respectful and supportive relationships were required for participants to understand and make sense of their complicity in systems of oppression in proactive and potentially transformative ways. Nevertheless, providing these relational resources requires relational labor, and social network analyses indicate that the distribution of relational labor was inequitable, thereby hampering the union’s collaborative capacity to make sociopolitical change. Thus, two overlapping practices – corporeal literacy and supportive relational labor – form the basis of a praxis model for collaborative competence. This study concludes with implications and future directions.

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