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Social Science


Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Social Movements

Social Movements, Old and New: A Post-Modernist Critique by Rajendra Singh (Sage) Contemporary Indian society is ridden with issues of conflict and the competing struggles of classes and communities. These conflicts are occurring in a society which, on the one hand, is lagging behind on the path of modernity and development but, on the other, has paradoxically and quickly produced all the cultural conditions which have encouraged the emergence of post-modernist struggles. Despite these developments, traditional sociology continues to view social movements from an increasingly out-dated and inadequate theoretical framework.

This important book is both about social movements and collective actions, and about the discipline of sociology and prevailing concepts of Indian society. Presenting a post-modernist critique of the study of social movements, Professor Rajendra Singh maintains that it is these movements which truly represent the contemporary nature of Indian society. He thus challenges the dominant view that these struggles are expressions of disruption and a breakdown of the established social order. The author goes on to argue for the need for a post­sociology, based on broader perspectives drawn from all the social science disciplines, to fully grasp the realities of present-day Indian society.

The book is divided into two parts. The first deals with conceptual issues involved in articulating a generic perspective for an understanding of social movements. The author examines current theories relating to old and new social movements; highlights the conflictual and transformational matrix of Indian society; and discusses various dynamics such as the movement from modernity to post­modernity, from society to post-society, and from sociology to post-sociology. In the second part Professor Singh presents a conceptual critique of various studies on social movements including the neo-classical model, Marxist para­digms and historical approaches. He ends by presenting a unified perspective for an understanding of representations of society and social movements in the critical context of sociology.

Presenting an entirely new paradigm for an understanding of social movements, both old and new, this unusual book will attract a wide readership among students and scholars of social movements, sociology, anthropology, political science and history while also being of interest to voluntary organizations, political activists, and administrators.

Building Community Capacity edited by Robert J. Chaskin, Prudence Brown, Sudhir Venkatesh, and Avis Vidal (Modern Applications of Social Work: Aldine de Gruyter) is a collaborative, interdisciplinary approach to a subject of wide cur­rent concern: the role of neighborhood and community structures in the delivery of human services, or, as the authors put it, "a place where programs and prob­lems can be fitted together." To show how that concept plays out on the practi­cal rather than theoretical level, the authors-a research sociologist, an urban policy scholar, and a sociologist who studies street gangs-explore such compo­nents as the development of leaders and organizations, the organizing of com­munities themselves, and the establishment of networks with other communities.

 Building Community Capacity speaks to a wide audience of readers con­cerned with promoting urban social change. It addresses the heart of the challenge faced by those working to strengthen and improve poor com­munities: how to repair and reconstruct a community's collective ability to address shared problems and capitalize on opportunities to improve com­munity life. A broad range of people are engaged in this agenda, including practitioners, funders, and scholars from a range of disciplines, each of whom come to this work in different roles and draw on varied intellectu­al strains and traditions.

Of particular importance for this series, the book speaks to a lacuna in current social work practice theory: community change. Much work in this area of macropractice, particularly around "grassroots" community orga­nizing, has a somewhat dated feel to it, is highly ideological in orientation, or-in the case of many "generalist" treatments of the topic-suffers from superficiality, particularly in the area of theory and practical application. Set against a context of an often narrowly constructed "clinical" emphasis in practice education, coupled with social work's own current rendering of "scientific management", "community practice" often takes second or third billing in many professional curricula despite its deep roots in the overall field of social welfare.

Chaskin and colleagues provide a wakeup call to revisit community­level processes, and the book rewards readers' attention to the issues raised. The authors bring to bear the perspectives of a variety of profes­sional disciplines including sociology (Chaskin & Venkatesh), urban plan­ning (Vidal), and psychology and social work (Brown), and provide us with new ways of thinking about "community" that are quite consistent with current theoretical perspectives in the social work field: the ecologi­cal perspective, the strengths or "social assets" perspective, the notion of partnership with clients, and "empowerment." The authors' focus is on community-based approaches to social change and economic develop­ment designed to improve both the current circumstances and life out­comes for people in poverty. Their particular point of departure is to try and provide more specificity and precision to that familiar, but elusive term "community capacity." In their own words:

Like other vanguard terms used to catalyze and drive action in the field, capacity and capacity building at the neighborhood level are elastic: they lack consistent and explicit meaning. What, in concrete terms, does community capacity mean? What are its components? How can they be recognized, measured, and understood in action? What kinds of interven­tions can strengthen them?

Drawing on extensive case study data from three significant community building initiatives, program data from numerous other community ca­pacity-building efforts, key informant interviews, and an excellent literature review, Chaskin and his colleagues draw implications for craft­ing community change strategies as well as for creating and sustaining the organizational infrastructure necessary to support them. The authors pro­mote no panaceas and their thoughtful, critical analyses, while rich in im­plications for community-level practice, are not formulaic. Those favoring a cookbook approach to community change will be disappointed with this present effort. On the other hand, social work scholars and students of community practice seeking new conceptual frameworks and insights from research to inform novel community interventions will find much of value in Building Community Capacity.

Significantly, Building Community Capacity originates from two leading ­edge centers of community analysis-The Chapin Hall Center for Chil­dren at the University of Chicago and the Urban Institute-wherein the tools of empirical research and a variety of disciplinary perspectives are brought to bear on complex urban issues. The resultant "conversation" is alternately rich and illuminating, and perplexing: much theoretical, em­pirical, and practical demonstration needs to be done before the field of so­cial welfare has a definitive answer to the question, What is community capacity? Chaskin, Brown, Venkatesh, and Vidalprovide fresh insights and perspectives that will inform and enrich the knowledge base for social work's community change mission in numerous ways. Their work helps to support a bridge between individual clients and the communities that both sustain and challenge them. Social work students, practitioners and educators, and the clients and communities they serve are in their debt.

A Debunking Analysis of Student Revolts

Put Your Bodies upon the Wheels: Student Revolt in the 1960s by Kenneth J. Heineman (The American Ways Series: Ivan R. Dee) Writing on the 1960s and its constituent parts the New Left, Vietnam, etc. has become a cottage industry, but there is certainly room for a balanced, nuanced overview of that enigmatic era. Unfortunately, this is not it. Heineman, an Ohio University historian and author of Campus Wars and other works, contends that the turbulence of the 1960s was a form of class conflict. On one side were privileged students at elite universities (and also radical black organizations) who, along with their supporters among intellectuals, the clergy and the media, were rabidly anti-American and disdainful of the nation's values. On the other side was the white working class, hardworking and patriotic, willing to serve in Vietnam but reviled and ridiculed by the radical elite and so alienated from them. This is an interesting thesis, with more than a little truth to it, but here Heineman, rather than analyzing it, merely announces it. Missing is any real examination of the complex social and historical factors that led so many young people at the time to question so much, replaced by oversimplified explanations, broad generalizations, irrelevant information and questionable assertions. What is left is a caricature of radical students arrogant, hedonistic and nihilistic, prone to romanticizing violence. There is truth here as well, but partial truth, for an era as complex as the 1960s cannot be so easily summed up. Thus, while an interesting if peculiar polemic, regrettably this falls far short of being a useful historical guide.

Heineman, in focusing on 1960s youth-rebellion phenomenon, takes a statistics-filled romp through the campus-based counterculture. He shows that the majority of campus activists enjoyed secure, middle-class upbringings and thought themselves largely free of their parents' prejudices but that their own political and social attitudes now seem laughably naive. But their hearts were, arguably, in the right place, and with all the LSD and pot on campus then, of course laughter was plentiful. Nixon, Mario Savio, SDS, SNCC, YIP--they're all here in all their strident glory. This entry in the American Ways series presents an accessible chronology of '60s student political activism, a brief but impressive note on what to read for greater depth on specific topics, and, like Bodroghkozy's book, a strong dose of what the era was really like from those who lived it. In this broad scope and narrow focused assessment of the 1960s in America, historian Heineman asserts that the student protest movement alienated the nation by pitting one social class against another and left a legacy of moral relativism and civic apathy. In various chapters, he discusses the organized student protest against the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement, the counterculture movement, and the part played in these struggles by political activists, many of whom have since turned their back on their radical activities and become conservatives. In spite of Heineman's initial allegation of evenhandedness, the author delights in his attacks on the activists of the decade who have not recanted their beliefs, and he repetitively attempts to score points against the student radicals by exposing excesses, prejudices, and ironies in their actions (sexism, anti-Semitism, anti-Catholicism, and racism). His digs every so often hit their mark, but this book is generally a polemic against the student radicals’ ideals of the Sixties rather than a study of the period.

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