discussion: the relevance of 1960s thinking

colist at comm-org.utoledo.edu colist at comm-org.utoledo.edu
Mon Sep 1 08:25:26 CDT 2003

[ed:  thanks to Peter for responding to Larry's thoughts.]

From: "Dr. Peter Cox" <peter.cox at chester.ac.uk>

I hope this will add to the discussion

There is certainly much substance in this approach. I get the feeling that 
each generation responds to its own perception of 'crisis' by rejection of  
the previous dominant approach - "which obviously hasn't worked - 
otherwise we wouldn't be in this mess" etc - and reinventing responses 
keyed to its perception of the changed externalities and prevailing 
circumstances. However, the degree to which social and individual 
relationships, as opposed to economic or political relationships change 
over time is a largely unexplored variable. 

My instinctual response is that too often we forget that people are people, 
above all else, human beings with loves, fears, frustrations and day to 
day relationships to deal with whether neighbourhood, parenting, 
friendships etc etc. These factors may be far less mutable over time than 
those dependent on externalities: they do relate to them but not in an 
immediate manner.

Hence the revisiting and rediscovery of previous strategies for both 
survival and change, particularly those strategies that are people-based, 
remain strikingly relevant. This should not just be seen to relate to 
1960's thinking - it may be appropriate to apply it across bigger time-
frames or geographical distaces as well. Certainly, the adoption of 
insights from Gandhian organising practice, in numerous different 
contexts and applied to widely differing problems, may be seen as an 
example of this.

I hope this is a useful contribution

Peter Cox
Programme Leader in Community Studies
Department of Social and Communication Studies
University College Chester
peter.cox at chester.ac.uk

> .
> [ed:  Larry is inviting us to a discussion of old and new, history and 
> the future.  Please join in.  And thanks to Larry for the kind words.]
> Dear comm-orgers
> I am having an interesting encounter with a book. I was in a thrift 
> store, and could not resist picking up a copy of “Neighborhood 
> Centers Today” published in 1960 under the auspices of the 
> National Federation of Settlements and Neighborhood Centers.  
> At 53, I have seen a few trends cycle around and come back. But 
> this book, published when I was a mere child, really underlined the 
> point that a lot of what seems new and smart is in fact old and 
> wise. One article talks about “planning for inclusiveness,” 
> emphasizing that the approach is not a “melting pot” approach, but 
> recognizes that diversity among groups is real and valuable. 
> Another talks about “leadership development” out in the 
> surrounding neighborhods by the organizing staff of a settlement 
> house. Another section talks about ways of dealing with an aging 
> population in the United States. A lot of the material could very 
> easily be recycled for organizers and researchers writing today. 
> And the book's subtitle "Action Programs for a Rapidly Changing 
> World" certainly would sound contemporary.  
> It has been my general feeling that the idea that insights, problems 
> and programs are “new” is driven largely by those, such as 
> mainstream politicians, who feel a need to claim that they are 
> pioneers of a brave new world. Many activists, on the other hand, 
> understand that the fundamental issues have been with us for a 
> while, and that some of our ancestors were as smart and 
> sophisticated as we are in struggling around them, and we are 
> pretty much in their footsteps on a long march.  
> Obviously, things do change and progress on some fronts. I am 
> sure I won’t find any mention of LGBT issues in the book, let alone 
> any sense of an LGBT movement, though it did exist in 1960. 
> Apartheid in housing was still legal in the United States in 1960, 
> instead of just an informal reality as it is today. And so on.  
> Still, I find some comfort in knowing that those who look down on 
> the rest of us for following an approach from the 60s or the 80s or 
> 90s are just not getting it. Those who don’t know that most of what 
> we do has been done before - and don’t learn from that experience 
> -- are the ones with a narrow ideological vision -- the idea that the 
> present moment and social conditions are unique.  
> Of course, I am sure I will be claiming to propose an innovative 
> new approach in some funding proposal yet unwritten. Sometimes 
> you just can’t help having narrow vision.  
> On a personal note, I will mention that last weekend I met a comm-
> org lurker who actually knew who I was just from my e-mails to 
> comm-org. I hope this will hearten all those who do contribute 
> regularly, and encourage others who don’t. Folks are paying 
> attention to this list.  
> On another personal note, if Randy considers this appropriate to 
> add, I have the time to write this screed because I am currently 
> furloughed, and would welcome any opportuntiies for short term 
> work in training, writing, or consulting on organizing.  
> Larry Yates
> Maurertown VA
> lamaryates at igc.org
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