query: graduate degree in organizing

colist at comm-org.utoledo.edu colist at comm-org.utoledo.edu
Fri Jul 23 07:55:35 CDT 2004

[ed:  Stephen continues the conversation.  An addition from me below 

From: "Barton, Stephen" <SBarton at ci.berkeley.ca.us>

One of the historical characteristics of the socialist movement for over a
century into my own experience in the 1970s (Democratic Socialists, New
American Movement, various independent groups)was a committment to
disciplined study and critical thought, including critical classics from
Jefferson and Marx to Dewey and Habermas, political economy, history,
philosophy, government, current critical works on contemporary problems,
debates over movement strategy and so on.  This took place outside of the
academy, although certainly many of the works studied were written by
academics, and there were workers schools and in the 1960s and 1970
liberation schools as well as study groups connected to various political
parties and organizations. Most of the students were activists, whether in
the workplace, the community, or in various advocacy projects around issues
such as health care, environmental protection, peace and so on who wanted to
have a broader vision of social change. 

I don't see that anymore, although there are some excellent popular
economics organizations that do training for union activists and anyone else
who is interested. I don't see how organizers can be effective in any
project of long-run social change unless they also communicate an
alternative vision of how society can be organized, and the question is how
is that vision generated and communicated with some level of detail and
system to it. In the 1970s and early 1980s both academic and non-academic
writers worked with the Conference on Alternative State and Local Public
Policies to analyze reform efforts and spread information on experiences
around the country.  That also folded. I wonder if some of the duality here
in the discussion of the role of graduate study in organizing isn't the
result of the collapse of that tradition of independent study outside of the
univerity. The Bay Area where I live has an amazing network of Buddhist
study and meditation groups, and indeed there are national networks of such
groups, but where is independent study of society?


[ed:  as support for Stephen's point, we are in the later stages of a 
project here in Toledo looking at the "information needs" of area 
nonprofit organizations.  Part of the project involved talking with 
funders.  One of their concerns is that nonprofits, including those doing 
community work, are not bringing enough theoretical thinking into their 
work.  hmmmmm.]

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