A collection of academic articles - several more than ten years old
- arguing that many social services have actually weakened
communities. "Our essential problem," declares McKnight (Center for
Urban Affairs and Policy Research/Northwestern Univ.), "is weak
communities, made ever more impotent by our strong service
systems." That sentiment has been aired increasingly in recent
years, but this book is weakened by the fact that much of its
material is redundant, dated, or incomplete. A veteran of work in
low-income urban neighborhoods, McKnight offers only a few useful
tales from the inside, notably an analysis of health in a West Side
Chicago community, where his team studied hospital records and
found that most hospital visits stemmed from problems (auto
accidents, attacks, alcoholism) that had more to do with social
disorder than disease. McKnight's criticism of the commodification
of medicine and the hegemony of professionals would be stronger,
however, had this 1978 article addressed today's debates.
Similarly, in "Thinking About Crime, Sacrifice, and Community" he
argues thoughtfully that "working communities" will do more to
prevent crime than any sort of rehabilitation, but he doesn't
update this 1986 essay to address current sentiments. Conceptual
contributions hold up better. The author suggests that the "oldness
industry" is dependent on viewing the elderly as incapacitated;
similarly, the enemies of the common people are not poverty and
disease but interests and institutions (both private and public)
that benefit from their dependence. McKnight argues that community
services do not deserve the name unless they actually involve
people in community relationships, and suggests that community
organizers should focus on influencing the flow of public spending,
developing local enterprises, and finding ways "to reroot
business." Less than the sum of its parts. (Kirkus Reviews)
Amid all the hand-wringing about the loss of community in America
these days, here is a book that celebrates the ability of
neighborhoods to heal from within. John McKnight tells how the
experts' best efforts to rebuild and revitalize communities are in
fact destroying them. McKnight focuses on four "counterfeiting"
aspects of society: professionalism, medicine, human service
systems, and the criminal justice system. Because in many areas the
ideological roots of service grow from a religious ideal, the book
concludes with a reflection on the idea of Christian service and
its transformation into carelessness. Reforming our human service
institutions won't work, McKnight writes. These systems do too
much, intervene where they are ineffective, and try to substitute
service for irreplaceable care. Instead of more or better services,
the book demonstrates that the community capacity of the local
citizens is the basis for resolving many of America's social
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