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Carol's Picks

 

Carol Edwards has been in charge of the Feminist Studies section at the City of Books for a number of years. She also makes purchasing decisions for a variety of other store sections: Crime/Criminology, American Studies, Philosophy, and Law. A self described "social science junkie," she actually finds this stuff enjoyable Sunday morning couch reading. What do you expect from someone considering a graduate degree in Labor Economics?

 

Social Science

Pretty in Punk: Girls' Resistance in a Boys' Subculture by Lauraine Leblanc
Pretty in PunkLauraine Leblanc has done a bang up job; Pretty in Punk is one of the most interesting youth ethnographies to date. Finally, in the wake of many books about girls' self-esteem, here's a publication that describes how some girls resist societal pressures and circumvent many of the problems other girls face in adolescence. Adults who deal with girls will find the content informative and will perhaps be persuaded to let go of some of their misgivings and concerns about the punk "lifestyle" (for lack of a better word). Young women who have or have had inclinations to resist femininity and beauty standards will appreciate this serious approach to understanding punk's contribution to women's agency, confidence, self-knowledge and self-esteem. All it takes is a glance at a rack of so-called women's magazines to know how necessary this book is. Hopefully, there will be many more like it in the future.

 

Biography

Queen Silver: The Godless Girl by Wendy McElroy
A gifted lecturer to hundreds on subjects such as Darwinian evolution and Einstein's theory of relativity at the age of 8? Creator of leaflets, booklets, and what is best described as her own 'zine dedicated to socialism, labor, and free thought at age 12? Successfully acting as her mother's defense in a court case that riveted Los Angeles in November 1925 at age 14? How could such a fascinating figure in history be so generally unknown today? Well, thanks to Wendy McElroy, Queen Silver's place in history is secured in my favorite book I read this year: Queen Silver: The Godless Girl.

Now, Ms. Silver's fabulous story as well as many of her own writings (including "Evolution From Monkey to Bryan," a tract circulated widely at the Scopes Monkey Trial) are available to the public. You won't find a happier coincidence of scholarly research and a great tale of a radical life. I vigorously recommend this thoroughly engrossing book.
 

Activism

WTO? IMF? If you've had trouble grasping why so many people are up in arms about the current nature of global trade, here are a couple of recommendations:

Sharing the Wealth: Workers and the World Economy by Ethan B. Kapstein
Sharing the WealthSharing the Wealth is an excellent introduction to the contemporary state of international trade. Kapstein contextulizes the debate by providing both commentary on economic policy since World War II and brief surveys of relevant economic and political theories that are easy for the average reader to understand. Moving from Adam Smith and John Maynard Keynes to more recent literature he examines the relationship between income inequality and and the general performance of an economy. Similarly, Kapstein progresses from concepts of utilitarianism to more recent conceptions of social justice (e.g., John Rawls). The author's conclusions are strikingly similar to many who have participated in protests of the WTO: namely that trade agreements must be linked to issues of human rights and core labor standards. He offers many valuable insights on how such linkage can be ensured with prescriptions for a variety of government policies, corporate codes of conduct, and ways that groups and associations can play vital roles. Regardless of one's political views, Kapstein provides a compelling argument that is a great addition to literature on the subject.

The WTO: Five Years of Reasons to Resist Corporate Globalization by Lori Wallach and Michelle Sforza
For a more specific, fact-filled understanding of the WTO, consider this brief but insightful investigation (with an Introduction by Ralph Nader, Green Party candidate for the 2000 Presidential race), which makes a good case for a less secretive, less corporation-centered way of handling global trade. This pamphlet, part of Seven Stories Press's Open Media Pamphlet Series discusses the environmental issues more thoroughly than Kapstein's work, and lays bare the processes used by the WTO that ultimately can overrule the laws of supposedly sovereign nations. The aim of this book, as well as Kapstein's, is not protectionism or the end of global trade. Rather, both indicate a desire for decisions about trade to be made in more democratic ways, addressing concerns about the environment, health and safety, poverty compounded by debt, and human and labor rights.

The Open Media Pamphlet Series
For readers of The WTO who want to make a difference, Nader suggests: "Step One: Read this pamphlet and pass it on." I would like to recommend a Step Two: Read other books in the Open Media Pamphlet Series. These books are all relatively inexpensive and chock full of useful information for folks interested in activism and social theory. With the participation of such renowned authors as Noam Chomsky, Robert W. McChesney and David C. Korten, this impressive series is intellectual yet approachable. The series includes:

The Progresssive Guie to Alternative Media and ActivismPerhaps most handy, though, is The Progressive Guide to Alternative Media and Activism. Divided into alphabetical listings of National Alternative Publications, Regional Publications, Organizations, and Activist Groups, The Progressive Guide provides addresses, phone and fax numbers, web and e-mail addresses, and brief descriptions for these organizations. It allows one to both find groups of like-minded individuals as well as gain access to the press through alternative organizations. Meant to foster the free flow of ideas and subvert the homogeneity of the dominant media, this reference guide aims to put the "movement" back into the Progressive Movement.

Cyberunion: Empowering Labor Through Computer Technology by Arthur B. Shostak
Lastly, for union activists, there is a new book that addresses a topic of crucial importance to the labor movement: the Internet as an organizing tool. Cyberunion: Empowering Labor Through Computer Technology is both a sociological analysis of current activism on the Internet (that also includes brief essays by union members and activists that are inspiring and informative), and a how-to guide for those who wish to learn. Given that the Internet is such a powerful tool for information dispersal and retrieval and for communication between groups and individuals near and far, it's no wonder that the author is so enthusiastic about the possibilities for activism in general and the labor movement in particular. Shostak details how labor is slowly reinventing itself through the use of technology and why he believes it must do so on a greater scale in order to survive in the future. His style and his recommended techniques are easy to comprehend. This is, very simply, a must-read for serious union activists that want to see the movement thrive.

 

Political Philosophy

The Search for Freedom by Whitney Pope

The Search for FreedomWhat state of affairs must exist so that freedom may exist and thrive? Whitney Pope examines this query with the use of a variety of case studies. Historically, he analyzes Tocqueville's ideas on Jacksonian democracy and the French Revolution. Pope asserts that Tocqueville's theory of freedom is as relevant today as it was in his time and proceeds to demonstrate its power of analysis. In contemporary times, he looks at an American trade union, a Japanese company, and the Swedish welfare state. The common strain through all these cases is the need to balance power. Thus, the theory of freedom seeks to identify groups and structures that neither allow opposing authority to become tyrannical nor become oligarchic themselves. By examining the variables of freedom versus tyranny, community versus egoism, centralization versus decentralization, and power derived from authority versus force, Pope elucidates the ways in which the arrangement of our organizations determines our degree of freedom.

Justice is Conflict by Stuart Hampshire
Stuart Hampshire does not want to hear, "I don't like conflict." In Justice is Conflict, he takes issue with the common assumption (from Plato up to contemporary liberal theory) that harmony is the goal in all matters of justice. He asserts that in matters that are theoretical and related to conceptions of the good (such as issues of distributive justice), there will always be conflict. Such conflict should not be viewed as an evil but as a necessity. Institutionalized argument is required lest government, democratic or otherwise, becomes tyrannical. Hampshire stresses the need to recognize the usefulness and desirability of debate in deciding moral matters, as the alternative is a reliance on rationality, which does not provide a powerful bond between people when passions are strong on both sides. Argument, on the other hand, has the potential to provide results which both sides can respect (ideally ensuring the power of authority rather than force). In the wake of this understanding, Hampshire emphasizes the continued relevance of socialism in arguments of distributive justice. This work is brief but compelling. He touches on a myriad of philosophers along the way, and in the end, one does indeed respect his argument.

 

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