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Poor People's Movements: Why They Succeed, How They Fail [Paperback]

by Frances Fox Piven, Richard Cloward
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)

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Book Description

December 12, 1978 0394726979 978-0394726977
Have the poor fared best by participating in conventional electoral politics or by engaging in mass defiance and disruption? The authors of the classic Regulating The Poor assess the successes and failures of these two strategies as they examine, in this provocative study, four protest movements of lower-class groups in 20th century America:
-- The mobilization of the unemployed during the Great Depression that gave rise to the Workers' Alliance of America
-- The industrial strikes that resulted in the formation of the CIO
-- The Southern Civil Rights Movement
-- The movement of welfare recipients led by the National Welfare Rights Organization.

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Editorial Reviews


"...enormously instructive."

-- E.J. Hobsbawm, New York Review of Books

"This beautifully written book is the most exciting and important political study in years."

-- S. M. Miller, Department of Sociology, Boston University.

"Of the first importance; it is bound to have a wide and various influence; and it is disturbing."

-- Jack Beatty, The Nation

From the Publisher

"A provocative book that should be read by both students and makers of social history."--Michael Harrington, The New York Times Book Review

Product Details

  • Paperback: 408 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (December 12, 1978)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0394726979
  • ISBN-13: 978-0394726977
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.2 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #58,751 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
38 of 40 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A timeless classic that all activists should buy March 30, 2000
Piven and Cloward's work will always be useful in the study of social movements. I enjoyed this book and think others will as well. I don't believe this book should ONLY be read by students and academics but ALSO anyone that is trying to organize and motivate individuals to take political action. The authors explain why some movements fail and how movements change over time which is interesting for both activists and academics. Although, a great deal of the theoretical discussion has been advanced since this book was written, the book still offers relevant agruements and incites. A similar book would include Tarrow's - Power in Movement. Yet, Piven and Cloward offer more historical background that would compliment Tarrow's newer theoretical work. Last, the topics in this book vary from chapters on social unrest during the Depression to the Civil Rights Movement. The book can be read by anyone because the authors give historical background on all topics.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
I read this book for an undergraduate Sociology class. Piven & Cloward offer a very sophisticated analysis on what makes social movements successful. They offer a critique of resource mobilization theory which states that ties with elites and formal organization in movements enable success. Instead they argue that movements are successful based on their power to disrupt the social structure, how important the success of the movement is to elites, there is public support for the movement, public support for elites decreases, and that activists have something to concede (ie. an unemployed worker can't protest against unfair/unjust salary, but an employed person can by ceasing their acquiescence -- and disrupting the larger social structure by rallying other employees to strike) They are strongly critical of formal organizations and see them as being detrimental to a movement, because for Piven & Cloward organizations are susceptible to bureaucracy and use the life blood of the movement to protest in legitimate ways that do not demand immediate change (ie. voting or lobbying one's Congress person rather than having a boycott)

Although, their analysis is very insightful, I think their critique of formal organizations as detrimental to a movement is overly simplistic. Formal organizations do not necessarily mean bureaucracy or less disruption to a social structure. They fail to realize that interactions between different organizations expand movement goals and different organizations can frame movements differently to make them more likely to succeed.

A great book on how formal organizations work for movement success is Forging Gay Identities: Organizing Sexuality in San Francisco, 1950-1994 by Elizabeth Armstrong.
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20 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Relevant and instructive June 3, 2006
As both a heady intellectual and a pragmatic field organizer, I have throughly enjoyed this book. Don't be thrown off by the dry (yet incisive) introduction on the cycles of social movements. The chapters that follow provide journalistic historical narrative on the civil rights, labor, welfare rights movements and illustrate their theory. I would highly recommend it.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great overview November 6, 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Good view on a theory of protests and social Change, just make sure to read some of Dennis Chong's theory to have a balanced approach.
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