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The Careless Society: Community And Its Counterfeits 60058th Edition

3.9 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0465091263
ISBN-10: 0465091261
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

An illuminating look at how the experts' best efforts to rebuild and revitalize communities are in fact destroying them. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From the Back Cover

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 problems.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; 60058th edition (April 2, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465091261
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465091263
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #262,823 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
As someone who works in a nonprofit social service agency, I was handed McKnight's book by the executive director of a local foundation. It made for illuminating reading. McKnight explains how agencies isolate and target populations for their own convenience - determining the needs of their "client" rather than helping individuals express their own dreams and desires and working toward solutions. This is a "must read" for agencies whose goal is to build caring communities, allowing people with disabilities to determine their futures for themselves. Of particular interest is the section on grief counseling, describing how the professional grief vampire isolates their "clients" from the circles of support provided by friends and neighbors that have nurtured the grieving for generations.
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Format: Paperback
this book is a brilliant analysis of the struggle users of services face when trying to find help to live a full life. The sentence which I will always remember is 'The problem we face is not one of weak services, but weak communities'. As a disabled person I found the willingness to confront the dependency of able-bodied providers on our manufactured 'needs' refreshing and enlightening. John McKnights thinking about the nature of communities and how to begin to re-build them very stimulating, particularly as his vision includes me as a community builder. Read it!
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Format: Paperback
Cogently and beautifully, the author has shined important new light on a rapidly evolving systemic problem: the commodification of care in the industrialized West, particularly and most brutally in the USA. However, as cogent as his arguments are, it seems that they all simply beg the same overriding question pointing ultimately in the same disturbing direction: what is to replace the social destruction capitalism wreaks on the societies that embrace it? And collaterally, does this not simply suggest that we are witnessing another by-product of what happens when capitalism becomes the end of economic history (to steal a systemic metaphor from Francis Fukuyama's book "The End of History," in which it is suggested that democracy is the end of political history)?

It is true (in the most obvious way) that the "professionalization of care" through the commodification of "people services" is occurring at an alarming pace and that this transformation (which, arguably is more evolutionary than revolutionary) leaves a social desert of destruction (arguably, the end of community) in its wake. And moreover, that the process by which this conversion takes place is: by turning what used to be called "normal self-correcting life conditions" (such as aging, crime, health, etc.) into self-defining and self-exploitable mandatory capitalist profit centers - which in the end are all designed to keep the capitalist beast sufficiently stoked and fed - meaning keeping the GNP forever growing.

However there is an important and I believe fallacious subtext to this rather left-leaning discussion (not that I am against left-leaning discussions). It makes the tacit assumption that communities themselves are benign, stable and ultimately static units, all only for the good.
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Format: Paperback
McKnight's concerns about communities' dependency on professional assistance are legitimate, but disturbingly overstated in this book.

In the end I felt McKnight's trashing of the already well-trodden government provision of social services may not be altogether helpful to distressed communities. He sidesteps concerns of capital mobility, exploitation and the pernicious effects wrought by years of discrimination. Neoliberal ideologues may find themselves quite comfortable with McKnight's case for what's wrong with communities, since any discussion of when and where and how social programs can be instrumental is effectively cast aside. In McKnight's picture, social programs and the professional service providers are, in fact, the villains and culprits for most of what ails society.

One of the damaging fallacies perpetuated in this book is that service professionals are not able to be both professional and caring - the two are deemed mutually incompatible. McKnight's views resonate with employers' rhetoric about care work - a rhetoric conveniently invoked every time a healthcare worker tries to claim she does care about patients but is still entitled to a living wage or, perhaps, health insurance for herself.

McKnight foresees that communities will readily and ably take up the reins of providing for themselves once they're denied more institutionalized professional services. Implicit in this idea is the notion that communities had no problems at all before the social programs to solve them came into being.
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Format: Paperback
McKnight, a scholar of social policy working at Northwestern University, throws harsh words at the medical, advocacy, and professional institutions. His observations are not only insightful, but they are well reasoned as well as articulated in a clear way. Although it may seem as though his writings underestimate the professional ethic of modern medicine, it is clear to an understanding reader that his purpose isn't to simply throw mud, but to inspire communities.

Using examples from his home town in Chicago, McKnight illustrates that when a community is faced with challenge, the best "solution" may not really be a "solution," but a habit. Rather than simply looking at communities as a group that needs to have their problems solved, it is more important to focus on the assets inherent in all of its individuals.

McKnight wishes to save communities from the obfuscating languages of medicine and professionalism. His book, "The Careless Society" is a triumph for the common good.
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