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Free spaces : the sources of democratic change in America /

Main Author: Evans, Sara M. 1943-
Other Authors: Boyte, Harry Chatten, 1945-
Format: Book
Language: English
Published: New York : Harper & Row, 1986
Edition: 1st ed.
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Review by Choice Review

A hymn and a petition to democracy in America. Evans, a social historian, and Boyte, a social theorist, trace the egalitarian impulse in America since 1776. They focus not on political campaigns per se, but on assertions of autonomy and human dignity-what the authors call ``free spaces''-by women, blacks, artisans, farmers, and struggling unionists. The secondary sources from which the authors draw their argument are staples of left-oriented history, and in less skillful hands would yield both a predictable and a tendentious narrative. Free Spaces, however, transcends its material. It is refreshing in its lack of jargon and its reminder that a nation increasingly dominated by enormous institutions need not be undemocratic, if individual citizens refuse to be passive and insist on being taken seriously. Not straight history and not simply a work of advocacy, this book marries the two in an effort to provoke thought, spark discussion, and prompt action. It deserves serious attention. No bibliography, but useful endnotes and an adequate index. Recommended for college, university, and public libraries.-M. Birkner, Millersville University of Pennsylvania

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

This compelling study argues that community life, in one form or another, has been a crucial factor in attempts by ordinary Americans to seek democratic change. The authors show how ``free spaces''voluntary associations from social clubs to civic, ethnic and reform groupshave fostered democratic action and ``schooling'' in both citizenship and the common good throughout U.S. history. Focusing on the major movements for social change involving blacks, women and labor, they examine such issues as the role of black churches in the civil rights struggle, and the part played by ethnic communities in the fight to organize labor. The authors' fresh view of communities, so often seen as bulwarks of the status quo, makes this a valuable vantage on democracy and the common citizen. Evans wrote Personal Politics; Boyte's books include The Backyard Revolution. (March 5) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

The authors argue that major social movements benefitting blacks, women, labor, and farmers began with voluntary associations that provided their respective members with the skills to accomplish social change. For example, black churches, free from white control, allowed ``free spaces'' that ultimately furthered the goals of abolition and civil rights. Evans and Boyte observe that thinkers on both the right and left of the political spectrum view voluntary groups as conservative forces that help stabilize the existing order. Right-wing individuals affirm such groups, while the left regards them as counterproductive to social change. The authors argue, however, that participation in such groups as local unions, neighborhood organizations, rural cooperatives, etc., has done more to advance democracy than have the citizenship activities of becoming politically informed and voting. Recommended primarily for academic libraries. David Steiniche, Social Sciences Dept., Missouri Western State Coll., St. Joseph (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

An academic study of the roots of social change throughout America's history. Evans (history/Minnesota) is author of Personal Politics: The Roots of Women's Liberation in the Civil Rights Movement and the New Left. Co-author Boyte is author of The Backyard Revolution and Community is Possible. Together, they have combined to describe how ordinary citizens have, at various times, educated themselves for reform. The ""free spaces"" of the title refers to small community groups--unions, farm coops, church groups--where individuals gain a sense of themselves along with a larger sense of public responsibility to better their group. The seed of the authors' belief lies in the recent historical trend of those historians, such as Fernand Braudel or Barbara Tuchman, who see the traditionally viewed powerless as actually controlling the undercurrent that eventually swell into great social movements. To prove their thesis, the authors show how the civil rights, women's, and trade union movements snowballed from small, protected, often secretive groups that harbored the aspirations of multitudes. Through these groups, people discover new potential, are educated into political facts of life, unite with similar powerless groups, and, most important, build networks for change. The authors see perils in America's current situation. The enormity of institutions today renders volunteerism rarer, as the lure of big subsidies erode such groups' freedom of action. As well, Evans and Boyte argue, traditional public meeting places have largely disappeared (echoing Richard Sennett, who in The Fall of Public Man pointed out that city plazas are now constructed as places to walk through rather than to sit in). Little new here, except a reaffirming demonstration of the ultimate power of the ordinary citizen. Copyright ┬ęKirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.