Civil Society ?

'The State and Community Action'  by Dr. Terry Robson
Pluto Press, London 1999, 256 pp, £ 14.99

Uncle Terry, unlike most of the wankers who write for Pluto Press, was a Derry social worker and political activist who did a fair whack as a political prisoner in the Kesh a few years ago. While in the camp one of his main inspirations were the prison writings of another left wing political prisoner of yesteryear, Antonio Gramsci. (Terry lacks the Italian, as do most of us, alas, but he uses the 1976 Lawrence and Wishart edition of 'Selections from Prison notebooks' which the Sprockett, our resident linguist, says is acceptable.)

The treatise is divided into several parts, beginning with a number of theoretical perspectives involving the community movement of today and a discussion of the State's monopolization of ideas and social initiatives. Topics dealt with include the issue of civil society against the background of social control as the coercive arm of the civil society as exemplified by Kitson and the securocrats, the co-option of radicalism, the role of the Catholic church and so-called communitarianism. Part two examines some of the issues of State and community action by reference to Romania, N. Ireland and the U.S and examines the comparisons between them.

The basic premise of this educational tome – which should be read by all social workers or wannabee social workers, is that you can't trust the state and are likely to be co-opted by it if you accept a job from them (it must be said that this is hardly an awesome insight). But let's see an example of how those in 'community studies' express themselves to us poor proles.

          "the nature of the relationship between the base and the superstructure in which the dominant classes create a system of control disseminated by an ideological hegemony in which the bourgeois 'weltanschauung' is diffused, popularised and finally internalised by the masses [we were wondering when they'd appear] becomes commonsense knowledge. Bourgeois domination is essentially an ideological and cultural fact." (Salamini, The Sociology of Political Praxis, p. 370)

So that's all right then!

          "The ideas and concepts of Antonio Gramsci have been the subject of intense interest and speculation for many years and many contributions have been made to reach an understanding of the potential of his contribution to social change. The issues raised by the original examination of Gramsci's theories force one to conclude that many engaged in community action operate within their perceptions of a civil society and do so in the full knowledge that they subscribe to the hegemonic values of the state. To a very large extent, those who do so act to administer and manage one small section of the hegemony. They become, as a consequence, an extra-bureaucratic arm of the state and, by implication, an extension of the hegemony.
          In those circumstances, the radicalism of many within community action and the community groups is channelled into the bureaucracy of the 'community' organisation and, as a consequence, the social, political and economic programme of the state."

There is no prize for figuring out that this month's buzzword is 'hegemony.' But if you'd said 'praxis' we'd have given you points too. Now, children, say after me – 'hegemony.' You don't need to know what it means but it's pretentious and sounds good – at least to Marxist sociologists.

But enough of the genial academic banter. Dr. Robson has produced a vital and fascinating book which should be widely read, and not only by all those foolish enough to want to be social workers instead of real people. Way to go, Terry!


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