Self-Help in America: A Social Movement Perspective (SOCIAL MOVEMENTS PAST AND PRESENT)

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9780805738773: Self-Help in America: A Social Movement Perspective (SOCIAL MOVEMENTS PAST AND PRESENT)
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By its very definition, self-help suggests a person's autonomous effort to solve a problem. Yet, as Alfred H. Katz argues in this sociohistorical introduction to the self-help culture, what links America's diverse self-help organizations is the shared belief that the group experience itself allows the individual to work through his or her problem and live a normal life.
Taking personal testimonials in tandem with scholarly research, Katz analyzes what he calls the "phenomenon" of self-help in the United States, where possibly as many as 730,000 such groups with at least 10 to 15 million members currently operate. That programs managed by human-services professionals and agencies have failed to address particular public needs is attested to by the rapid rate at which self-help groups have been forming over the last 20 years, according to Katz. Although Katz uses social movement criteria in looking at why and how self-help groups work, he notes that the huge diversity among such groups and their lack of a unifying political force renders the description social trend more accurate.
To highlight the respective characteristics of the two main types of self-help groups, 12-step and non-12-step, Katz compares a successful example of the former - Adult Children of Alcoholics - with one of the latter - the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. The ideology of Alcoholics Anonymous - that personal change can only be achieved through spiritual belief or conversion, as reflected in its listing of the 12 steps members must take toward recovery from addiction - is where the first category gets its name. This type of group's near-universal meeting format and rituals, and its refrain from engaging in any sociopolitical activity, stands in marked contrast to non-12-step groups, which do not expect their members to pursue a phased path of personal growth and change and whose structures vary considerably.
In addition to exploring the leadership, ideology, and growth patterns of both types of groups, Katz looks at the populist tendencies among non-12-step groups that prompt members to take social action to shape public policy. One of the most controversial issues in self-help - to what degree human-services professionals should be involved in a particular group, if in fact at all - Katz addresses in a thorough and unbiased manner. Likewise, he fairly considers the potential effectiveness of government involvement in U.S. self-help groups by comparing the situations of Canada, Great Britain, and Germany.
Katz concludes this clear and concise overview of self-help by returning to the question of whether this collective behavior - however diverse its motivating forces - constitutes a social movement. As a social scientist, however, Katz finds the theoretical question of self-help secondary to the fact that the success of such groups holds the promise of a better social life for the world's billions of people.

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Katz, Alfred H.
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