Copyright Sociological Research Online, 1996

 

Waves of Democracy: Social Movements and Political Change

John Markoff
Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press
1996
0 8039 9019 7
14.95
xvii + 174 pp.

Order this book

Development and Social Change: A Global Perspective

Philip McMichael
Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press
1996
0 8039 9066 9
14.99
xix + 310 pp.

Order this book

These two books are among the first in the new series entitled Sociology for a New Century, published by Pine Forge Press (a Sage Publications Company) and edited by Charles Ragin, Wendy Griswold and Larry Griffin. The series sets out to provide 'the best of current sociological thinking' in the format of easily accessible texts for students, and each book is designed to offer 'a comparative, historical, transnational, or global perspective to help broaden students' vision' (Markoff, p. x). The emphasis throughout seeks to be on commonalities cutting across national boundaries rather than on viewing 'social issues and questions in narrowly American terms' (Markoff, p. x).

Both books largely fulfill these ambitious objectives, although readers in Europe will find that they have a tendency to retain a certain north American bias in their emphasis and choice of examples. This, though, is scarcely unexpected, since both authors hail from the USA and the books are designed primarily for that market. Another feature that some will not find to their liking is the tendency for both books, and particularly McMichael's, to be written in a rather chatty and conversational style, seeking to engage the reader in an at times somewhat false conversation. McMichael (p. 1) thus begins along the following lines: 'To envision the global marketplace, think about the clothes you wear, the consumer goods you purchase, and the food you eat. Much of what you wear, use and consume today has global origins. Even when a product has a "made in USA" label, its journey to market probably combines components and labor from production and assembly sites around the world'. This is hardly contentious, but the emphasis is very much on your athletic shoes, your jeans and your fast food. While this is a style that is increasingly commonly accepted in text books, it is not to every student's liking, and can at times appear somewhat patronizing and condescending.

In style and format the books are slightly different. Markoff includes useful suggested readings at the end of each chapter, whilst McMichael incorporates some excellent boxed case studies. In both books, the footnotes are hidden away inaccessibly at the end of the text, but both have good bibliographies and sensible indexes, with McMichael's also incorporating short glossary entries on some of the terms. Surprisingly, there are no maps in McMichael's text, and those in Markoff's are tucked away in an appendix at the back, entitled 'The geography of democratization'. This seems a very strange publishing decision, since the maps provide useful illustrations of some of the arguments made, and future books in the series would do well to incorporate illustrations and maps at appropriate junctures in the text. The editors would also be advised to check up on some of the wonderful typographical errors to be found, particularly where they substantially change the meaning of the text!

In terms of content, both books provide a broad, but useful, treatment of their themes. Markoff's central aim is to illustrate and examine the various forces that have shaped our meanings of democracy from the 18th century to the present. He does this, as his title suggests, by identifying what he calls antidemocratic and democratic waves that have alternatively risen to dominance at particular periods in the past. The urgency of his argument is made all the more pertinent, because he sees the present as being the crest of the greatest democratic wave to date, with the future being highly uncertain. Rather than adopting a theoretical approach to understanding the meaning of contemporary democracy, his study is based very much in empirical reconstruction. He adopts two vantage points. First, he considers why democratic notions first really gained power at the end of the 19th century, and how they have then changed in response to the ways in which people have challenged governments. Second, he explores the ways in which democratic ideas have themselves moved across national boundaries, and particularly how all the countries that have recently partaken in the latest multicontinental wave of democratization have done so.

McMichael's much longer book seeks to provide an introduction to the global roots and dimensions of the development project. Again, rather than adopting an excessively theoretical framework, his intention is first to provide students with an understanding of the contexts within which such theories emerged. His overall agenda is to situate current global social changes in an historical context, first by examining them within the development era between the 1940s and the 1970s, and then in the more recent period when the 'development' idea has become of declining significance as a new global era emerges. The book's framework is clearly summarized in an excellent diagram at the start, which interprets the two eras in terms of their political economy, social goals, development, mobilizing tools, mechanisms, variants, markers and institutional developments. McMichael's arguments and case studies are then lucidly and powerfully argued, leading to the conclusion that 'the development project was an organizing myth that had broad appeal for some time' (p. 252). What he argues is much less clear is whether globalization has an equivalent appeal. As did Markoff, he suggest that the present is a crucial time when the world is at a critical juncture. He suggests that human sustainability requires the preservation of community in an inclusive sense rather than in the exclusive formulation of globalization, and that there is a very real danger that the economic prescriptions of globalization will be detrimental to the interests of movements for social protection.

Both books have much in common. They stress the importance of the period in which we live, and the uncertainty of the future. They argue cogently for the need for democratic and socially sensitive institutions to be created and maintained. They illustrate the value of contemporary social science in providing insights into the complex processes of global change. Despite the quibbles mentioned earlier, they are also both very accessible introductions to the complex subjects which they address, and they fulfill the intentions of the series in providing comparative and transnational introductions to key social issues of today.

Tim Unwin
Royal Holloway, University of London

Copyright Sociological Research Online, 1996