The Illusion of Civil Society: Democratization and Community Mobilization in Low-Income Mexico

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The Illusion of Civil Society: Democratization and Community Mobilization in Low-Income Mexico
By Jon Shefner
Penn State University Press, 2008
240 pp. $55.00
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Shefner's account of his immersion in a poor Mexican neighborhood on the periphery of Guadalajara provides a vivid filter through which to view the gradual democratization and social frustrations of urbanizing Mexico. A participant-observer sociologist, Shefner documents the tensions between Jesuits and local community organizations and argues that the religious intellectuals' focus on nationwide democratization and partisan politics has been an ill-conceived distraction from the barrio's immediate needs for connected sewers and paved roads. But he overreaches when he attempts to generalize from this one particular case study to assert broader claims, arguing that scholars and activists who have placed much faith in civil society have overestimated the impact of community organizations, masked underlying Marxian conflicts, and skirted the limits of neoliberal capitalism. As an alternative strategy for change, Shefner cursorily posits a "return to specificity" -- focusing on class, ethnicity, and gender -- as each social cleavage becomes a "locus of resistance to domination."