"If there was such a thing as an award for best chapter in a monograph, I would definitely nominate the first chapter of Erica Kohl-Arenas’ book ‘The Self-Help Myth-How Philanthropy fails to alleviate poverty’. The chapter provides an excellent overview over core debates about philanthropy, beneficiary participation in self-help projects and how such approaches have a historical legacy of failing farmworkers in California."
—Tobias Denskus, Senior Lecturer for Communications and Development at Malmo University in Sweden
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"Kohl-Arenas shows in gripping detail how oppositional tactics become entangled in day-to-day policy-making practices, reducing real labor crises to rhetorical problems of innovation, self-help and cooperation--- a critical missing link in the literature that scrutinizes neoliberal tactics for provisioning the safety net in America."
—Vincanne Adams, Professor of Medical Anthropology, UC San Francisco, author of Markets of Sorrow, Labors of Faith
“Hard-hitting, solidly researched, and well-written, The Self-Help Myth: How Philanthropy Fails to Alleviate Poverty by Erica Kohl-Arenas, a researcher at the New School, explains how philanthropy has left farmworker organizations to ameliorate their own living conditions and create their own social-service groups. The story sheds light on major problems that affect all of philanthropy — especially its unwillingness to finance advocates who want to change the system — and for that reason the book is worth reading by everyone committed to social change.”
—Pablo Eisenberg, Senior Fellow at Georgetown Public Policy Institute
The Self-Help Myth reveals how philanthropy maintains systems of inequality by attracting attention to the behaviors and responsibilities of poor people while shifting the focus away from structural inequities and relationships of power that produce poverty. The book’s archival and ethnographic case studies show how foundation investments in addressing migrant poverty in California’s Central Valley, simultaneously one of the wealthiest agricultural production regions in the world and home to the poorest people in the United States, set firm boundaries around definitions of self-help – excluding labor organizing, immigrant rights, and advocacy approaches that hold industry accountable for the enduring abuses of farmworkers and immigrants.
"In a field dominated by shallow analysis and self-promotion, The Self Help Myth stands out as a model of engaged and critical scholarship. Beautifully written and carefully researched, this book is a must-read for anyone concerned with transforming philanthropy into a genuine force for social change."
—Michael Edwards, Distinguished Senior Fellow, Demos
"Kohl-Arenas combines nuanced ethnography and compelling historical analysis to show how the structural interests of philanthropic foundations remain at odds with their stated goals to reduce poverty and inequality."
—Alyosha Goldstein, Associate Professor of American Studies, University of New Mexico, and author of Poverty in Common: The Politics of Community Action during the American Century
“Erica Kohl-Arenas opens her important and sharply-observed new book with a field note from her visit to organized philanthropy’s grand palaver, the Annual Meeting of the Council on Foundations. An ethnographer amidst the multitudes of foundation professionals . . . Kohl-Arenas offers an especially acute critique of the widely influential ideas about social capital and civic engagement underlying this initiative, which put a premium on network building, leadership development, cultural diversity, and social integration while actively discouraging any kind of confrontational organizing or acknowledgement of structural inequality at all . . . At the same time, she makes it clear that the grantee organizations did not passively buy in to the foundation’s framing, but tried to adapt it for their own purposes while also educating funders about the needs of their communities.”
—Alice O’Connor, Professor, Department of History,
University of California, Santa Barbara
The Self-Help Myth: How Philanthropy Fails to Alleviate Poverty
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