The urban crisis of the 1960s revived a dormant social activism whose protagonists placed their hoped for radical change and political effectiveness in community action. Ironically, the insurgents chose the local community as their terrain for a political battle that in reality involved a few strictly local issues. They failed to achieve their goals, Ira Katznelson argues, not so much because they had chosen their ground badly but because the deep split of the American political landscape into workplace politics and community politics defeats attempts to address grievances or raise demands that break the rules of bread-and-butter unionism on the one hand or of local politics on the other.
A fascinating record of the encounter between today’s reformers—the community activists—and the powers they challenge. City Trenches is also a probing analysis of the causes of urban instability. Katznelson anatomizes the unique workings of the American urban system which allow it to contain opposition through “machine” politics and, as a last resort, institutional innovation and co-optation, for example, the authorities’ own version of decentralization used in the 1960s as a counter to a “community control.” Washington Heights–Inwood, a multi-ethnic working-class community in northern Manhattan, provides the setting for an absorbing close-up view of the historical evolution of local politics: the challenge to the system in the 1960s and its reconstitution in the 1970s.
About Ira Katznelson
Ira Katznelson is Columbia University's Ruggles Professor of Political Science and History. Having served as president of the American Political Science Association, he is a member of the Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society. He is also the author of Fear Itself and When Affirmative Action Was White.
“Literate style and pungent analysis make City Trenches a great pleasure to read. Katznelson brilliantly illuminates the distinctive contours of urban politics in the United States and opens new vistas for the comparative history of work, community, and class in all industrial-capitalist democracies.”
—Theda Skocpol, Institute for Advanced Study, Member, 1980–1981
“A fascinating, original, and important account of how the historic separation of work from community in America has profoundly shaped political behavior. Using a unique combination of macrohistorical analysis of class and urbanism in America with a case study of a northern Manhattan community, this book captures the distinctive organizational, linguistic, and ideological aspects of American urban politics.”
—William Julius Wilson, Lucy Flower Professor of Urban Sociology, University of Chicago
“City Trenches is one of the two or three best books on American city politics published in the past fifteen years. It provides the most persuasive analysis I have ever encountered of the central puzzle of recent urban politics—the sources and nature of political turmoil in American cities during the 1960s, and how political order was restored at the end of that turbulent decade. Sheds entirely new light on the relationship between social class and politics in the United States.”
—Martin Shefter, Cornell University
“City Trenches is one of the few works which combine a structural and historically sensitive analysis of American society with an empirical analysis of a microcosm of that society. On the frontiers of a theory of the political economy of urban growth and urban social movements.”
—Robert R. Alford, University of California, Santa Cruz