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Making Life Work

Freedom and Disability in a Community Group Home

2010
Author:

Jack Levinson

Making Life Work

Understanding how group home life is not so different from our own

A clear-eyed ethnography of a New York City group home, Making Life Work shows how the group home needs the knowledgeable and voluntary participation of residents and counselors alike. Jack Levinson reveals that rather than being seen as the antithesis of freedom, the group home must be understood as representing the fundamental dilemmas between authority and the individual in contemporary liberal societies.

Making Life Work is a wonderful book. Jack Levinson presents insightful, thought provoking, and well-written ethnographic portrayals of ‘dependent’ adults and their caregivers.

Wendy Simonds, Georgia State University

Group homes emerged in the United States in the 1970s as a solution to the failure of the large institutions that, for more than a century, segregated and abused people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Yet community services have not, for the most part, delivered on the promises of rights, self-determination, and integration made more than thirty years ago, and critics predominantly portray group homes simply as settings of social control.

Making Life Work is a clear-eyed ethnography of a New York City group home based on more than a year of field research. Jack Levinson shows how the group home needs the knowledgeable and voluntary participation of residents and counselors alike. The group home is an actual workplace for counselors, but for residents group home work involves working on themselves to become more autonomous. Levinson reveals that rather than being seen as the antithesis of freedom, the group home must be understood as representing the fundamental dilemmas between authority and the individual in contemporary liberal societies. No longer inmates but citizens, these people who are presumed—rightly or wrongly—to lack the capacity for freedom actually govern themselves.

Levinson, a former group home counselor, demonstrates that the group home depends on the very capacities for independence and individuality it cultivates in the residents. At the same time, he addresses the complex relationship between services and social control in the history of intellectual and developmental disabilities, interrogating broader social service policies and the role of clinical practice in the community.

Making Life Work

Jack Levinson is assistant professor of sociology at The City College of New York.

Making Life Work

Making Life Work is a wonderful book. Jack Levinson presents insightful, thought provoking, and well-written ethnographic portrayals of ‘dependent’ adults and their caregivers.

Wendy Simonds, Georgia State University

Making Life Work is a sensitively researched and sensitively written book ... [that] captures the daily work of counsellors and residents in a way I have rarely seen elsewhere. A rigorous, thoughtful and thought-provoking approach.

Kathy Boxall, British Journal of Social Work

Levinson shows the complex link between services and social control of people with disabilities. His main argument is that the group home represents the dilemma between authority and freedom in contemporary society. Making Life Work is a well-written and insightful book that provides a rich portrayal and a novel understanding of adults with intellectual disabilities living in a group home. I recommend it to others in the fields of sociology and disability studies.

Sally Lindsay, Canadian Journal of Sociology

What shape does freedom take? The entirety of Making Life Work, Jack Levinson’s beautifully detailed, nuanced, and sensitive ethnography, can be seen as an attempt to answer just that question as applied to adults with intellectual disabilities in a residential group home.

Chris Walton, American Journal of Sociology

[Levinson] plays adroitly on the idea of ‘making life work’ . . . Ambitiously conceived and meticulously documented, the text includes the larger theoretical and methodological project of linking the micro-sociology of the 1960s–1980s with more recent Foucauldian discussions of governance put forth by Nikolas Rose.

Gelya Frank, Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry

Needs to be a staple in university classrooms that influence the minds of today and tomorrow’s professionals. ... A humbling read.

Contemporary Sociology