Leadership and Change in Human Services: Selected Readings from Wolf Wolfensberger. David G. Race (Editor). London: Routledge, 2003.
In the interest of full disclosure, I mention that I have thought of Wolf Wolfensberger as one of my principal teachers since I first read an article by him in Mental Retardation in 1971. I have attended numerous workshops conducted by Dr. Wolfensberger and, over a period of nearly 30 years, I have taught many of his ideas to others, through the use of Program Analysis of Service Systems (PASS 3).
I used to say that it was my ambition to read everything that Wolf Wolfensberger has written. When I looked at the complete bibliography in Leadership and Change, I realized the vanity of such an ambition. Wolfensberger's publication history began in 1958 and continues today; the bibliography is complete through some time in 2002. This publication history is amazing, not only for its duration but also for its scope. Race has performed the valuable service of distilling the themes of Wolfensberger's written work, which makes those themes available to many who might otherwise never have a chance to consider the original pieces, some of which can be hard to locate. So, reading the excerpts in Leadership and Change, together with Race's editorial guidance about them, offers me the consolation that I have somehow approximated the achievement of my original ambition.
In his preface to Leadership and Change, Race explains the choices that he made as he was confronted with such a large body of published writing. In the end, he notes, the book is an attempt to reach a broader audience than academics, “with a clear laying out of the range of ideas and issues that have figured in Wolfensberger's writings” (pp. ix– x). Readers should note that the writings from which extracts are drawn do not include Wolfensberger's theological essays, which have been elsewhere collected. The present book also excludes excerpts from Wolfensberger's teaching materials, although considerable overlap might be evident between those materials and the publications in this volume. Because the book is intended to focus on Wolfensberger's main ideas, the organization and the presentation of readings are thematic rather than chronological.
Seven themes emerge. The first three of these themes encompass Wolfensberger's explicit attention to what he names the “ideologies” that do (or might) underlie organized human services. Chapter 1 contains extracts that analyze the phenomena of social devaluation and the “wounding” of people, and the following chapters have extracts that deal with the principle of normalization (chapter 2) and its successor, Social Role Valorization (chapter 3). Again, extracts within each of these chapters follow a pattern of developing the main theme and, so, do not necessarily appear in the chronological order of their original publication.
The fourth chapter is focused on Wolfensberger's writing about advocacy. Within the chapter is a lengthy extract from his 1977 monograph, A Balanced Multi-Component Advocacy/Protection Schema. That monograph is not as well known as it ought to be. It contains very useful descriptions of and distinctions among various forms of advocacy, and it offers still timely cautions about the weaknesses inherent in or attaching to these advocacy forms. I was gratified to see this substantial extract in the book.
Chapter 5 is made up of extracts that summarize. Wolfensberger's serious critique of current human services. Aside from the first extract (from “The Third Stage in the Evolution of Voluntary Associations for the Mentally Retarded,” 1973), the pieces in this chapter have appeared either in non-North American publications or in publications that are unlikely to have been widely circulated. So, Rice makes these important extracts more readily available to North American readers for the first time.
The last two chapters return, in a sense, to the beginning of the book. In chapter 6, the extracts focus on what are seen as logical, if deadly, outcomes of the processes of devaluation and “wounding” described in the first chapter. The last chapter contains statements of witness about how much others may both learn from and be blessed by the presence of and interactions with vulnerable people.
Robertson Davies, the Canadian novelist and essayist, once commented that some students found the plots of Shakespeare's tragedies “far-fetched.” Davies' advice to such students was that they should read a major metropolitan newspaper on any given Monday to find Othello or Macbeth re-enacted in a suburb over the weekend. I offer Davies' comment as an analogy to the reaction of some to Wolf Wolfensberger's writing about vulnerable people and services offered to them. Lots of people have decided that his thinking is extreme—maybe even “far-fetched.” Then, at least some of them later find his observations confirmed, both in the stumbling pattern of the operation of human services and, more significantly, in the harm that regularly befalls vulnerable people and that sometimes gets reported in our daily papers.
Race has done us a favor. He has extracted, with Wolfensberger's cooperation, the essence of Dr. Wolfensberger's thought in a volume that could almost be carried in one's pocket. This book enables an acquaintance with the main threads of Wolfensberger's career (so far). Race says that “throughout this book we have emphasized the connectedness of the different aspects of Wolfensberger's teaching and writing.” That connectedness reveals itself, as one moves back and forth among the themes and among the eras that called the extracts forth. It would be tempting to read this book only as history. Wolfensberger has remarked, however, in effect like Mark Twain, that reports of his death have been greatly exaggerated. If this is history (and it is), then it is history with both a “contemporary ring” and a finger pointed toward the future.