On the reading of “old” scholarly contributions

One of my wonderful planning theory students was clearly worried about my using a chapter from Manuel Castells’ The City and the Grassroots: A Cross-Cultural Theory of Urban Social Movements. In particular, I use the chapter on the formation of San Francisco’s Castro district as a means to discuss cosmopolitanism and the tensions that arise between integration and invisibility and using urban space and enclaves as a means to create power and visibility in urban politics.

“Have you thought about using something more….recent…about San Francisco?” he asked.

In a word, no. I haven’t.

It’s my opinion that the City and the Grassroots is, by far, Castells’ best book, and given that he has written wonderful book after wonderful book, that’s saying a lot. In fact, I think that The City and the Grassroots is one of the best books written about the city, ever, period.

But doesn’t the fact that it was published in 1983 make it dated?

How, really? Did the Castro re-form itself? Certainly, the place has changed, but the fact that the city didn’t stay frozen in time does not invalidate or erase Castell’s point: that the formation of a gay space was intentional, political and effective, at least for awhile.

Where do students get this idea that you can’t read anything over five years old? Are there teachers and parents out there telling them that a book written about Plato in 1960 can’t be any good? No, I don’t necessarily want you reading atmospheric science from 1983. But should you really not read Clifton Fadiman’s Lifetime Reading Plan simply because it’s old and doesn’t have some of the newer Must Reads on there? Honestly, if you follow the no-older-than-five-year rule, you won’t read most of the contributions that win Nobel Prizes for their recipients, and I’m here to tell you, you really need to read William Vickrey.


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