Tuesday Jul 10, 2012
In past courses, students have observed as Bloom, an associate professor of sociology, minority studies and history, interviewed his guests, drawing forth their colorful first-person accounts.
What Bloom’s students might not realize is that the man conducting those interviews is himself a highly respected authority on the movement. Bloom’s book, Class, Race and the Civil Rights Movement, has been continuously in print since 1987, with more than 11,000 copies sold. A recent search on Google Scholar revealed that Bloom has had the second-highest number of citations of any College of Arts and Science (COAS) faculty member, and that many of those referenced his book. It received two national awards in 1988, having been awarded second prize in the C. Wright Mills Award, the oldest prize given in sociology, and named an “Outstanding Book” by the Gustavus Meyers Foundation.
Bloom speculates that the numerous citations may be due to the fact that his perspective was one that hadn’t previously been addressed.
“One was the class angle. Nobody had ever looked at that question before,” Bloom said. “I think it provided an understanding of what made the movement possible that is quite different from what you get from virtually any other analysis of the Civil Rights Movement.”
The success of the book prompted the publisher to request a second edition, which Bloom expects to work on for the next couple of years. Among the revisions, Bloom said he will add a new chapter that analyzes the long-term consequences of the movement. He also said that, after decades of related research, he has a better overall understanding of the movement, and that the new edition will reflect that.
Bloom’s fascination with social movements and revolutions is long-standing. After completingClass, Race and the Civil Rights Movement, he traveled to Poland in 1986 to interview scores of folks involved in the Solidarity Movement. In the early 1980s, the Polish government had attempted to destroy unions and repressed workers politically. This prompted a large-scale social movement in which the workers resisted.
Bloom returned to Poland several times over the next decade to conduct more interviews and even live amongst the working families in the midst of the upheaval. He interviewed journalists, prime ministers, members of the secret police and underground workers societies, among others. One of the families he stayed with led Bloom to meet a very special woman.
“I got a wife out of the deal as well,” Bloom laughed about meeting Joanna.
Bloom said that the Civil Rights Movement had set a powerful example for those resisting the Polish government, and one that continues to reverberate worldwide.
“The Civil Rights Movement had a historic influence in terms of getting people to understand the power of non-violent resistance,” he said.
The result of Bloom’s travels was Seeing Through the Eyes of the Polish Revolution: Solidarity and the Struggle Against Communism in Poland, which will be available in the U.S. about 18 months after its release in Europe next year. The book covers the period of Communism from when it was imposed in Poland in 1945 all the way through to its end in 1989. Bloom examines the periods before, during and after Solidarity.
The making of a sociology scholar
From sit-ins, to steelworker, to author, Bloom took a unique path to academic notability. His personal story is perhaps as intriguing as his theories about the rise and outcomes of social movements.
The University of California, Berkeley, has a reputation for student activism, and no time in recent history has perhaps been more significant than the politically charged 1960s, when free speech, civil rights and the Vietnam War were top of mind, and sit-ins and protests were part of a student activist’s everyday life.
Young Bloom was in the thick of it, yearning to make a difference. At a time when he was deeply entrenched in his sociology graduate work and on the cusp of a doctoral degree, the now-seasoned scholar had suddenly chosen to take a different path.
“By 1970, I said, ‘Enough of this, I’m going to see if I can have an impact on the real world,’” Bloom recalled.
Bloom wanted to create change, so the Park Forest, Ill. native left his doctoral work behind to champion causes he felt strongly about, first in Detroit, then Atlanta, and then back to the Chicago area, where he took a job as a laborer at U.S. Steel.
After experiencing what life in this realm was really like, Bloom decided that he was better suited to inspire change through higher education. He soon traded the role of social movement activist for that of social movement scholar, dusting off his dissertation notes to resume work on his doctorate.
“That was an experience,” Bloom said, “working shift work and working on my dissertation.”
In 1980, Bloom received his Ph.D. and used that dissertation as the basis for Class, Race and the Civil Rights Movement, which was published seven years later.
Bloom’s course repertoire includes: Social Problems; Social Movements; Society and the Individual; The Civil Rights Movement; Race and Ethnic Relations; and the Iraq War and Social Change.