Wagner, David 1950–

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article Share Article
views updated

Wagner, David 1950–

PERSONAL:

Born January 31, 1950, in Brooklyn, NY; son of Sam (in sales) and Sylvia (a homemaker and school aide) Wagner; married Marcia B. Cohen (a professor), August 5, 1980. Education: Columbia University, B.A., 1972, M.S., 1976; University of Massachusetts at Amherst, M.A., 1980; City University of New York, Ph.D., 1988. Hobbies and other interests: Painting, films, reading, dogs.

ADDRESSES:

Home—Portland, ME. Office—Department of Social Work and Sociology, University of Southern Maine, 96 Falmouth St., Portland, ME 04103. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER:

Social worker in New York, NY, 1972-78; Service Employees International Union, Worcester, MA, labor organizer, beginning 1978, became president; American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, New York, NY, labor organizer, ending 1984; Columbia University, New York, NY, lecturer in social work and assistant director of field work, 1985-88; University of Southern Maine, Portland, ME, associate professor of social work, 1988-99, chair and cochair of social work department, 1998-2000, associate professor of social work, 1999—, B.S.W. coordinator, 2000-06, M.S.W coordinator, 2006—.

MEMBER:

National Education Association (member of university executive board), Society for the Study of Social Problems, Social Welfare Worker Action Alliance.

AWARDS, HONORS:

C. Wright Mills Award, Society for the Study of Social Problems, 1993, for Checkerboard Square: Culture and Resistance in a Homeless Society; book award, Northeast Popular Cultural Association, 1998.

WRITINGS:

The Quest for a Radical Profession, University Press of America (Washington, DC), 1990.

Checkerboard Square: Culture and Resistance in a Homeless Society, Westview (Boulder, CO), 1993.

The New Temperance: The American Obsession with Sin and Vice, Westview (Boulder, CO), 1996.

What's Love Got to Do with It? A Critical Look at Amer-ican Charity, New Press (New York, NY), 2000.

The Poorhouse: America's Forgotten Institution, Rowman & Littlefield (Lanham, MD), 2005.

Ordinary People: In and Out of Poverty in the Gilded Age, Paradigm Publishers (Boulder, CO), 2008.

Contributor to books and professional journals.

SIDELIGHTS:

David Wagner is a social worker, educator, and the author of a number of books, including his award-winning Checkerboard Square: Culture and Resistance in a Homeless Society. Wagner's next book, The New Temperance: The American Obsession with Sin and Vice, is a study of the obsession with "clean" living that has escalated since the 1970s. He notes that the politics of danger have influenced the middle class, both to the right and left of the political center, to abstain from "unhealthy" foods, alcohol, tobacco, and multiple sex partners. Emphasis on protecting children from "threats" has resulted in modification of television, films, music, and the internet to make them "safer." Wagner writes of the failures of many of these campaigns, including the limiting of alcohol consumption, and notes that alcoholism is much less common in countries where wine is an accompaniment to meals. Lynn Appleton reviewed the volume in Contemporary Drug Problems, commenting: "Wagner crafts a provocative argument that deserves attention."

In What's Love Got to Do with It? A Critical Look at American Charity, Wagner examines philanthropy and finds that instead of being a product of love and compassion, it is more generally an elitist mechanism for self-promotion. He also perceives that philanthropy works as a social control and refers to it by its traditional name, charity, which, rather than lifting up those who need help, often exacerbates the problems that keep them down. Wagner writes of Native American oppression by missionaries and charities and assistance that comes with religious strings attached. He sees the work of selfless volunteers as often being futile and writes that an "intelligent and generous social policy is a function of government, not private charity or personal altruism."

In reviewing What's Love Got to Do with It? in the Journal of Social Work Education, Paul Terrell wrote: "Wagner's energetic attack on philanthropy stands foursquare in a populist tradition that has been in rather dramatic eclipse since the 1960s. In clear and often scabrous prose, Wagner portrays the ‘real’ functions of philanthropy, deconstructing its myths, exposing some of its less-than-appealing motivations, showing that philanthropy, whatever the nature of its individual motivation, is a social phenomenon, an ideology, and a set of operating principles that undermines social justice and fairness."

The Poorhouse: America's Forgotten Institution is Wagner's history of the poorhouse, particularly during the years from the late nineteenth century through the 1940s, after which most were closed. Wagner notes the evolving purposes of poorhouses prior to this period and then describes six New England poorhouses in Massachusetts, Maine, and New Hampshire that operated during the period he studies, noting that some survived into the 1960s. Many of these were farming operations, and Wagner notes that residents often influenced the management of poorhouses, much of which was humane and considerate of the poor. "In the case of each institution, Wagner discovered and exploited rich documentary evidence, including town and county records, institutional records, letters, and newspaper accounts," noted Paul H. Stuart in the Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare. "He also conducted oral history interviews with the children of a poorhouse superintendent. This book is in many ways a model of what can be accomplished in local social welfare history."

With Ordinary People: In and Out of Poverty in the Gilded Age, Wagner studies the lives of poor people during the three decades following the Civil War, profiling people who, for a period of time, were inmates in an almshouse. Wagner also traces their later lives by drawing on public and genealogical records.

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Booklist, February 15, 2000, Mary Carroll, review of What's Love Got to Do with It? A Critical Look at American Charity, p. 1056.

Contemporary Drug Problems, fall, 1998, Lynn Appleton, review of The New Temperance: The American Obsession with Sin and Vice, p. 627.

Journal of Social Work Education, winter, 2003, Paul Terrell, review of What's Love Got to Do with It?, p. 143.

Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare, September, 2006, Paul H. Stuart, review of The Poorhouse: America's Forgotten Institution, p. 178.

Social Forces, December, 2006, Michael B. Katz, review of The Poorhouse, p. 1055.

ONLINE

University of Southern Maine Web site,http://www.usm.maine.edu/ (May 21, 2008), brief biography.