From Head Shops to Whole Foods: The Rise and Fall of Activist Entrepreneurs

Joshua Clark Davis. Columbia Univ., $35 (336p) ISBN 978-0-231-17158-8
This diligently researched, readable, but somewhat too narrowly focused study surveys the merchant activism of the 1960s and ’70s through the shops that flourished in that era and parses how they fared during neoliberalism’s ascendancy. Davis, a history professor, avoids the stilted language of the academy to produce deft descriptions of African-American bookstores, the head shops of the drug counterculture, the businesses of second-wave feminism, and the arrival of health-food stores and their corporate apotheosis. Using solid, representative examples, Davis traces each vein of activist entrepreneurialism to show how activists’ original intentions were frustrated, altered, or abandoned. African-American bookstores helped introduce new black literary voices but struggled to survive after chain bookstores and Amazon found a way to market African-American literature to a wider audience. Feminist credit unions were either swallowed up by larger financial institutions or failed to thrive, and head shops largely abandoned wider activist causes to focus on drug decriminalization. But it is in the rise of Whole Foods that Davis sees the greatest betrayal of an activist heritage. He pays too little attention to how the political evolution of activist entrepreneurs mirrored the baby boomer generation as a whole, but shows lucidly how today’s “socially responsible” companies too often merely dress up dominant business modes with lofty language. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 05/15/2017
Release date: 08/01/2017
Genre: Nonfiction
Open Ebook - 336 pages - 978-0-231-54308-8
Paperback - 336 pages - 978-0-231-17159-5
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