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Cover for the book Feudal America

Feudal America

Elements of the Middle Ages in Contemporary Society Vladimir Shlapentokh, and Joshua Woods
  • Copyright: 2011
  • Dimensions: 6 x 9
  • Page Count: 184 pages
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-0-271-03781-3
  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-271-03782-0
“Shlapentokh and Woods have not merely shed new light on American society, but have also contributed to an emerging way of theorizing. What they have done is analogous to what Impressionism did for art, showing that the same landscape might be revealed in different ways when viewed from multiple perspectives. And, like those of the Impressionists, their insights will challenge the status quo in sociological theory. In particular, they argue against the totalizing tendencies of most theorists. In place of an all-encompassing theory, they propose a ‘segmented’ neo-Weberian approach that is historically grounded but also self-limiting. Thus, the feudal model is proposed as one among several ideal types—other major types are authoritarian and liberal—that might fruitfully be used to interrogate American society.”
“In this provocative study, a pair of sociologists—one Russian and one American—brings a novel framework to the analysis of contemporary American society, one they call the ‘feudal model.’ It is a framework that addresses phenomena not well explained in the more traditional ‘authoritarian’ and ‘liberal’ models of society. This approach is not a substitute for, but rather a complement to, these other models, one that facilitates a new perspective on numerous phenomena in contemporary America. The authors draw on a vast array of sociological and journalistic work and make extensive use of creative analogies to challenge preconceptions about the structure and functioning of American society. Reading this monograph will reward anyone seriously interested in understanding contemporary society in America.”
“In this ingenious and imaginative work, Shlapentokh and Woods point to aspects of the social life of the Middle Ages that are found in the present. A sizable minority of us live in castles, or gated communities, and are protected by our modern-day knights—private security officers. We elect mini-dynasties to provide continuity in political life, and we celebrate our warriors. While modernity illuminates feudal societies, feudal patterns illuminate modernity as well. Differences in societies abound, but there are some universals in the social order that are revealed by this careful, comparative historical work.”
“When I read Vladimir Shlapentokh and Joshua Woods’s application of the concept of feudalism to American society, I realized that they had hit upon something important, something that helps overcome the difficulties of understanding American society within the confines of existing models of ‘democratic’ or ‘authoritarian’ societies. As the authors argue, ‘feudalism’ is a very useful complement to the standard analysis of American society. It helps greatly, for example, in explaining the recent U.S. financial crisis and the role of the ‘princes of the financial world’ in that crisis.

“Feudal America is an important book, one that forces the reader to reexamine existing assumptions about U.S. society. It should be read by every analyst of U.S. politics as well as by a broad range of involved citizens.”
Feudal America: Elements of the Middle Ages in Contemporary Society is a good book for the general reader who has an interest in the Middle Ages and elements of the Middle Ages in contemporary corporate America.”

Do Americans live in a liberal capitalist society, where evenhanded competition rules the day, or a society in which big money, private security, and personal relations determine key social outcomes? Vladimir Shlapentokh and Joshua Woods argue that the answer to these questions cannot be found among the conventional models used to describe the nation. Offering a new analytical tool, the authors present a provocative explanation of the nature of contemporary society by comparing its essential characteristics to those of medieval European societies.

Their feudal model emphasizes five elements: the weakness of the state and its inability to protect its territory, guarantee the security of its citizens, and enforce laws; conflicts and collusions between and within organizations that involve corruption and other forms of illegal or semilegal actions; the dominance of personal relations in political and economic life; the prevalence of an elitist ideology; and the use of private agents and organizations for the provision of safety and security. Feudal America urges readers to suspend their forward-thinking and futurist orientations, question linear notions of social and historical progression, and look for explanations of contemporary social problems in medieval European history.

Vladimir Shlapentokh is Professor of Sociology at Michigan State University.

Joshua Woods is Assistant Professor, Division of Sociology and Anthropology, at West Virginia University.




1. The Feudal Model in Social Analysis: From Medieval Europe to Contemporary America

2. Feudal, Liberal, and Authoritarian Models as Tools for Analyzing the Middle Ages and Contemporary American Society

3. Big Money and Corporations as Promoters of Feudal Tendencies

4. The Feudal Model and the Organizational Level of Analysis

5. Private Coercion: A Feudal Aspect of Contemporary American Society

6. Personal Relations in American Politics and Business: A Feudal Phenomenon




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