A solid, sweeping examination of peer pressure as a force for social change.
New York Times Magazine contributor Rosenberg, whose The Haunted Land: Facing Europe’s Ghosts After Communism (1996) won both a Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, looks at how a variety of difficult problems around the world have been solved through peer pressure, a phenomenon that she calls “the social cure.” People care what their peers think of them, writes the author, and this fact can be employed to bring about desirable changes in a society. Rosenberg relates how a number of different architects of the social cure developed their strategies and challenged an undesirable status quo. She focuses heavily on Otpor, a group-led student movement in Serbia that fought against widespread passivity by making activism attractive to young people and eventually succeeded in removing Slobodan Milosevic from power. Since then, Otpor’s leaders have taught their methods in other countries and helped bring about revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia. The author also examines loveLife, an AIDS-prevention campaign in South Africa that reached teenagers by being hip and fun; a smoking-prevention program that recognized American teens’ rebellious urges and directed them toward cigarette advertisements; a club-based program that helped black college students work together and improve their scores in calculus courses; and peer-based programs in San Francisco and New York that focus on helping convicts reenter society or deterring at-risk youth from joining gangs. Given these successes, can the social cure be effective in reducing acts of terrorism? Rosenberg looks at some controversial programs in England that are operating inside mosques to reach alienated young Muslim men and de-radicalize them before they become violent. Finally, the author, who has lived in Mexico, outlines a program that demonstrates how peer pressure might be used both inside and outside government to reduce corruption in that country. An appendix provides further information about organizations profiled in the book.
An optimistic view of the ways in which the human desire to be respected by one’s peers can bring about revolutions, topple dictatorships and perhaps produce a safer world.