You are on page 1of 4

Book Reviews

soregarded.In this regard Wrong falls subject, in his final page, to the 'metaphysical pathos' of bureaucracy when he writes that 'bureaucratic organizations
are subject to evaluation solely by standards of effidency in
achieving tangible goals'. They are not, and one of the reasons they are not is
predsely the cross-cutting of dass and organization in contemporary sodeties.
One does not have to be a structural determinist in order to argue a case for
conceiving of organizations as structures oi control, generative of bases of
conflicts and opposition as well as opportunities for collective and individual
power capable of expression in various forms, where the evolution of that
control is seen as an effect (rf the class structure context of organization and
the contradictory bases of power it generates. This would, inddentally, then
mean that one would have to be more sanguine than Wrong about the reliance
of organization theory on 'size' as an explanatory variable independent of
power and politics.
Such an approach to power and organization would be consistent with
Wrong's conception of the sodological vocation as discerning 'the developmental potentialities inherent in power relations, induding tendendes to
confUct and dissolution' as well as 'the broader responsibility <rf exploring the
outer limits of the possible by considering alternative sodal arrangements
that reduce inequalities of power; for example, by dispensing with widespread reliance on coerdon and restricting power relations as much as
possible to a minimum di scope-specific competent authority' (p. 195).
However, as competent authority is defined by Wrong in terms of 'skill' (p.
52) then the weight of my earlier remarks becomes apparent: as a form of
power it is also dearly, in the light of the de-skilling/hyper-qualification
theses, an effect of power conceived as a structure of control generative of
definitions and specializations of competent authority. At this point, despite
their urbanity and refinement, one might well pause to reflect on the explanatory utility of elegant taxonomies. The merit of the work is that one's
reflections will have been thoroughly, consistently and purposefully prompted. This book should be widely adopted by people involved in teaching
political sodology or the sodology of power.
Griffith University, Australia.

STEWART CLEGG.

Breaking the Magic Spell: Radical Theories of Folk and Fairy Tales
by Jack Zipes. Pp. 201, Heinemann Educational Books Ltd,
London, 1979, 8.50. Paper 3.95.
The Fairy Story has become a profitable commodity with Tolkien's Lord
of the Rings and The Hobbit, Richard Adams's Watership Down holding
a consistendy high position in the best-seller charts while old Disney films
such as Snov) White and Cinderella sustain their appeal to new generations
of children. The fairy story is probably the most popular literary genre in
that virtually everyone either reads or has them read to them, so much so
that the stories have become embedded in popular consdousness. Surpris-

695

Book Reviews
ingly there has been a dearth of sodological studies of this genre and Jack
Zipes's book is a welcome contribution both to the analysis of this area and
to the burgeoning development oi popular culture studies generally. He discusses the historical evolution ai the Fairy Story as it became distinguished
from Folk Tales largely in terms of the Frankfurt School's theory of 'Culture
Industry' in particular focussing on the theoretical work of Emst Bloch for
whom the Fairy Story projected a subversive and emancipatory potential
through narratives which reveal a more optimistic world than the actual
world depicted by the story itself. Originally, Zipes argues, the Folk Tale
developed as part of the oral tradition of pre-capitalist sodety constituting
a kind of communal property, its narrative form cultivated by ordinary people
and its structure, while close to the experience of the community embodied
'Utopian longings' that gave the Folk Tale its critical aura. But with the
growth of bourgeois society the Folk Tale becomes transformed and 'corrupted' and although still retaining the emancipatory elements of the Folk
Tale which bring it into conflict with bourgeois norms of order, disdpline
and industry (the stories celebrate the play element and stress the fantasy
component in imagination which opposes them to nineteenth century
bourgeois rationalism) it is gradually absorbed by the 'culture industry' and
stripped of its negative and critical elements. Echoing the work d Horkheimer, Adorno and Marcuse, Zipes thus writes:
The fragmented experiences of atomized and alienated people are
ordered and harmonized by turning the electric magic switch of the radio
or TV
Whereas the original folk tale was cultivated by a narrator and
the audience to clarify and interpret phenomena in a way that would
strengthen meaningful social bonds, the narrative perspective of a massmediated fairy story . . . has assumed totalitarian shapes and hues because
the narrative voice is no longer responsive to an active audience but
manipulates it according to the vested interests of the state and private
industry (p. 17).
Now the problem with this formulation, as Zipes himself recognises in his
analyses of Disney's Snow White and Tolkien's The Hobbit is that it defines
the relation ai art object to audience mechanistically and passively. One of the
major failings of the Frankfurt School's analysis of culture is the absence of
an adequate reception aesthetic or reception theory so that the relation
of reader to text is one of passive consumption. The great value of
Zipes's book is that he attempts to include a reception theory in his
overall analysis and he jusUy criticises psychological theories such as
Bruno Bettelheim's case study of fourteen fairy stories {The Uses of
Enchantment) for its failure 'to investigate the possibilities for comprehension by children in the light of the dialectical relationship of a
specific audience to the ule at any given moment in history* (p. 170). Thus
although accepting the Frankfurt School's general theory of mass culture as
it relates to the fairy story, Zipes departs from their spedfic condemnation
of the atomised and passive reader. Even with Disney's travesty of Snoa
White which redefined the role of the dwarfs from the original tale as
characters deeply involved in a struggle for power to Snow White*s 'surrogate

696

Book Reviews
mother* dutifully observing the middle-class American norms of order and
work ethic, the masses' perception of the film goes against the grain of its
overt ideology. So while the film suggests an 'image of America as one happy
family pulling together to clean up the economic mess' produced by the
Great Depression of the nineteen-thirties the masses respond positively to
the residual Utopian elements which remain from the original story, the
anti-authoritarian and anti-totalitarian element. Snow White uniting with 'the
littie people* to overthrow 'the oppressive rule oi the evil queen'. Zipes's analysis of The Hobbit is couched in similar terms with the overt ideology of the
story, its opposition to industrialism and technology, its conformist norms
regulating social hierarchies and the social position of women contradicted
by its creation of 'new sensual longings which commodity production cannot fulfil'. The Hobbit is a littie man, an ordinary unambitious creature of
routine who is suddenly forced into a struggle against evil trolls, wolves and
goblins in the course of which he learns of the value of 'brotherhood'. And
so, Zipes argues, the work is not simply a form of irrational reactionary
ideology but a critique of capitalist social relations in which fantasy 'does
not simply pacify the reader but reinforces the need to overcome the divisiveness and fragmentation of everyday life' (p. 157).
Zipes has written a stimulating and important contribution to the sociology of popular literature and although he may exaggerate the significance of
the Utopian elements in fairy stories as the reason for their mass appeal, his
emphasis on the dialectical relation of reader to text and the whole question
of a theory of reception aesthetics marks a major development away from
the crude theories which have dominated the field of popular culture for so
long.
London School of Economics.

ALAN SWINGEWOOD.

697