Born in the year of the “final solution to the Jewish question” in Germany, reared in Texas where I entered segregated high school in the year the Supreme Court decided Brown v. Board of Education, I was destined to build a life with a quest for justice at its center. My parents stood up for principles of racial equality, and my life as an activist was launched.
In 1961 I graduated from Brandeis University with a BA in mathematics. My one desire was to leave the U.S., to make my way to a culture as different from the one I knew as I could find, for I knew that what I knew was such a tiny portion of what the world had to offer. I made my way, through marriage and intention, to India, where I lived in extended family for seven years, publishing two books, Bullock Carts and Motor Bikes: Ancient India on a New Road in 1972, and On a Tree of Trouble: Tribes of India in Crisis in 1974.
In 1972, I returned to the US, with a small son, a militant set of principles about child-rearing, few ideas about earning a living, and good friends in the San Francisco Bay Area. With the latter, I began a lay practice in an alternative approach to psychotherapy called Radical Therapy, work grounded in a social theory of alienation and a practice focused on community-building, including group therapy and conflict resolution. We taught workshops in mediation and trained therapists and mediators in long-term apprenticeships.
After some fourteen years, as my son considered where he wanted to go to college, I began enviously to long for a contemplative space in which to explore more deeply, and more theoretically, the ideas on which my practice was based. I applied to the sociology department at Berkeley and was accepted.
The faculty afforded me precisely the forum I wanted, to talk, to read, to write about the questions that occupied me, both in my therapist persona and as an activist. I saw academia as a way to bring together my attachments in South Asia to my more recent wanderings in the intersection of psyche and society. Under the tutelage of Bob Blauner, Sandy Freitag, and others, I returned to the subcontinent to study Hindu-Muslim conflict. In 1992 UC Press published Some Trouble with Cows: Making Sense of Social Conflict, an analysis of a riot in a Bangladeshi village, based only on the oral accounts of the villagers.
While continuing my therapy practice, I’ve gone on since then talking with people about moments of intense social conflict they’ve lived, and trying to draw from those oral histories sociological theory with a social justice bent. Bitters in the Honey and 41 Shots, and Counting, both resulted from that process.
I’ve also engaged in the field of conflict resolution nationally, joining with beloved colleagues to challenge dynamics of exclusion in the newly-professionalizing field. Together, we founded the Practitioners Research and Scholarship Institute, a dynamically diverse group promoting writing and relationships among oft-marginalized people. In 2008, the project published its first anthology, Re-Centering Culture and Knowledge in Conflict Resolution Practice.
From time to time, I have also taught at University of California, Berkeley in the Peace and Conflict Studies program and the Sociology Department.