In the summer of 1984 South End Press asked a number of political activists to plan a collectively-authored book which would analyze conditions in the United States today, project a shared vision of our society as we would like it to be and propose a strategy for bringing about this new society. Over twenty activist/writers from diverse backgrounds agreed to collaborate in this unique effort.
Four participants were chosen by the group to be "core writers," responsible for initiating and revising various drafts of the manuscript. In succeeding months the core writers interviewed the other participants and, had events gone according to plan, the next step would have been to incorporate insights from those interviews into a first draft which would then have been criticized by all participants as if it had been their own work. The core group would next have incorporated suggestions in a new draft and submitted that for further revision. On a few occasions the full collective would have gathered to discuss content and distribution and by the winter of 1985-1986 we would have published the book.
Instead, due to a combination of factors, work stalled shortly after the interviewing ended. The break in the project made us realize that as prospective authors of a political analysis that could unite many constituencies, we first had to agree on a shared conceptual framework for bringing unity out of diversity. But it was clear from our interviews that no one of the many conceptual approaches held by our authors could alone provide guidance. What features define our society? How do they interrelate? These and related questions had to be addressed before we could do more detailed analyses and project goals and strategies. We decided to divide the project into two stages. The first would provide an effective conceptual framework to employ in the second, where we would apply the new insights.