This essay by Charles Taylor draws from a lecture sponsored by the SSRC’s Anxieties of Democracy program, called "Ways Democracy Can Slip Away," on October 17, 2016, at Roosevelt House in New York City, and is copublished in The Democracy Papers. Taylor was the program’s 2016 Democracy Fellow. Speaking in the weeks before the 2016 US election, Taylor discusses the character of modern democracies and their vulnerability to what he call “spirals of decline.” He concludes with a reflection on the present populist moment.
Cynthia Miller-Idriss is an associate professor of education and sociology in the College of Arts and Sciences and director of the International Training and Education Program in the School of Education. Professor Miller-Idriss earned her bachelor's degree from Cornell University, and an MA in sociology, an MPP in public policy, and a PhD in sociology from the University of Michigan. Her current research follows two main trajectories, focused on the internationalization of higher education in the United States, and education and far right-wing youth culture in Germany. Dr. Miller-Idriss is the coeditor of Middle East Studies for the New Millennium: Infrastructures of Knowledge (with Seteney Shami; New York University Press, 2016) and is author of Blood and Culture: Youth, Right-Wing Extremism, and National Belonging in Contemporary Germany (Duke University Press, 2009). Forthcoming publications include a book on the commercialization of far right youth culture in Germany, a coauthored book (with Mitchell Stevens and Seteney Shami) on the global university and a coedited book on the cultural dimensions of right-wing extremism (with Fabian Virchow). Professor Miller-Idriss is a former fellow of the SSRC’s International Dissertation Research Fellowship (IDRF) Program.
Nancy Rosenblum’s Items contribution is based on her response to Charles Taylor’s October Roosevelt House lecture, "Ways Democracy Can Slip Away," and also appears in The Democracy Papers. A member of the Anxieties of Democracy program’s Advisory Committee, Rosenblum reflects on Taylor’s arguments through the lenses of history and political philosophy. She ends on a note of contingent hope, emphasizing that democracy’s contemporary vulnerabilities are related to genuine advances in the quality of democracy over time.
Relevant to our new essays on democracy, we republish Adam Przeworski’s 1997 essay from the Items archive, which is based on a talk he gave at the SSRC in 1996. While focused more on the state of social scientific understanding of transitions to democracy at that moment, much of what he writes is relevant to issues raised by Charles Taylor and Nancy Rosenblum, not least the tendencies toward disenchantment with democratic institutions and the limits of what they can achieve.
President Obama’s constant calls for Americans to “disagree without being disagreeable” now feel like an ironic epitaph to a bygone era of somewhat better feelings. With the inauguration of our new Incivilitarian-in-Chief, a man who has apparently elevated ad hominem to new heights of electoral success, surely the once perennial bloom is, at long last, off the “civilitarian” rose?
In the latest essay in our "Reading Racial Conflict" series, Megan Ming Francis draws attention to the extraordinary work of Ida B. Wells. In the late nineteenth century, Wells exposed the extent of racial violence in the United States by documenting lynching and then disseminating her findings through her books, journalism, and activism. Ming Francis emphasizes a further innovation by Wells—i.e., how she connected lynchings to the economic interests and status anxieties of white southerners, as well as the relevance of this connection to understanding contemporary racial conflicts.
Sarah Bruch’s contribution to Items’ "What is Inequality?" theme makes a strong case that scholars need to include a relational perspective in interrogating the roots of inequality. Drawing from her research on how differences in access to quality education shape socioeconomic and political inequalities, Bruch argues that attending to distributional outcomes alone is insufficient in explaining, and ultimately addressing, the ways in which social structural relationships produce inequality and how different forms of inequality reinforce each other.
This 1992 piece by Alice O'Connor from the Items archive describes a major research effort to document, explain, and compare urban inequality across four American cities: Atlanta, Boston, Detroit, and Los Angeles. The Council’s Committee for Research on the Urban Underclass played a formative role in the early stages of the project, which then went on to publish an influential and prescient volume with the Russell Sage Foundation entitled Urban Inequality: Evidence from Four Cities, which O’Connor, a one-time Council program director, coedited.
Gaurav Desai contributes to our "Interdisciplinarity Now" series by reflecting on his experiences on the selection panel of the Council’s largest fellowship competition, the International Dissertation Research Fellowship (IDRF) Program. Desai highlights a number of elements that make a research project interdisciplinary—drawing on the conceptual frameworks and methods of multiple disciplines (especially those fields not immediately proximate to one’s home discipline) and framing the research in ways that would resonate across a range of fields and approaches.
In the latest essay on "What is Inequality?," Simon Reid-Henry begins by asking, “Where is inequality?” In doing so, he argues that separating out analysis of “within-country” inequality and inequality between nations obscures how they shape and reinforce each other. Reid-Henry suggests that the framing deep poverty as a problem of “international development,” rather than of one of global inequality, limits our analyses and finding prospective solutions.
Simon Reid-Henry’s essay refers to Simon Kuznets’s classic work in the 1950s on economic development and inequality. At that time, Kuznets was founding chair of the SSRC’s Committee on Economic Growth, an extraordinarily productive interdisciplinary panel that over a twenty-year period forged new ways of measuring national income and wealth, its distribution within countries, and comparisons across them. In this 1955 archival essay, Kuznets, who had been a research fellow at the Council in the 1920s and went on to win the 1971 Nobel Prize in economics, lays out the core agenda for the committee’s work.