Rachel Sherman provides a unique contribution to our What is Inequality? theme by focusing on the very top of the income bracket. Based on research among New Yorkers in the “1 percent,” Sherman uncovers the ways they understand and legitimize their wealth, in part through distinguishing their situation from other people of means who may not be “deserving.” Being legitimately “entitled” to affluence, according to the affluent, is based on a set of personal qualities with little reference to broader structural dimensions of inequality.
Duncan J. Watts
Duncan J. Watts is a principal researcher at Microsoft Research (MSR) and an A.D. White Professor at Large at Cornell University. Prior to joining MSR in 2012, he was from 2000–2007 a professor of sociology at Columbia University, and then a principal research scientist at Yahoo! Research, where he directed the Human Social Dynamics group. His research on social networks and collective dynamics has appeared in a wide range of journals, from Nature, Science, and Physical Review Letters to the American Journal of Sociology and Harvard Business Review, and has been recognized by the 2009 German Physical Society Young Scientist Award for Socio and Econophysics, the 2013 Lagrange-CRT Foundation Prize for Complexity Science, and the 2014 Everett Rogers M. Rogers Award. He is also the author of three books: Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age (W. W. Norton, 2003) and Small Worlds: The Dynamics of Networks between Order and Randomness (Princeton University Press, 1999), and most recently Everything Is Obvious: Once You Know The Answer (Crown Business, 2011). Watts is also part of the Social Science Research Council’s Digital Culture program as part of its advisory board.
Continuing our series of archival posts on the SSRC’s influential Committee on the Urban Underclass, Council staff associate Martha Gephart reports on efforts by the program to articulate a research agenda on what is now a major focal point in urban studies: neighborhood effects. Early committee discussions engaged not only on the effects of neighborhoods on the socioeconomic prospects of disadvantaged individuals, families, and communities, but also debates on how to define and delimit a “neighborhood” and on the broader social forces that both are channeled through local institutions and that change neighborhoods over time.
Current social science research and writing faces a number of possibilities that seem to be constrained by three major challenges. The first is the limits of the imagination; the second is knowing what kinds of data are now out there; and the third is having the tools to aggregate and mine them.
Nikhil Singh’s essay for our Reading Racial Conflict series reflects on the work of black activist and intellectual Jack O’Dell. For Singh, O’Dell’s historical analysis of the relationship between antiracist and anticapitalist movements is relevant in a moment in which voices on the American left are debating the compatibility between politics of the (white) working class vis-à-vis that of marginalized identities. O’Dell’s focus on the reinventing of black freedom struggles over the long term provides an opportunity to consider the present in light of that history.
In the second in a series of essays from the Items archives on the SSRC’s Urban Underclass program, Robert Pearson provides an overview of key issues engaged by the program’s advisory committee. Focusing on the concentration and persistence of urban poverty in the United States, the group debated the impact of global economic changes, labor market transformations, the intended and unintended consequences of public policies, and the controversial place of “culture” in understanding the fragile social-economic status of many urban residents and communities.
It would not have taken long for French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan to realize that President Donald Trump has a paranoid vision of the world. This does not mean that President Trump is insane, but rather that he has never left the mental space we all inhabited as toddlers and that we have never entirely forgotten.
Ella Myers provides an account of W. E. B. Du Bois's nuanced analysis of the sense of entitlement among whites in the United States. Drawing from Du Bois's Black Reconstruction and other writings, Myers draws attention to both the concept of a compensatory "wage" that elevates the social status of lower class whites in ways that bind them to white capital, but also to the irrational aspects of antiblack racism. Myers's essay complements the earlier Reading Racial Conflict essay by J. Phillip Thompson on Black Reconstruction, and also makes a direct connection to debates on the role of the white working class in Trump's electoral victory.
In the late 1980s, the Council launched a new program focused on urban poverty in the United States. The Council's program on the Urban Underclass brought together a wide range of disciplinary expertise, and focused on understanding the connections between macroeconomic change, deindustrialization, neighborhood attributes and processes, and individual and family outcomes. In the first of several Items features on the program, its leading staff―Martha Gephart and Robert Pearson―describe its origins and rationale.
When the problem of violence against women during and after conflict is discussed, it is often in reference to non-partner-perpetrated sexual violence. Intimate partner violence is, however, another form of violence that plagues the lives of women in conflict-affected settings with harmful physical, psychological, and social consequences.
Reflecting on the recent US electoral campaign and its aftermath as the most recent and powerful evidence for the existence of a “post-truth” age, Duncan Watts and David Rothschild argue that we have entered a legitimacy crisis—“whom and what to trust,” as they put it—in relation to knowledge claims and the institutions that validate them. The authors discuss why information technologies have exacerbated the problem, and offer some suggestions for compensating for and perhaps restoring lost legitimacy.