In 1988, the Council embarked on an ambitious new initiative on the Human Dimensions of Global Environmental Change. In tandem with Items’s new series on “Just Environments,” we are publishing the first of a set of archival essays detailing the development and progress of this program. Anticipating a research agenda on what has come to be called the “anthropocene,” executive associate Richard Rockwell describes an initial planning conference at Brown University and presciently writes, “The time has surely come to incorporate social perspectives more adequately into research on humans as forces in nature.”
From Our Archives
The Items archive contains a wide range of essays on the evolution of area studies in the United States. Here, Bryce Wood reports on a major 1953 conference at Princeton University that played a role the development of African studies, bringing together a wide range of actors soon to have major influence on the establishment of that interdisciplinary field. It was cosponsored by the National Research Council and supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, which now funds two of the SSRC’s most significant programs in Africa, albeit with a focus on social scientists in Africa—Next Generation Social Sciences in Africa and the African Peacebuilding Network.
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.
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.
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.
In this 2006 essay from the Items archive, Paul Silverstein and Chantal Tetreault examine the social history out of which the November 2005 riots in the suburbs of Paris (and across France) arose. In their analysis, they discuss the use of colonial era laws and broader parallels with overseas French colonial rule that constitute a form of internal colonialism with regard to migrant communities in France itself. The parallels with N. D. B. Connolly’s new essay on the contemporary relevance Robert Allen are clear—i.e., one way of understanding racial and ethnic marginalization and discrimination (in the United States or France) is through the lens of colonial relations and structures.
In this contribution from the Items archive from 2007/8, Eda Pepi and Peter Sahlins reflect on an earlier Council program from the 1990s on the intersection of the environment with human action. In many ways ahead of its time, the SSRC’s Global Environmental Change program connected social scientists and climate scientists, and developed agendas that have shaped today’s interdisciplinary research on the human causes and consequences of environmental change.
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.
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.
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.