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.
From Our Archives
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.
Connected to many of the issues raised in the essay by Shami and Miller-Idriss, this 1993 essay from the archives provides a glimpse of an earlier moment in the reimagining of international and area studies. Timothy Mitchell and Lila Abu-Lughod described the rich discussion and debate that unfolded at an SSRC-sponsored conference held in Cairo designed to create dialogues between scholars of the Middle East and South Asia. A quite extraordinary group focused on the history and legacy of the “tradition-modernity” dualism, and how to best learn from the range of then-current critiques of what had become the dominant frame for understanding the (post)colonial world.
The influence of the project discussed in the new essay by Adelman and Fajardo was widespread across a range of fields and world regions. Its most visible product was the book edited by David Collier entitled The New Authoritarianism in Latin America. In the 1978 essay from our archive, Collier provides of a preview of the book and the broader intellectual and political framework within which the Council contributed to a major intervention in the social sciences in the 1970s.
As we launch our series “Reading Racial Conflict,” we republish this archival piece by the late Manning Marable. Based on a talk given at the Council in 1995, Marable provides a sweeping overview of the changing nature of black studies, understandings of race, and the social context within which these debates are taking place. Paraphrasing Du Bois’s famous comment about the “color line” being the definitive problem of the twentieth century, Marable writes (quite presciently): “the problem of the twenty-first century is the challenge of ‘multicultural democracy.’”
This 1976 piece from our archives connects to both our "What is Inequality?" series and a new essay on social science in Africa by Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o. Written by economic historian Sara S. Berry, it reflects on the debates and recommendations made during a September 1975 seminar on inequality in Africa. Berry reports on attempts to communicate across mainstream and Marxist approaches as well as differences in methodology and between objective and subjective approaches to understanding inequality in colonial and postcolonial Africa.
This 1971 archival piece by David Landes and Charles Tilly engages with some of the same issues our “Interdisciplinarity Now” series tackles, especially the history-sociology connection explored in the essay by Steinmetz. The authors report on the results of a survey of historians, which was part of a broader study of social and behavioral scientists undertaken by the National Academy of Sciences, the National Research Council, and the SSRC. Landes and Tilly discuss the obstacles to and the scholarly possibilities for historical research conducted in a social science framework, and make recommendations on how that collaboration would benefit the broader field of history, as well as social science disciplines.
In 1997, as the SSRC moved to more purposefully develop research collaborations across world regions, Arjun Appadurai contributed an influential Items essay that called for critical reflection on the concept of “research” itself as it emerged out of the evolution of scientific and intellectual thought in the West. In a piece relevant to our series on “Interdisciplinarity Now,” and especially to the essays by Kennedy and Engerman, Appadurai challenges US social scientists to be self-conscious about the criteria they use to identify “new knowledge” produced by the ethics and procedures of American scholarship. Doing so would generate deeper (more mutual) and better research collaborations with colleagues outside the West.
As part of a 1983 Items symposium on the history of research support for the social sciences in the United States, Harvey Brooks discusses how government funding for social science has shaped its postwar development. Brooks’ essay provides background for the issues discussed in our current forum on Kenneth Prewitt’s “Can Social Science Matter?” He especially emphasizes public support for social science in juxtaposition to the natural sciences in the 1950s, and changes brought on by the upheavals of the 1960s and beyond.
In this essay on interdisciplinarity from our archives, Diana Rhoten, then an SSRC program director, reports on the results of a project on collaborative practices in six interdisciplinary research centers. Focusing on identifying the enabling conditions for such collaboration, this National Science Foundation–supported study found that the main constraints on interdisciplinary research were neither funding nor the motivations of scholars. Rather, universities struggled in systematically establishing structures and processes that would allow centers to foster collaboration across disciplines in deep and sustainable, rather than cosmetic, ways.