In the first essay in the “Ways of Water” series, Hiʻilei Julia Hobart explores the qualities of water that are…
Bringing the State Back In: A Report on Current Comparative Research on the Relationship between States and Social Structuresby Items Editors
In the early 1980s historical and comparative studies began reassessing the importance of “the state.” This 1982 article by Theda Skocpol examines the trajectory of “the state” in social scientific analysis, documenting the shift from society-centered approaches to politics and government research to a focus on the state as both actor and organizational structure. This report would lay the groundwork for the SSRC’s Committee on States and Social Structures (1983–1990), which would further explore the role of the state in different settings and across a range of social, cultural, political, and economic processes.
As the Covid-19 pandemic has forced millions to remain in their homes and restricted the capacity of public spaces, people have turned to online spaces to continue all forms of social interactions. However, despite being heralded as a means to overcome social inequalities, the new “digital public spaces” have continued these inequalities. In this essay, Mona Sloane draws attention to how prepandemic inequalities, created by social, political, and economic dynamics, prevail in social isolation. These are exemplified, for example, through who has efficient internet access and who owns the websites and apps facilitating online social interaction. Sloane asks us to consider not just how prepandemic conditions shape digital spaces but also how they influence our understanding of these spaces and the meanings we ascribe to them.
The intertwined dynamics of urban “revitalization” and the displacement and destabilization of African Americans in US cities is not a phenomenon new to twenty-first century New York City. Amanda Boston’s examination of the “redevelopment” of Downtown Brooklyn exposes the changing roles of government and the market in the erasure and destabilization of long-standing communities of color. As municipal government has moved from market regulator to market facilitator—inviting the influx of global capital and gentrification into majority-minority neighborhoods—the impact on the space has benefited the affluent (often white) residents and consumers of the city to the detriment of minority communities. A consideration of the construction of the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn provides a close-to-home lens on the role of race and profit in the organization of urban space.
Adapted from the introduction to Power, Culture, and Place, this article published in 1988 examines the importance of New York City as a site of social science research. John H. Mollenkopf, a member of the Council’s Committee on New York City (1985–1991), explains how, at the time, social science research despatialized its investigations with the aim of obtaining generalizable results; however, the interactions of power, culture, and economics do not happen in a vacuum. To better understand these and other social dynamics and relations, Mollenkopf argues for centering urban spaces, in particular New York City which has a rich social history and remains a key point in the flows of people, trade, and culture.
Testing and models, medical and educational, have come under scrutiny during the Covid-19 pandemic. In particular, the coronavirus crisis has accelerated the conversation on the challenges of educational testing. Here, William Dardick looks at the reliability, validity, and fairness of educational assessments, and how these varied characteristics all factor into how policymakers employ testing and their results.
Claudia Landwehr, Christopher Ojeda, and Oliver Tüscher ask how the effects on mental health from the Covid-19 crisis might be related to political participation. Drawing on recent studies, they find a strong relationship between the Covid-19 crisis and depressive symptoms. Holding this evidence up against US and European surveys demonstrating lower probability of voter turnout with increasing depressive symptoms, they suggest that Covid-19 may decrease political participation via declining mental health. They call for new strategies for mitigating depression’s impact on political participation and to reinvigorate participation in its aftermath.
Mediating Negative Narratives about Race in the Black Press and Social Media in a Public Health Crisisby Kim Gallon
The Black Press in the United States has a long history of countering negative racialization of Black people’s health. In keeping with this history, the Black Press was among the first voices to productively racialize the public health crisis of the coronavirus pandemic, highlighting the long-standing health disparities stemming from centuries of structural inequality. This productive racialization of public health—which extends to social media—constructs intersectional counternarratives, defying histories that position people of color as hosts of disease.
In Zheng Wang’s contribution to our “Covid-19 and the Social Sciences” series, he examines how the pandemic shapes relations between countries when governments deploy it as a symbolic tool of statecraft. He first discusses how a rhetoric of blame for the spread of the coronavirus has deepened tensions between China and the United States. He then contrasts this with the interactions between China and Japan in the early stages of the pandemic. Japan’s provisions of masks to China, and the use of a Chinese poem on the shipping packages, helped reduce tensions in a relationship historically marked by distrust and suspicion.