In this “Understanding Gun Violence” essay, Robert Spitzer demystifies a range of perceptions about gun policies and their effects. Spitzer engages a range of laws and regulations—from background checks to waiting periods, and gun storage to concealed carry—and the ways they differ across US states. He finds that more stringent policies correlate with less death and injury from guns. For social scientists interested in the sources and impact of public policy, Spitzer argues that guns are a rich and important zone for future research.
What We Don’t Know Can Hurt Usby Angela Stroud
Angela Stroud’s contribution to the “Understanding Gun Violence” series calls for greater conceptual clarity among researchers. As an important example, Stroud examines different ways in which “mass shootings” are defined, and how fuzzy definitions contribute to public perceptions that overestimate their frequency. A more purposeful and sustained interdisciplinary conversation around gun ownership and violence, she argues, is critical for both advancing scholarship and informing public discourse and policy.
Studying Food Acquisition: Lessons from Santiago de Cuba and South Los Angelesby Hanna Garth
In this essay, Hanna Garth reflects on how her several years of fieldwork in eastern Cuba and Los Angeles, California, inform her critiques of the ways scholars and practitioners look at issues of food access and food security. She argues policymakers should focus more on food acquisition practices to better understand and address a community’s dietary needs and its food preferences. Based on her research, Garth questions the current focus on only dietary needs, and demonstrates the importance of tracing people’s actual pathways for acquiring food.
Youth Disconnection Rates Highlight Structural Barriers to Achievement in the USby Kristen Lewis, Sarah Burd-Sharps and Becky Ofrane
Kristen Lewis, Sarah Burd-Sharps, and Becky Ofrane dive into the demographic data in Measure of America’s latest report on youth disconnection, More than a Million Reasons for Hope. While the recent rebounding economy offers some good news in terms of the overall disconnection rates among young people, these remain disturbingly high for minority youth. The authors argue economic growth alone cannot erase the multiple structural barriers and institutional racism that produce significant gaps in the disconnection rates between different racial and ethnic groups, but solutions can be found through local organizations and by including youth in the conversation.
A Portrait of Los Angeles County Revisited: Responding to Scholars’ Reflectionsby Kristen Lewis and Sarah Burd-Sharps
Responding to the reflections on A Portrait of Los Angeles County, Measure of America codirectors Kristen Lewis and Sarah Burd-Sharps first provide an overview of how they applied the Human Development Index to Los Angeles, including the categorizing of different neighborhoods from Glittering to Precarious. They then engage with key issues of ethnicity, incarceration, and the ways different parts of LA County are interrelated and affect each other—all issues that emerge from the reflections by Jennifer Lee, Pedro Noguera, and Kelly Lytle Hernandez and Terry Allen.
Solution-Centered Collaborative Research in Rural Alabamaby Erika Weinthal, Elizabeth A. Albright, Catherine Coleman Flowers and Emily Stewart
A collaboration between Duke University scholars and the Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise (ACRE) has focused on environmental justice questions in rural Alabama. In this essay, the partners describe their research on how sewage and related environmental problems intersect with broader social structural issues, and consider how to address these challenges. The authors also reflect on the process by which scholars and community-based organizations can work together, and what goes into a mutually rewarding partnership.
Access to Freedom: Caged LAby Kelly Lytle Hernandez and Terry Allen
In this reflection on MOA’s A Portrait of LA County report, Kelly Lytle Hernandez and Terry Allen connect their research on incarceration and policing in LA to the report’s findings. The same neighborhoods coded as Struggling LA and Precarious LA by the report have the highest incarceration rates, as well as high “collateral damage” of the prison system such as the cost of bail. The authors refer to these parts of the city and county as Caged LA, and argue that an understanding of urban inequality needs to incorporate patterns of incarceration into measures of human development.
Advancing Human Development for All in Los Angeles Countyby Pedro A. Noguera
In a new response to the recently published Measure of America report A Portrait of LA County, Pedro Noguera unpacks a range of socioeconomic disparities revealed in the report. Noguera calls attention to how comparing inequalities across neighborhoods can miss the ways in which different parts of LA are interconnected—how what happens in one part of the city shapes social outcomes elsewhere. Showing how the lack of affordable housing, long commutes, and poor access to quality education are related, he proposes recommendations for addressing inequality based upon geographic interdependencies.
It Takes More than Grit: Reframing Asian American Academic Achievementby Jennifer Lee
Jennifer Lee begins Items’ set of reflections on A Portrait of LA County—a new report from the SSRC’s Measure of America program—by building on its data for educational outcomes by ethnicity. In particular, she complicates the myth surrounding the educational success of Asian Americans, and the frequent reference to culture as its principal cause, by disaggregating the category of “Asian.” By exploring class and geographic differences in outcomes, Lee uncovers key socioeconomic dimensions to variations within the “Asian” category as well as between it and other ethnicities in Los Angeles.
What Is Activist Research?by Items Editors
In an archival essay from 2001, Charles Hale makes the case for “activist research” that is engaged with and seeks to address key problems faced by research “subjects.” Emerging out of the Council’s Global Security and Cooperation program, Hale argues for how such research—and the participation of organizations and individuals in its conduct, interpretation, and use—can be both of high quality and impactful for social actors. Hale also notes the tensions and contradictions that must be navigated in conducting activist research.