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The Graduation Speech Harvard Is Calling ‘The Most Powerful’ You’ll Ever Hear


It’s the speech Harvard University is calling “the most powerful, heartfelt” speech “you will ever hear.”

Donovan Livingston, a master’s graduate at the university, was chosen by a committee of faculty, staff and students to speak at the School of Education’s convocation, a rep for Harvard told ABC News.

Instead of a traditional speech, Livingston used spoken word to perform his poem, “Lift Off.”

Livingston told ABC News that the “true inspiration behind the piece” was the fact that he couldn’t perform a poem when he gave his commencement remarks during his senior year of high school.

“The teacher who was in charge…threatened to take me offstage or cut my microphone when she caught wind that I wanted to incorporate a poem,” he recalled. “She wanted it to be traditional. So I complied, but I really wanted to address my class in my most authentic voice, which is what I said onstage Wednesday.”

The poem spoke about racial inequalities in the educational system, what it means to be black at Harvard and inspired the class of 2016 to use their roles as future educators to help others realize their full potential.

Livingston told his fellow classmates in part:

“I’ve been a black hole in the classroom for far too long;
Absorbing everything, without allowing my light to escape.
But those days are done. I belong among the stars.
And so do you. And so do they.
Together, we can inspire galaxies of greatness
For generations to come.
So no, sky is not the limit. It is only the beginning.
Lift off.”

The speech has been seen by more than 5 million people and was even shared by Justin Timberlake and Hillary Clinton.

Livingston — who hopes to become a faculty member or an administrator at a university one day — said he did not expect to get a standing ovation, nor did he expect the speech to go viral.

“My wife kind of did,” he admitted. “But I didn’t know it would be so well received. Whenever you put yourself out there especially with poetry, you’re making yourself vulnerable. However it was received, I would’ve felt great at the end of the day because I was being myself, but the fact that it blew up the way it did is a humbling experience.”

Livingston now plans to support his wife Lauren as she enters her second year of medical school at Wake Forest University and start his PhD program at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro this fall.

It makes sense for the son of two educators: His father is a retired principal and his mother is a speech pathologist, working with special needs students.

“I’ve always been around education, but I didn’t know it was something I was really passionate about until I got to college and looked around and saw … that everything I did catered to college access [and] college success. It felt natural,” the Winston-Salem, North Carolina, resident said. “I’m just really happy to carry on the legacy of my mother and father and I’m just grateful to walk in their footsteps.”


By            :               Joi-Marie McKenzie

Date         :               May 27, 2016

Source     :               ABC News



Below is Livingston’s Commencement Speech entitled “Lift Off”


The remarks of Donovan Livingston, Ed.M.’16, student speaker at HGSE’s 2016 Convocation exercises.


“Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin,

Is a great equalizer of the conditions of men.” – Horace Mann, 1848.
At the time of his remarks I couldn’t read — couldn’t write.
Any attempt to do so, punishable by death.
For generations we have known of knowledge’s infinite power.
Yet somehow, we’ve never questioned the keeper of the keys —
The guardians of information.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen more dividing and conquering
In this order of operations — a heinous miscalculation of reality.
For some, the only difference between a classroom and a plantation is time.
How many times must we be made to feel like quotas —
Like tokens in coined phrases? —
“Diversity. Inclusion”
There are days I feel like one, like only —
A lonely blossom in a briar patch of broken promises.
But I’ve always been a thorn in the side of injustice.

Disruptive. Talkative. A distraction.
With a passion that transcends the confines of my consciousness —
Beyond your curriculum, beyond your standards.
I stand here, a manifestation of love and pain,
With veins pumping revolution.
I am the strange fruit that grew too ripe for the poplar tree.
I am a DREAM Act, Dream Deferred incarnate.
I am a movement – an amalgam of memories America would care to forget
My past, alone won’t allow me to sit still.
So my body, like the mind
Cannot be contained.

As educators, rather than raising your voices
Over the rustling of our chains,
Take them off. Un-cuff us.
Unencumbered by the lumbering weight
Of poverty and privilege,
Policy and ignorance.

I was in the 7th grade, when Ms. Parker told me,
“Donovan, we can put your excess energy to good use!”
And she introduced me to the sound of my own voice.
She gave me a stage. A platform.
She told me that our stories are ladders
That make it easier for us to touch the stars.
So climb and grab them.
Keep climbing. Grab them.
Spill your emotions in the big dipper and pour out your soul.
Light up the world with your luminous allure.

To educate requires Galileo-like patience.
Today, when I look my students in the eyes, all I see are constellations.
If you take the time to connect the dots,
You can plot the true shape of their genius —
Shining in their darkest hour.

I look each of my students in the eyes,
And see the same light that aligned Orion’s Belt
And the pyramids of Giza.
I see the same twinkle
That guided Harriet to freedom.
I see them. Beneath their masks and mischief,
Exists an authentic frustration;
An enslavement to your standardized assessments.

At the core, none of us were meant to be common.
We were born to be comets,
Darting across space and time —
Leaving our mark as we crash into everything.
A crater is a reminder that something amazing happened here —
An indelible impact that shook up the world.
Are we not astronomers — looking for the next shooting star?
I teach in hopes of turning content, into rocket ships —
Tribulations into telescopes,
So a child can see their potential from right where they stand.
An injustice is telling them they are stars
Without acknowledging night that surrounds them.
Injustice is telling them education is the key
While you continue to change the locks.

Education is no equalizer —
Rather, it is the sleep that precedes the American Dream.
So wake up — wake up! Lift your voices
Until you’ve patched every hole in a child’s broken sky.
Wake up every child so they know of their celestial potential.
I’ve been a Black hole in the classroom for far too long;
Absorbing everything, without allowing my light escape.
But those days are done. I belong among the stars.
And so do you. And so do they.
Together, we can inspire galaxies of greatness
For generations to come.
No, sky is not the limit. It is only the beginning.
Lift off.



Source     :    Harvard Graduate School of Education


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Jakarta is a Wounded City: Sociologist


Rebertus Robert, a sociologist from the Jakarta State University (UNJ) says that Jakarta cannot suitably be called a ‘city’.

According to Robert, city is not about demographic matters but also cultural and social aspects as well as memory that it has.

What happens to Jakarta, Robert said, is that it does not have ‘civility aspects’, meaning that the city has not given its residents a sense of humanity.

“Jakarta is a wounded city,” Robet said in Central Jakarta on Saturday (28/5).

He added since Jakarta was hit by a riot in 1998 until now, the city has not been ‘fully recovered’.

Robert cited the example of a mall in Klender, East Jakarta, where hundreds of people were burned alive when a riot broke out in 1998. He added that there should have been a monument or something that can serve as a reminder for the residents about the tragedy.

“But this city doesn’t provide that,” he added.

Jakarta, he added, now has more wounds in the form of eviction in places considered as slum areas.

According to him, eviction is not the way to build a city. He added that a city is not built only based on economic needs but must also be balanced with social development.

However, he said that the government has been negligent in the social development of the people and the government’s policies are oriented to economic development has created an increasingly wider social gap.

“For middle and high class people, slum areas are nothing but for those who live there, they are everything for them,” he said.

The government, Robert added, can relocate the residents but their memories and lives will never be able to be relocated.


By            :               Maya Ayu Puspitasari

Date         :               May 29, 2016

Source     :               Temp.co


Posted in Latest Post, Social and Economic Inequalities | Leave a comment

Cornell Scholars examine structures of inequalities


Inequality is one of the central challenges of our time, and with historic increases in income and wealth inequality in recent years, public and scholarly interest in the topic has skyrocketed. The College of Arts & Sciences is a leading center of scholarship on inequality, drawing strength from its many departments and collaborations across the university.

Inequality in the United States takes numerous forms, says Richard Miller, director of the Program on Ethics and Public Life(EPL): unequal political influence, unequal opportunity, the concentration of income and wealth at the top, the persistence of stark racial inequalities, and inequalities in education. These factors reinforce each other, challenging those who seek policies that help meet currently unmet needs and reduce burdens of poverty.

“The social scientific approach to studying inequality dovetails really nicely with the humanities,” says Kim Weeden, director of the Center for the Study of Inequality (CSI), Jan Rock Zubrow ’77 Professor in the Social Sciences, and chair of sociology. “Understanding the sources of inequality, how it affects different groups of people, our political institutions, our economy, is very much in line with Cornell’s value of doing research that matters. It ties in with the public engagement mission.”

Adds Weeden, “all human societies have been characterized by some sort of inequality. Even many hunter gatherers had nearly complete gender segregation and resource scarcity. Inequality has always been with us, as much a part of the human experience as love and death.”

Asking Why

Moral questions of what should be done about inequality are those that humanists are well equipped to illuminate, such as the moral importance of reducing inequality of political influence and the extent to which the best-off should be taxed to help others, says Miller, the Wyn and William Y. Hutchinson Professor in Philosophy

The facts have people alarmed, says Miller, such as the stagnation of median income and the dramatic increase in CEO salaries (from 30 times the wages of the average worker in the mid-1980’s to 300 times now).

“But why are these inequalities important? Reflection on why we should care helps people reach across political divides in discussing what should be done. We have a moral responsibility to seek shared moral convictions that yield yardsticks for judging proposals for change,” says Miller.

This semester the Ethics and Public Life program brought six leading inequality scholars to Cornell for the “Inequalities: How Deep? Why? What Should Be Done?” lecture series. Based in the Philosophy Department, EPL promotes interdisciplinary learning about morally central questions concerning public policies and social, political, and economic processes. As part of this interdisciplinarity, Miller worked with sociologists, political scientists and economists throughout Cornell in planning the series; he notes the special help of CSI in the series’ success. Faculty and graduate students from eleven departments took part in workshops and informal discussions with the speakers. The public lectures were attended by large audiences, sometimes over two hundred, and were discussed in a new set of small-group discussion courses, “Discussions of Justice.”

“Our work in EPL is a good example of how the humanities can provide context and depth for broader conversations,” says Miller. He is currently at work on a series of essays that will form a book, “Ethics of Social Democracy.”

“Some philosophers think government should meet a broad array of needs that include but go way beyond helping poor people,” says Miller. “What are the moral principles we can appeal to in order to justify use of a state which doesn’t’ always benefit everyone?  But if you base beliefs on moral principles alone you are a fanatic. And while politics is about forcing people to do things, there should always be a moral basis for that forcing.”

Crime, Poverty, and the Criminal Justice System

Under Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society in the 1960’s, the root causes of crime and poverty were seen as embedded in legacies of racial oppression and “blocked opportunities,” says Julilly Kohler-Hausmann, assistant professor of history. But in the 1970’s the notion that crime and poverty are the result of deviant, maladjusted individuals or a cultural pathology became ascendant. Punishment was the logical response to such a belief.

Kohler-Hausmann is a member of an interdisciplinary team at the Institute for Social Sciences working on the collaborative project, “The Causes, Consequence and Future of Mass Incarceration in the United States,” led by Peter Enns, associate professor of government. The team, which includes members from the College of Arts & Sciences and College of Human Ecology, is examining the factors leading to mass incarceration and the circumstances that shape the risk, severity and duration of one’s contact with the criminal justice system. The goal is to help inform the policy debate about whether and how to reform the U.S. criminal justice system.

The decline of the welfare state and its social programs and the rise of mass incarceration were connected, says Kohler-Hausmann. Research shows that there’s an inverse relationship between the amount of money spent on social welfare and that spent on the penal system.

In the U.S. the expansion of the penal system saw a dramatic retrenchment of particular social programs; while social insurance programs persisted throughout the last half century, programs targeting marginalized populations declined precipitously. The value of cash support to poor parents through Aid to Families with Dependent Children(AFDC) fell by half between the 1970s and 1990s, where Social Security benefits were indexed to inflation and maintained their value. Populations and communities most dramatically affected by the expansion of the penal system have also seen dramatic reductions in state support.

Kohler-Hausmann is examining the historical processes that produced these changes. “I view it as the result of broad-based struggles over the causes of social inequality,” she says. “During the 1970s, debates escalated over the causes of social marginality and the state’s capacity — or responsibility — to resolve them. My book is chronicling the ways that enacting punitive drug, crime, and welfare policy helped produce answers to these questions—answers that explained disorder and inequality as the work of incorrigible, racialized deviants, such as ‘drug pushers,’ ‘welfare queens,’ and criminals.”

How we understand race and ethnic identity affects how we understand social and economic inequality, says Kohler-Hausmann. “One of the vehicles for undermining social programs was fusing them with racist characterization of African Americans, who were actually often the minority of the people benefiting from these programs. Today, even as we see a movement to reform mass incarceration, there are still punitive laws being passed about welfare.”

Increasingly punitive social and criminal policy has had broad effects on our democracy. Research by Jamila Michener, assistant professor of government, shows how government policies have an effect on political engagement and depress voices in the greater polity. Recipients of social welfare programs also forgo rights; those receiving AFDC assistance can be drug tested , have their houses searched, or limitations placed on where they can spend money. Kohler-Hausmann explains that “Policies that degrade the civic standing of the poor make it harder for them to be heard in public dialogues over inequality.”

Anna Haskins, assistant professor of sociology, has shown that having a father who is incarcerated perpetuates inequality across generations by affecting how ready children are for school, emotionally and behaviorally. She finds that boys, in particular, who have imprisoned fathers are already behind when they arrive in kindergarten at age five, and are more likely to be placed in special education, held back a grade, or continue to experience socio-emotional problems by age nine.

Systemic Surveillance

Professor of History Edward Baptist sees a connection between the research he’s conducting on runaway American slaves and current issues with the criminal justice system. Did the efforts to catch runaway slaves influence attitudes and law enforcement in the U.S relating to blacks?

“Black people’s movements through and into spaces is something that is constantly noted in the 19th century as acceptable or not acceptable,” he explains. “They’re understood as a problem, especially someone whose name wasn’t known or who wasn’t acting in an expected way. That’s still an issue for us in our country today. Blacks constantly encounter the attitude of ‘you don’t belong here,’ such as when they’re followed in a store or stopped by police. Do black people belong in these spaces, or are they in effect fugitives? And how much of this is created by policy and how much by culture?”

Baptist’s latest project looks at the way surveillance – controlling space and activities – is a systemic part of our culture that has been carried forward from the institution of slavery. “The white population was actively involved in maintaining the slavery regime by policing Black movements through space, seeing them as suspicious, a problem that had to be investigated,” Baptist explains. “Black people’s movements through and into spaces were something that 19th-century white America constantly monitored, and saw as either acceptable or not acceptable. African Americans were surveilled, and constantly seen as potential threats–especially those whose names weren’t known, or who didn’t seem to be working like slaves to add to white wealth. Some very similar patterns seem to persist in our our country today. On a large scale it’s easy to see that. For example, police are much less likely to find contraband in a Black driver’s car, yet they far more frequently stop Black travelers’ cars–because they ‘look suspicious.’ How much is this policy, and how much is this culture – are Black people seen as belonging in these spaces, or are they effectively still seen as fugitives?”

Another example, says Baptist, is racialized law enforcement that makes a huge investment in policing areas perceived as “drug corners.” “This is very expensive policy, yet one publicized by the news media as if it is the essence of policing. But the policy is more about controlling black activity in space than it is about preventing crimes against black lives. In contrast, the investment in homicide detectives where most of the murders taking place in areas like South Los Angeles is very low.”

Capitalism and Inequality

The lower 40% of income earners in this country carry significant debt; if they own a home, it is often heavily mortgaged. Such debt creates intense pressure to find and keep a job. But being out of work is a frequent experience for people in a capitalist economy. The result is an inequity: the pressure to be hired doesn’t correspond to the pressure to hire. This raises a moral question, says Miller: should people who benefit from advantages in bargaining power be required to redistribute their wealth? Is it exploitation of workers, when the power of the exchange is all on one side?

One contribution of historic humanities is to stretch people’s viewpoints by showing how assumptions change over time, says Miller. One example is that of wage labor as an evil: Abraham Lincoln regarded wage labor as something to liberate yourself from: every man should have the means to be his own boss, with no one above him. “Some at the time even viewed workers as worse off than slaves, because if times were bad slaves were still fed and housed, whereas workers just got fired,” adds Miller.

“In my Black Radical Tradition class, I teach about that political tradition of thinkers and activists who always said that you cannot have racial justice without wholesale economic redistribution,” says Russell Rickford, assistant professor of history. “You don’t just racialize a group because you don’t like them. You racialize a group in order to expropriate their land, their resources, their wealth. That’s how the incredible opulence and wealth of this society was generated, with 500 years of uncompensated or super-exploited labor. Modern capitalism is an inherently racialized project. You cannot have any kind of racial reconciliation or racial justice without wholesale redistribution. South Africa had the end of apartheid and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, but there was no redistribution, so it has the same kind of economic structure as before, with the same structural inequalities.”

Notes Weeden, “there are all sorts of institutions in any country or labor market that protects some types of workers or in some cases protect owners of capital. In the last 20 years, there have been numerous institutional changes that have protected workers at the top of the income distribution while eliminating protections to those on the bottom.”

Weeden’s research looks at the institutional sources of income inequality, as well as the gender gap in earnings, such as how the increase in hourly wages for long work hours has affected the motherhood wage penalty and the fatherhood wage premium.

One example Weeden points to are various bottlenecks in the educational system, some stemming from inadequate primary schools, which prevent the supply of college-educated workers from keeping up with demand. “Those who do get a college degree benefit, indirectly, because their wages are actually higher than what they would be if there were no bottlenecks in the educational system,” explains Weeden.

“The contradiction is that what accompanies capitalist expansion is often deepening inequality and declining freedom. For example, the expansion of the cotton economy resulted in a deepening of slavery and a stripping away of freedoms,” says Baptist, who is part of the History of Capitalism Initiative and author of “The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism” (Basic Books, 2014).

“When enslaved African Americans ran away they were trying to rewrite the story of capitalism and their relationship with this expanding capitalist system. They were making a decision that their relationship to capitalism was not going to be that of property, but that of a wage worker. This was the most effective resistance in the history of resistance to the deepening inequality in the U.S.,” says Baptist, because of the driving influence of those who escaped slavery on the abolitionist movement and the coming of the Civil War.

Residential Segregation

“Policymakers across the political spectrum seem to believe that, aside from random acts of racial discrimination, we more or less live in a world where residential segregation is a reflection of individual choice,” says Noliwe Rooks, associate professor of Africana studies, adding that “the racial divide is either not considered to be very bad, or is now taken for granted.”

But in fact this this attitude is wrong, says Rooks: studies show that metro areas with the highest levels of segregation have the largest health inequities, resulting in shorter life spans for black and Latino residents of these areas. And research has shown that two-thirds of the difference between test scores and grades for black and Latino students in the top 30 U.S. schools could be predicted based on the racial segregation of the students’ home neighborhoods.

“We know from 30 years of research that test scores and college-level success are far lower for students of color who attend racially segregated schools,” Rooks says. “And of course we know that schools today remain segregated because neighborhoods remain segregated.”

Rooks’ new seminar, Race and Social Entrepreneurship: Food Justice and Urban Reform,  examines the issue of food justice in Ithaca and surrounding areas, which is often related to residential segregation, and explores innovative approaches for bringing about social equity and justice in relation to food availability, access and sustainability for those on a fixed or low income. The course is both a University Course, and part of an Engaged Cornell Curriculum Grant awarded to Africana Studies. Students in the service learning course will work in collaboration with senior citizens who live at a local residential facility, McGraw House, and are on a fixed income in order to explore both barriers and workable solutions to food access, availability and affordability. In addition, students in the course will work with with local farmers, non-profits and community activists in order to learn about area organizations and experiments intervening in the issues of food justice.

“Our goal is understand how sustainable development can be achieved in the context of racism and social inequality, with a focus on contemporary and historical efforts to build lasting institutions or movements,” says Rooks.

Minoring in Inequality Studies

Cornell offers a minor in inequality studies, which is housed in CSI and the department of sociology. The minor gives students a firm grounding in the literature on inequality, through such large and popular courses as Social Inequality, which gives an overview of theoretical and empirical scholarship on inequality in the social sciences, and Controversies about Inequality, a University Course that focuses on contemporary social scientific and policy debates on inequality. The minor requires students to take courses from multiple social science disciplines as well as offers electives in the humanities, and it allows them to tailor their studies to focus on different aspects of inequality, such as a track on ethics and social justice.

The minor has been very successful and is growing in popularity as inequality has entered public discourse again, says Weeden. Since 2004, the minor has graduated more than 600 students, and 225 enrolled in AY 2015-16. About half of the minors are in Arts & Sciences.

“The Inequality Studies minor was the catalyst that fostered my passion towards social justice, for which I will always be grateful, says Allen Fung ’07. “After studying in-depth the various forms of inequality (racial, gender, socio-economic, etc.) present throughout American history, I knew that I wanted to be part of the effort in correcting these various inequalities.”

Winnie Tong ’14 echoes that sentiment: “as a woman of color from Brooklyn, I have gained so much through the Inequality Studies minor because it allowed me to learn more about the structural and systematic issues within our society. Although I might not have found all the solutions to the larger issues we discussed in class, the minor definitely played a significant part in steering me onto a path of social justice and working with communities of color.”


By:         Linda B. Glaser

Date:      May 10, 2016

Source:  The College of Arts and Sciences, Cornell University


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Perceptions of inequality drive protestors’ motives, says IDS study


According to academic literature, civic unrest is driven by rising inequalities. But despite considerable reductions in inequality over the last decade, the numbers of Latin Americans taking to the streets to protest has soared. Why does this paradox exist? A new IDS study reveals that the real motivations for protest relate not to absolute levels of inequality but to individual’s perceptions of disparities and their beliefs around how income should be distributed.

DS researchers analysed what motivations led individuals to mobilise and protest in 18 Latin America countries between 2010 and 2014.

The results show that individual participation in protests was largely motivated by perceptions of inequality which affected their beliefs about income distribution.

The results point to the important role of government policy in affecting perceptions of inequality and ensuring social and political stability.


Mismatch between expectations and perceived social change fuels dissent

The study explains how despite large reductions of inequality, driven by efforts to raise incomes among the poorest groups, people across Latin America remained dissatisfied with their governments, levels of corruption, and the quality of institutions and public services.

These were issues that affected predominantly the middle classes: the employed, students and educated people.

Economic conditions also mattered. Individual participation in protests was related to people’s perceptions about their current and past economic conditions, as well as by changes in national economic conditions. Social relations and networks were crucial to mobilising people’s anger and grievances into protests.

Overall, inequality reduction and economic growth have been insufficient to shift the vast majority of people’s perceptions and beliefs, and have not matched overall expectations. Social discontent, in turn, has turned into collective protests.


Lessons for policy

The research highlights the role of policy in affecting perceptions of inequality and mitigating the risk of civil unrest. Findings indicate that redistribution via cash transfers to the poorest reduce the probability of protests of the poorest, but the low quality of public services and high tax burdens have eroded the support of political institutions by the middle class. The recent choices of governments across Latin America to focus redistribution mainly on the poor (and excluding the middle class) have generated large gains in terms of poverty and inequality reduction. However, these choices may have also led to unintended consequences in terms of social and political stability when economic growth has started to slow down.

There is large scope for better government performance in terms of addressing the quality of public services as well as to improve the functioning of government institutions and reduce corruption.

All these are key factors explaining the mismatch between perceptions of inequality, distributive beliefs and absolute levels of inequality across Latin America, particularly among the protesting middle-classes.


Building the evidence base

The research fills a gap in existing literature on protests and social mobilisation by focusing on motivations at the individual level that may lead people to mobilise and protest. It also advances emerging literature on the importance of perceptions of inequality and distributive beliefs by showing not only how perceptions of inequality and distributive beliefs are formed, but also their consequences in terms of citizen mobilisation and civil protests.

There is surprisingly limited and ambiguous empirical evidence on the relationship between inequality, government policy and civil protests. This paper contributes to this area of research providing new policy lessons by showing how improvements in the quality of public services may be as important as direct social transfers in reducing the probability of individuals participating in collective protests.


Date:      May 10. 2016

Source: Institute of Development Studies


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Global inequality under the microscope


New book puts spotlight on world’s wealthiest one per cent.

The ‘Global Top one per cent’ — the lucky 70 million people who have captured a massive share of the new wealth generated in the world economy over the past 30 years — must be squirming over their Bollinger about the public enemy status they are beginning to acquire worldwide.

All the more so with the publication of a hard-hitting new book by the Serbian-American economist Branko Milanovic.

Global Inequality reveals that the main losers of the past three decades of globalisation have been the western middle classes.

No wonder then that politics is turning so populist and pear-shaped in so many countries.

In fact, Milanovic quite persuasively puts inequality worldwide at the heart of a wide range of ills, as threatening our economies and threatening our long-cherished democracies too.

Alongside these main losers, the main gainers of globalisation have not just been the ‘Top one per cent’, and the 1,500 billionaires worldwide at their heart.

They have also been Asia’s emergent middle class — led by China of course. And this has led to a strange outcome; while inequality inside individual countries has widened, inequality between countries has narrowed — and strikingly.

This leads Milanovic to some tough conclusions; the shift in economic power away from the rich west to Asia has been strong and will continue; the economies of the west face decades of stagnation ahead, with their middle classes hurting the most; we see the emergence of a “global plutocracy” built around the interests of the ‘Top one per cent’, which will compromise our democracies, and possibly trigger populist and “localist” backlashes.

We can see this already in the US with Donald Trump. In the UK, with the right-wing call for exit from the European Union and this week in the election of Davao Mayor Duterte as the Philippines’ new president. Our Occupy movement and youthful unrest are likely part of the same phenomenon.

Milanovic sees China’s emergence since the late 1970s as an “epochal change” and China “the great income equaliser.”

In 1970 US GDP per capita was 20 times that of China. It is now less than four times.

But we now see a perverse reversal about to occur; for the past three decades, rising wealth and incomes in China have provided the main force behind narrowing the wealth gap between rich and poor nations.

Average incomes for China’s middle have tripled in the two decades from 1988. But now average incomes in China are coming close to the world average. Once incomes pass the global average, then their continued rise will actually make inequality worse, not reduce it.

To keep global inequality from getting worse, we will need to see incomes strongly rise in other huge poor countries, like Indonesia and Brazil — and of course India.

We might be a long time waiting.

Milanovic identifies different distinct forms of inequality: the first he calls “existential inequality”, and it arises from the sheer luck of where you are born.

Simply by being born in the US rather than the Congo, your income will on average be 93 times higher. This means that 12 per cent of America’s population live gilded lives among the ‘Top one per cent’, along with nine per cent of Japanese or Swiss. By the way, to be in this Top one per cent, your average after-tax income needs to be over $71,000 a year — which puts a very large number of you reading this article in the ‘Top one per cent’.

This compares with the global median income of $1,400. So it is easy to see how existential wealth feeds itself; a one per cent rise in income for someone earning $71,000 would be $710 — equal to a 50 per cent jump for someone earning the median income.

He then identifies “legal inequality,” by which most legal systems entrench the privileges and advantages of social elites.

Then there is income and wealth inequality, by which inherited wealth buys access to the best education and to property wealth that protects and preserves privilege.

Here, he identifies an interesting perversity — that more women in the workforce, on higher incomes, are actually aggravating inequality — because a self-selection process tends to mean that wealthy, well-educated women partner with wealthy, well-educated men — making such couples even more elite.

And there is “meritocratic inequality” — where political commitment to supposedly-equalising meritocratic arrangements actually aggravates inequality.

He asks what is the merit of getting everyone to start at the same starting line, if one competitor has a Ferrari, and another a bicycle.

It is these inequalities inside individual countries that account for the widening rich-versus-poor gap in so many rich western economies and a hollowing out of the politically-moderating middle classes, that is putting democracy in danger.

As the super-rich use wealth to secure political influence, so politicians respond mainly to the concerns of the rich, sowing the seeds of “dictatorships of the propertied class” disguised in the garb of democracy.

He sees producers giving priority to luxury goods and governments cutting welfare spending, instead of giving priority to policing, and infrastructure-building.

Whether you agree with his politics or not, the statistical support for Milanovic’s story is as compelling as that garnered by Pinketty last year.

He is persuasive that political concern about rising inequality is more than a passing fad, and that we need to think about narrowing the gaps, inside countries in particular, if we are going to avoid very ugly social and political developments worldwide.

His solutions; first ensure equal access to good education and widespread property ownership — uncontroversial, except it is easy to see even here in Hong Kong how hard it is to achieve this.

Secondly, more controversially, he calls for lower obstacles to migration and to international labour movement. He argues that this would be massively significant in reducing inequality between countries.

Again, governments around the world facing the present political pickle linked with global recession and massive migration into Europe from Syria and Iraq, are likely to run a mile from Milanovic’s recommendation.

That of course does not make him wrong.


David Dodwell is Executive Director of the Hong Kong-APEC Trade Policy Group.

Date:      May 13, 2016

Source:  South China Morning Post


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Johns Hopkins sociologists take in-depth look at disparate paths of Baltimore youth


Stefanie DeLuca, Kathryn Edin among co-authors of recently released ‘Coming of Age in the Other America’

Not all research happens in a lab.

In the case of the newly released Coming of Age in the Other America, co-authored by Johns Hopkins sociologist Stefanie DeLuca, the core research took place on sofas and at kitchen tables in Baltimore homes. To get a sense of how children born into city public housing in the 1980s and 1990s were faring as young adults, she spent hours interviewing them in their own houses.

The process turned out to be “incredibly intimate,” she says. “You sit down with a stranger, and if you’re doing your work well, you’re able to create the kind of conversation that invites vulnerability, humor, and honesty … in exchange for openness, empathy, and lack of judgment.”

The result is an in-depth portrait of the lives of young Baltimoreans, looking at factors that have helped them or hindered them on their path to adulthood. DeLuca wrote the book along with Johns Hopkins sociologist and Bloomberg Distinguished ProfessorKathryn Edin and Susan Clampet-Lundquist of St. Joseph’s University.

The researchers followed up on an initial 2003-2004 study of parents living in Baltimore’s public housing projects by turning to 150 of their children as they reached adulthood in 2010. They conducted more interviews in 2012.

Then last spring, as the sociologists pulled together more than a decade of research, Baltimore gained national attention with the death of Freddie Gray and the unrest that followed. Though not framed specifically in response to these events, Coming of Age in the Other America addresses the uprising as one piece of an overall narrative of Baltimore that fails to accurately represent the city’s youth.

“The national picture in Baltimore was never optimistic and balanced to begin with,” DeLuca says. “What most people know about Baltimore they know from Homicide or The Corner or The Wire.”

Though all of the book’s subjects were born in distressed environments—”some of the most physically and socially degraded spaces in our nation,” the researchers write—the book offers “a strong corrective to the popular perception of this group as being swept up in crime and delinquency.” Contrary to mainstream media representation, the researchers found that the majority of the youth were “actively resisting the street, determined to be ‘about something else,’ and hungry for postsecondary education and careers.” In most cases, they were far better off than their parents, completing their high school educations and holding employment at much higher rates.

Yet the book also resists a rosy picture, presenting a decidedly “glass half full and glass half empty” portrait. As the researchers prepare to leave their subjects in 2012, they write, “too few had become all that they had hoped to be—and were probably capable of becoming.” Many struggled with low-wage, unstable jobs at the bottom rung of the economy, far removed from middle-class aspirations.

The researchers specifically examine the consequences of policies that helped move the children out of Baltimore’s notorious high-rise public housing complexes, including the Moving to Opportunity program, which provided vouchers for families to shift to wealthier neighborhoods.

But their interviews also consistently reveal the impact of more personal factors. Critical to success for many adolescents was landing on what the researchers call “an identity project”—a consuming, defining passion such as writing poetry, building pigeon coops, attending anime festivals. Those who never found that type of life raft, the researchers write, “had no map, no foothold on their future.”

The book’s title points to Michael Harrington’s seminal 1962 book The Other America, known for “galvanizing the war on poverty,” DeLuca says. By aligning themselves with that work, she says, the authors attempt to “engage in this bigger conversation about inequality in America.”

Says DeLuca: “This isn’t just about Baltimore. This is about the chances that a poor child will become a middle-class adult, and the fact that these chances are becoming less and less likely. Why do we continue to see cycles of intergenerational disadvantage? At what points do we see progress, and at what points can we intervene?”


By:                         Katie Pearce

Date:                      April 20, 2016

Source:                  Hub


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Why Does Happiness Inequality Matter?


According to the World Happiness Report 2016 Update, happiness inequality is on the rise.

What is happiness inequality? It’s the psychological parallel to income inequality: How much individuals in a society differ in their self-reported happiness levels — or subjective well-being, as happiness is sometimes called by researchers.

Since 2012, the World Happiness Report has championed the idea that happiness is a better measure of human welfare than standard indicators like wealth, education, health, or good government. And if that’s the case, it has implications for our conversations about equality, privilege, and fairness in the world.

We know that income inequality can be detrimental to happiness: According to a2011 study, for example, the American population as a whole was less happy over the past several decades in years with greater inequality. The authors of acompanion study to the World Happiness Report hypothesized that happiness inequality might show a similar pattern, and that appears to be the case.

In their study, they found that countries with greater inequality of well-being also tend to have lower average well-being, even after controlling for factors like GDP per capita, life expectancy, and individuals’ reports of social support and freedom to make decisions. In other words, the more happiness equality a country has, the happier it tends to be as a whole. Among the world’s happiest countries — Denmark, Switzerland, Iceland, Norway, and Finland — three of them also rank in the top ten for happiness equality (see the ranking below).

On an individual level, the same link exists; in fact, individuals’ happiness levels were more closely tied to the level of happiness equality in their country than to its income equality. Happiness equality was also a stronger predictor of social trust than income equality — and social trust, a belief in the integrity of other people and institutions, is crucial to personal and societal well-being.

“Inequality of well-being provides a better measure of the distribution of welfare than is provided by income and wealth,” assert the World Happiness Report authors, who hail from the University of British Columbia, the London School of Economics, and the Earth Institute.

How much happiness inequality does your country have?

To do this analysis, the researchers asked a simple question of nearly half a million people worldwide: On a scale of 0-10, representing your worst possible life to your best possible life, where do you stand? The most common answer is 5 — but as you can see in the graph on the right, many people rate themselves as less happy than that. If the world had perfect happiness equality, everyone would provide the same answer to this question.

Researchers also assessed the level of happiness inequality in each of 157 countries, taking into account how much people’s happiness ratings deviated from each other.

Topping the rankings for happiness equality is Bhutan, a country whose government policy is based on the goal of increasing Gross National Happiness. Those with the most happiness inequality are the African countries of South Sudan, Sierra Leone, and Liberia.

The U.S. ranks 85th for happiness inequality, meaning that subjective well-being — not just wealth — is spread relatively unevenly throughout our society. We fare worse than New Zealand (#18), our neighbor Canada (#29), Australia (#30), and much of Western Europe. Note that these aren’t the happiest countries; they are simply the places without a huge happiness gap between people. Even so, as described above, happiness equality is associated with greater happiness overall.

Unfortunately, trends in happiness inequality are going in the wrong direction: up. Comparing surveys from 2005-2011 to 2012-2015, the researchers found that well-being inequality has increased worldwide. More than half of the countries surveyed saw spikes in happiness inequality over that period, particularly those in the Middle East, North Africa, and sub-Saharan Africa. Meanwhile, fewer than one in ten countries saw their happiness inequality decrease. Over that time period, happiness inequality in the U.S. has gone up while happiness itself has declined.

The good news is that promoting happiness equality doesn’t require taking happiness from some people and giving it to others. Instead, these findings underscore the importance of building a society and a culture that cares about individual well-being, not just economic growth. Some countries — such as Bhutan, Ecuador, the United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela — have already taken this stance, appointing happiness ministers to work alongside their government officials. As report co-editor and Earth Institute director Jeffrey Sachs writes:


Governments can ensure access to mental health services, early childhood development programs, and safe environments where trust can grow. Education, including moral education and mindfulness training, can play an important role. Human well-being [should be] at the very center of global concerns and policy choices in the coming years.


By:                          Kira M. Newman

Date:                      April 6, 2016

Source:                  Huffington Post


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Poverty, inequality driving racial hatred


The government needs to urgently deal with the inequality and poverty that grip KwaZulu-Natal if it is to defuse anti-Indian sentiment and head off the threat of serious outbreaks of violence.

The warning was sounded in a report scheduled to be released in Durban on Tuesday morning by a special committee tasked with investigating social cohesion in the province.

The committee was appointed in the wake of agitation by pressure groups, Mazibuye African Forum and Imbumba Business Empowerment Group, which had claimed Indians have a stranglehold on the provincial economy.

Mazibuye had wanted Indians to be excluded from affirmative action and black economic empowerment, and Imbumba had demanded previously disadvantaged small businesses be considered in the economy by the provincial government.

Among its findings, the committee highlighted the need to promote a higher degree of mutual acceptance among KZN’s diverse communities.

The 115-page report found that weak social cohesion fuelled “prevalent feelings” of marginalisation and exclusion in the province.

It singled out structural threats including:

* Socio-economic inequalities;

* Poverty, inequitable access to quality education;

* Unemployment;

* The lasting legacy of apartheid spatial planning.

“If left unattended the (threats)… may in the medium term result in higher level of social unrest and deprivation”, the report warned.

The four-member committee, which was established by Premier Senzo Mchunu two years ago and is headed by University of KZN’s Professor Paulos Zulu, recommended that the problem be tackled by: developing a wider skills base; providing more finance for small and emerging enterprises; and more collaboration between small and big businesses.

Also needed were greater awareness campaigns that supported skills development programmes.

The report also called for a more transparent and equitable tender system.

“Greater transparency regarding the awarding of tenders is required to undercut any suspicion of corruption or wrongdoing in the area of government procurement.

“Transparency and merit in the tender process right up to the awarding of the tender and reasons should be published for the failure or success of bids,” the report said.

The recommendations appeared to address claims from some sectors that Indian businessmen enjoy the lion’s share of government tenders in the province.

Mazibuye, founded in January 2013, has heaped praise on the entrepreneurial spirit of Indian South African business owners, but demanded they be excluded from the benefits of BEE, affirmative action and employment equity effective measures.

The committee’s report said the recent protests and mobilisation, racist and xenophobic rhetoric and violent outbursts in KZN highlighted the gravity of the threats facing the province.

“These threats have only resulted in isolated, but nonetheless serious, outbreaks of violent mobilisation, the potential for further unrest remains a real and present concern.”

It said the people of the province desired to be heard and engaged with across a wide range of economic, political, social and cultural policy issues.

“The potential for violent outbreaks increases as individuals and communities become increasingly desperate to protect their inalienable rights and to be included in the society of KZN,” the report said.

It also said the realisation of a more socially cohesive society was fundamentally dependent upon how KZN pursued greater socio-economic equality.

The special committee said its report drew on workshops and interviews involving various sectors and interest-based groups across KZN.

“The committee endeavoured to include participants from geographical areas outside the main metropolitan area of eThekwini.”

About 120 people were engaged through focus group consultations and written submissions, it said.

“Given the limited financial resources and time constraints, the majority of the individuals consulted resided in either the eThekwini or uMgungundlovu Municipality,” the report said.

It said colonialism and apartheid socially engineered skills, capital and opportunities, resulting in the legacy of poverty, unemployment and inequality.

“Twenty-one years after securing democratic governance, the challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality persist.

“Although poverty has been reduced statistically, unemployment, inequality and relative deprivation have grown and are impacting negatively on social cohesion.”

The report also said despite government interventions since 1994, there were unintended consequences that contributed negatively to social cohesion.

“The various threats to social cohesion, which emanate from and manifest across broader structural and societal dimensions of life, largely stem from the prevalent socio-economic inequalities that pervade and influence society,” the committee said.

The report said participants in the investigation had identified the quality of education as central to perceived threat to social cohesion.

“Division between those learners who have access to quality education and those who do not, largely remains predicated along historical lines of marginalisation that defined the apartheid era,” the report said.

“Despite the KZN Department of Education’s efforts to improve the province’s education system radically, more broadly these challenges will take many years, if not decades, to rectify.”

The report also said participants in the investigation had expressed “serious concern” at government”s procurement and environment for SMME in KZN.

“Stakeholders questioned the repeated awarding of tenders to select individuals and companies, suggesting what should be an equitable and fair process instead was characterised by pervasive economic and political patronage.”

Corruption in the public sector was highlighted as exacerbating tensions.

“Perceived gaps in communication between the provincial government and citizens further exacerbated the threats relating to the lack of accountability in public governance.”

Slow response to citizens’ grievances and intermittent communication and dialogue were also identified as challenges.

The report also highlighted identity-driven perceptions between and within communities as a societal threat to social cohesion.

“Whereas some support exists for forging of a single South African identity based on shared heritage, values and beliefs, such an effort is weakened by the entrenchment of profound socio-economic inequalities and heightened competition over political and influence,” it said.


By:                         Mayibongwe Maqhina

Date:                      April 5, 2016

Source:                  http://www.iol.co.za/news/politics/poverty-inequality-driving-racial-hatred-2005575


Posted in Inequalities & Social Justice, Latest Post, Social and Economic Inequalities | Leave a comment

Book Review : The Beauty of a Social Problem


Title                 :           The Beauty of a Social Problem

Author             :           Walter Benn Michaels

Publisher         :           The University of Chicago Press

Date                :           July 2015


A COMMON COMPLAINT in the recent history of academia is that what certain professors are up to is not really scholarship but politics by other means. What sorts of expression cease being scholarship and begin being politics, and to what extent an explicitly political form of expression does or does not constitute a form of academic activity are questions that have been and continue to be debated among professors and students alike.

In such a climate, it is especially refreshing to encounter Walter Benn Michaels’s The Beauty of a Social Problem. The book, though not a direct response to such controversies, is nonetheless a shining example of how to think about art and politics without reducing either term to the other.

Michaels, a professor of English at the University of Illinois at Chicago, is the author of four books — The Gold Standard and the Logic of Naturalism, on the workings of capitalist logic in 19th-century American literary texts; Our America: Nativism, Modernism, and Pluralism, on the racial subtext underpinning the development of the notion of cultural identity; The Shape of the Signifier: 1967 to the End of History, on the ideological dimension behind the shift in literary theory from authorial intention to readerly experience; and, most recently, The Trouble with Diversity: How We Learned to Love Identity and Ignore Inequality, on the manner in which the discourse of “difference,” be it cultural, ethnic, or otherwise, draws attention away from a more fundamental form of difference, one defined by class and economic inequality.

As will be clear even from these brief descriptions, Michaels has devoted much of his intellectual energy to critiquing a certain liberal attachment to talk of identity and diversity, and has done so from the left, revealing certain supposedly progressive tenets to be anything but.

In his latest book, whose title first named a 2011 article in The Brooklyn Rail, Michaels again devotes his attention to these issues but this time in a distinctly aesthetic register. The aim of the book, as he writes early on, is:

to produce an account of the relation between aesthetic autonomy and political economy today, to show the usefulness of a certain concept of class for understanding the formal ambitions of some recent art, and to show the usefulness of a certain concept of art for understanding a society organized and increasingly stratified by class.

Over the course of five chapters, Michaels devotes himself to a series of artists born after 1965. The significance of that date is twofold.

First, it marks a period that saw the critique of both form as the locus of a work’s autonomy as well as meaning as the expression of artistic intention. Second, it is a period that saw an unprecedented rise in economic inequality.

For Michaels, the commitment of some artists to form and meaning — against their post-structuralist critiques — adopts a new political significance: it represents a claim to autonomy on the part of those artists and their works. It is here that Michaels is — and has been — unlike many contemporary academics, who seek the political element in the explicitcontent of art, and believe that a work of art needs to explicitly representsomething political in order to be political or in order to have a political message. For Michaels, what is political about a work resides in its form; thus, it need not represent anything explicitly political at all (it should be said that, on this point at least, a thinker like Jacques Rancière is not as much of a foe as Michaels makes him out to be). On this view, autonomy, then, is considered by many to be a kind of withdrawal from the world, a refusal to take positions, a supposedly apolitical act that is, in fact, a reactionary lack of engagement. Michaels could not disagree more. For him, “the separation of the work from the world […] functions here as an emblem of the relation between classes […] and also of the escape from that relation, of the possibility of a world without class.”

Michaels’s thinking here resembles that of the art historian Michael Fried, who has often been (unfairly) taken to be the model of an “apolitical” art historian, as opposed to T. J. Clark, for example. Indeed, the second chapter, “Neoliberal Aesthetics,” an earlier version of which was published on nonsite.org, engages at length with Fried’s writing, taking up and expanding on many of Fried’s central concerns. For Fried, “absorption” is the result of an effort to achieve a “mode of pictorial unity” by way of a seemingly contradictory task — to make a painting that exists as though it was not made to be beheld. Pursued far enough, this Diderotian notion can lead to what seems like a contradiction, as Michaels points out — “the works of art we value are those that seek to produce no effect on the beholder, but without the effort to produce an effect on the beholder […] there would be no works of art.” Michaels gives an account of various attempts to wrestle with this antinomy, culminating in the figure of John Cage and his goal of creating art that, in refusing intentionality, “would therefore exist as an art only insofar as it existed for the viewer.” Michaels applies this problem to photography — it has been thought that photographs are related to what they depict in a way that paintings, for example, are not, since photographs are, on some views, causally dependent upon what they depict.

Michaels also discusses Rancière, for whom photography is a medium that always escapes the photographer’s intention, since it always, inevitably registers something of the world that the artist did not “put” in it. Rancière connects this fact to what he sees as photography’s capacity to short-circuit our “hierarchical vision of the world” — the case addressed is Rancière’s reading of the photographs in James Agee’s and Walker Evans’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men and the writer and photographer’s own understanding of them, with which Michaels aligns himself. Michaels articulates his disagreement with Rancière by writing that it is one thing to see, as he puts it, “the beggar boys and peasants as damaged by our falsely hierarchical vision of them and seeing them as damaged by conditions that our vision may sanction or critique but did not produce.” That is, Michaels adds, “it’s one thing to insist that social hierarchies are illusory and therefore unjust; it’s a very different thing to think that, although unjust, they are very real.” As an example, Michaels notes how certain calls for antidiscrimination can act as more of a conscience than a critique, calling for something like merely “good behavior” within the status quo instead of a more radical change.

“The political meaning of the refusal of form […]” Michaels writes, “is the indifference to those social structures that, not produced by how we see, cannot be overcome by seeing differently.” In short, such a refusal treats objective structures as though they were merely subjective ones, as though they were a defect of thought rather than one of reality.

To return to the case of Cage, who is taken as an extreme case of anti-intentionalism and of an audience-oriented aesthetics: Michaels argues that it is a self-undermining approach. By rejecting artistic intention and making audience response the only thing that matters, such an artist actually intentionally sets out to make a work whose only point is the response of the audience. Thus, the audience’s experience merely amounts to the understanding that the only point to the work is that it has none, and that this is precisely what the artist intended.

Over the course of the book, Michaels appeals to a number of artists whose work, in his view, resists such a “theatrical” (in Fried’s terminology) anti-intentionalism. In the chapter just discussed, for example, Michaels appeals to the work of Viktoria Binschtok to argue against the emphasis on vision and thus on content as the prerequisite for a genuinely political experience of art. For Michaels, it is unsurprising that such an aesthetics, one that is critical of form, meaning, and intention, should correspond historically with a rise in inequality, since it is a kind of aesthetics that is actually counterproductive to the progressive causes in the service of which it takes itself to be. It is counterproductive because by emphasizing content and identity over form and structure, it only calls into question our ways of thinking, rather than the material conditions that enable them. Autonomy, in upholding the distinction between art and non-art, does not represent some kind of arch elitism here; rather, it represents the distance from the world necessary to apprehend its structural features, to make them available for questioning.

I have focused on the second chapter of Michaels’s book because it represents, in many ways, its theoretical fulcrum. In so doing, I have done an immense disservice to the richness of the other four chapters, each of which have a substantial theoretical part as well as case studies involving contemporary artists and writers. In Chapter One, “Formal Feelings,” Michaels canvasses debates over the indexicality of photography, and what is at stake in considering a photograph as mere representation rather than a full-blooded object, engaging with Fried’s 2008 book on photography as well as with other theorists like Barthes, Rosalind Krauss, and Joel Snyder. This chapter also includes a lengthy overview of the development of growing inequality, as well as considerations of the poet Maggie Nelson and of the artists Jeff Wall, Andreas Gursky, James Welling, and the above-mentioned Binschtok. In Chapter Three, Michaels discusses Tom McCarthy’s Remainder— reading the novel and its protagonist against the grain of McCarthy himself — along with the work of artists Oscar Tuazon, Phil Chang, Arthur Ou, Brian Ulrich, and Liz Deschenes, in addition to analyzing work by August Sander, which he usefully contrasts with the aforementioned Agee and Evans material. Finally, in Chapter Five, Michaels turns to Jonathan Littell’s The Kindly Ones, as well as Laurent Binet’s HHhH and Binet’s own criticism of Littell’s controversial novel. As Michaels writes at the end of the book, what the works he found himself drawn to have in common is that, rather than “[placing] today’s objective social conditions at their center,” they “[imagine] a form that refuses the politics of personal involvement” and thus “make those objective conditions visible.” By asserting “the difference between itself and the world,” that is, its autonomy, a work of this kind displays, for Michaels, “the irreducibility of social structure to our affective relation to that structure.”

Ultimately, Michaels’s book is in the service of the appreciation of aesthetic experience not based on affect and the development of politics not based on identification. As he writes at the end of Chapter One,

it’s only insofar as art seeks to be beautiful — seeks, that is, to achieve the formal perfection imaginable in works of art but not in anything else — that it can also function as a picture not of how, if we behaved better, we might manage capitalism’s problems, but rather of capitalism as itself the problem.

Skeptics might think that Michaels is calling for a kind of apolitical art, one devoid of explicitly political content. He answers those skeptics early on when he writes, in the preface, that:

if what you want is a change in policy, you’re not likely to get it from art, and particularly not from the kind of formally ambitious art I describe here. But if what you want is a vision of the structures that produce both the policies we’ve got and the desire for alternatives to them, art is almost the only place you can find it.

It is customary to end such a review by acknowledging the banal truth that “not all will agree with the author that …” It is a virtue of Michaels’s book that it does not seek merely to be agreed with; rather, it channels the force of its examples to challenge major assumptions about what it means to engage with art in a political way, even and especially when it is beautiful.


Dylan J. Montanari is a graduate student at Stanford University, where he also co-coordinates the Philosophy and Literature Initiative. His work has been published in BerfroisChicago Review, Philosophy & Literature, and Italian studies journals.


Source                    :               Los Angeles Review of Books


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Home today, gone tomorrow


Through fieldwork and data, sociologist reveals eviction as driver of poverty.

The day a sheriff squad evicted Arleen, a single mother raising two boys in one of the poorest neighborhoods of Milwaukee, was among the city’s coldest on record.

Urban sociologist Matthew Desmond followed Arleen and seven other families as part of the trailblazing research behind his new book, “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City.”

Desmond, the John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Social Sciences and co-director of the Justice and Poverty Project, lived in a trailer park and a rooming house for over a year to conduct fieldwork. He also worked to fill some of the huge gaps he found in eviction data.

Critics have hailed  “Evicted” as a feat of ethnography, research, and narrative that seeks to change our understanding of poverty by looking at eviction as one of its causes. Last year he was named a MacArthur “genius” fellow. The Gazette spoke with Desmond about Arleen, the devastating effects of evictions on the lives of America’s poor, and opportunities for reform.

GAZETTE: Why did you choose to study evictions?

DESMOND: I thought I would use eviction to tell a story about poverty. I had no idea how common it was. I had no idea that one in eight renters in the city of Milwaukee experience a forced move every two years. I didn’t know that 2.8 million renting families around the country report that they think they’re going to be evicted soon. I also had no idea that it would be such a driver of poverty. I started realizing this by spending time with families getting evicted. Seeing them lose their possessions, seeing moms having to choose between paying the rent or feeding their kids, seeing families cast into homelessness. What I was seeing everyday in the field was reaffirmed through statistical studies: that eviction is a cause, not just a condition, of poverty.

GAZETTE: You said in your book that when you began your research, in 2008, you couldn’t find studies or statistics about evictions. Why do you think no one was paying attention?

DESMOND: It was a surprising thing. We knew a lot about public housing and housing policies. We also had a lot of studies on the neighborhood. But we didn’t know how common evictions were and the role they play in creating poverty.

GAZETTE: Would you call eviction an epidemic?

DESMOND: When you have one in eight renters in a major city in America getting tossed every two years, I’d call that epidemic levels. When you have evictions not counted in the tens or the hundreds of thousands but likely in the millions, I call that epidemic levels. When you read accounts from the 1930s or 1940s about evictions, it was an event that drew people’s attention. There is a story from a clip from The New York Times about an eviction of a family in the Bronx in the 1930s. The paper covered it like this: “Probably because of the cold, only a thousand people showed up.” Eviction used to be rare, but now we’ve grown used to it, become familiar with the rumble of the moving trucks and families’ effects lining the sidewalk.

GAZETTE: You also said that when you started your research you thought eviction was the result of poverty, not the cause of it. Tell us how you changed your view.

DESMOND: Evicted families lose their homes and their possessions, which are either piled on the street or taken to storage. If the now-homeless families miss payments, their things are sold or taken to the dump. Kids lose their schools and people lose their jobs. Eviction comes with a court record and that can affect where you live. A lot of landlords refuse to take people who have been recently evicted. That pushes families into worse neighborhoods and worse housing. Public housing authorities treat evictions as a strike against your application, which means that families that are in most need of aid — the evicted — are denied it. And then there is a toll eviction takes on your spirit. It’s a driver of depression; it has an effect on mental health. So you add all that up, and you arrive at a new way of understanding poverty, one that sees eviction as a moment that places families on a different, and much more difficult, path.

GAZETTE: Your book is the narrative of eight families in Milwaukee that live on the edge of eviction. How did you develop a relationship with these families?

DESMOND: I lived in the community for a little more than a year; that helped a lot. I wanted to write about their lives in their full complexity, with both honesty and empathy. Living in the community with them allowed me to see things about poverty and inequality that I hadn’t seen before, and it showed me the human toll of the lack of affordable housing in our cities.

GAZETTE: Could you tell us about Arleen, one of the central people in your book?

DESMOND: When we met, Arleen was a single mom trying to raise two boys. She was living in a rundown apartment in the inner city, paying 88 percent of her income to rent. I saw her struggle under those conditions, having to decide between pitching in for funeral costs and paying the rent; between buying clothes for her kids and paying the rent. To me, Arleen stands for the face of the eviction epidemic. Most households in Milwaukee that get evicted have kids living in them.

GAZETTE: Witnessing the hardships poor families experience was heartbreaking, you said in your book. How did it affect you?

DESMOND: I saw Arleen get evicted on a day in early January when it was 40 below with the wind chill. Seeing those things left a mark. But I also saw strength, humor, and courage in the face of obstacles that many of us can’t fathom. There is a story in the book of a time at McDonald’s with Vanetta and Crystal, two homeless women who were living in a shelter at the time. They were eating lunch, and this young kid walks in. He didn’t go up to order. He went around the tables, looking for scraps. When they saw him, Vanetta and Crystal pooled their money to buy that boy lunch. Crystal gave him a big hug and sent him on his way. Moments like that reminded me how gracefully the people I met refuse to be reduced to their hardships.

And throughout, my colleagues at Harvard helped me process all this and connect it to our broader intellectual mission of using all the tools of social science — from in-depth ethnography to big-data analysis — to shed a new light on the nature of poverty today in a way that engages policymakers and the wider public.

GAZETTE: At the end of the book, you offer proposals to reduce evictions. Tell us about expanding the universal housing voucher program. How feasible is that?

DESMOND: That question begs another question, which is: Do we believe housing is a right? Do we believe that access to decent, affordable housing is part of what it means to live in this country? I think we have to say yes. The reason is very simple: Without stable housing everything else falls apart. We’ve reaffirmed the right to basic education, access to food, and security in old age because we know that, without those things, it is impossible to live a full and flourishing life. And housing is central to well-being and economic mobility. So how do we deliver on that right? I think we should expand a program that is already working pretty well — housing vouchers — to all poor families. The idea is simple. Instead of paying 70 percent of your income to rent, or 88 percent like Arleen did, you pay 30 percent and the voucher covers the rest. You could take that voucher and live anywhere in the city, as long as that place wasn’t too expensive or too shabby. Housing vouchers help a lot, but only a lucky minority of poor families benefit from them.

GAZETTE: What do you hope your book will do to the understanding of poverty in America?

DESMOND: I hope this sparks conversation about how it is deeply implicated in creating poverty in our cities. I hope we think of addressing this problem in ways, big and small. We can’t fix poverty without addressing housing. It’s absolutely central and has to be at the top of our domestic agenda.

GAZETTE: Can you talk about a class you teach at Harvard? 

DESMOND: I teach a class called “Poverty in America,” which draws sociology concentrators but also students from the humanities, hard sciences, and across the social sciences. Together we take a close look at the historical and present-day nature of poverty. We study joblessness, housing, and neighborhoods, the criminal justice system, and public policy. We also interface with this problem on the ground level. Students go out and talk to folks that are working for minimum wage and trying to make ends meet. Students go and observe housing court. They interview politicians. And then they take those experiences and observations and connect them to ideas and studies about inequality. We invite a lot of community members to the class, like tenants facing eviction, men just released from prison, and police officers who patrol high-crime neighborhoods. The idea is to show students the face of poverty and the complexity of it. My hope is that they come to see poverty not only as an economic matter, but also as a matter of justice.


By   :               Liz Mineo

Date:              March 11, 2016

Source:          Harvard Gazette


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