July/August 2010 Issue • Volume 38 • Issue 6

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Social Scientists Offer a Multifaceted
Picture of Poverty’s Consequences

Daniel Fowler, ASA Communications Office

David J. Harding (left), University of Michigan;
Michèle Lamont, Harvard University; and
Mario Luis Small, University of Chicago, were
special editors of The Annals issue, titled
"Reconsidering Culture and Poverty."

Sociologists gathered on Capitol Hill this spring to publicly release a new culture- and poverty-focused volume of the American Academy of Political and Social Science’s journal, The Annals.

"Our goal was in part to bring to the attention of the policy world … those transformations in how social scientists understand culture and the host of questions that need to be asked in order to produce better polices, and policies that would be better informed by knowledge about the world that is inhabited by the poor," Michèle Lamont, Harvard University, said at the May release event. Lamont is professor of sociology and African and African American studies.

Lamont, David J. Harding, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Michigan, and Mario Luis Small, a sociology professor at the University of Chicago, were special editors of the issue, titled "Reconsidering Culture and Poverty," which features essays from a range of academics and elected officials.

The authors present seven sociological concepts about culture—values, frames, repertoires, narratives, symbolic boundaries, cultural capital, and institutions—that they use throughout the volume to gain new leverage for understanding the causes and consequences of poverty.

"We have the firm conviction that the poor are not a different human species. Like middle-class people, they have moral values, they try to prepare their kids for kindergarten, and they are asking themselves a lot of questions about, [for example]: ‘Am I treating my friends right?’ ’Am I treating my [wife] right?’," explained Lamont. "So, we are working against the view that they are a very different population from the rest of the world."

Rep. Woolsey’s Experience

About 25 people, including Representative Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), congressional staffers, scholars, graduate students, and officials from think tanks and foundations, attended the forum at the Capitol Visitors Center.

"We’re trying to disseminate this social science research as widely as possible to those who may use it," said Phyllis Kaniss, Executive Director of the American Academy of Political and Social Science (AAPSS).

Woolsey—who wrote an essay, "Culture, Poverty, and Effective Social Policy," for the journal—also addressed the audience about her own experience as a mother on welfare: "I’m the perfect example of how social programs actually give you the help you need, until you don’t need it," Woolsey said.

To hear podcasts of Lamont, Harding, Small, and William Julius Wilson, the Lewis P. and Linda L. Geyser University Professor in the sociology department at Harvard University, visit www.aapss.org.

New AAPSS Fellows

On the same day the Academy publicly released its latest issue of The Annals, it also installed the 2010 AAPSS Fellows, a group that included three sociologists. They are: Kitty Calavita, Chancellor’s Professor and Professor of Criminology, Law and Society and Sociology at the University of California-Irvine; Paula England, sociology professor at Stanford University; and Mark Granovetter, sociology professor and the Joan Butler Ford Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences at Stanford University.

"The fact that three of the American Academy of Political and Social Science’s seven new fellows are sociologists speaks to the central importance of our field in the social science scholarship that impacts the policy world," said Sally T. Hillsman, the American Sociological Association Executive Officer. "We are excited about the contributions Calavita, England, and Granovetter will make to the academy and to improving social well-being."

Fellows are generally outstanding sociology, political science, economics, psychology, or public policy scholars who try to communicate their research outside of the academic arena, Kaniss said.

AAPSS typically chooses at least one sociologist as an Academy fellow annually, according to Kaniss. "This year, we were very fortunate to have three outstanding sociologists."

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