The New Landscapes of Inequality

Advanced Seminar

March 12–16, 2006

How is neoliberal globalization reconfiguring inequality in the contemporary U.S.? This is the question addressed by ten scholars who gathered at the School for Advanced Research in March 2006. The goals of the Seminar were to explore shifting stratifications by race, class, gender, nationality, and sexual orientation while considering the evolving cultural formations that articulate, rationalize, and protest these shifts, including the new spatial dynamics of American inequality.

Participants discussed how inequalities shift over time and how they are entangled with each other. For example, the group identified several emerging processes of racism, ranging from how the American foster care system disciplines rather than supports black families, to the industrial poisoning of the gardens of black families in Augusta, Georgia. The Seminar also documented emerging forms of discrimination, such as in the cases of Sudanese immigrants struggling against “Islamophobia” and Latinos who, facing poor job prospects, are guided into the military. Seminar co-chairs Micaela di Leonardo, Jane L. Collins, and Brett Williams further note that “discussions revealed these immigrant experiences to be deeply gendered, similar to the experiences of women in welfare-to-work programs who are forced into low-paying jobs with punitive, inflexible work rules.”

Seminar discussions revealed that an important characteristic of the neoliberal state is the way that it deprives citizens of the resources they need, while criminalizing and militarizing them. As in the case of women on “work-fare,” the state both disciplines them and uses their example to discipline others. Another kind of discipline emerges in the debt industry, where poor people are increasingly victimized by predatory lenders, and individuals credit scores unduly structure their life chances. New and crucial spatial dynamics of these new inequalities also are emerging. For example, toxic sites are most frequently located in black and “brown” neighborhoods where property values are low and corporate leaders assume that people will not fight back.

The Advanced Seminar’s participants were especially concerned with evolving cultural formations that sustain and protest the shifting formations of inequality. Focusing on the implications of neoliberal ideology for the expression of citizenship, participants conveyed the commentary of the people they worked with in each ethnographic setting. The co-chairs point to one particular case study as an example of the fundamental cultural effects of neoliberalism and inequality: “The highly popular Tom Joyner radio show articulates a progressive vision and yet is rarely noted in mainstream media and scholarshippart of the larger national invisibility of the working-class majority of black Americans.” Drawing upon numerous American sites experiencing increasing inequality, Seminar participants explored the ways in which the dynamics of each case were shaped by common economic, political, and ideological challenges unleashed by neoliberal globalization. Ultimately, these complementary research projects enabled participants to develop a detailed understanding of shifting inequalities of race, class, gender, nationality, and sexuality. 

Jane L. Collins, Chair Professor, Department of Rural Sociology, University of Wisconsin, Madison The Specter of Slavery: Workfare and the Economic Citizenship of Poor Women
Micaela di Leonardo, Chair Professor, Department of Anthropology, Northwestern University The Neoliberalization of Minds, Space and Bodies: Rising Global Inequality and the Shifting American Public Sphere
Brett Williams, Chair Professor, Department of Anthropology, American University The Precipice of Debt
Michelle Boyd Assistant Professor, Department of African-American Studies, University of Illinois at Chicago “Lost”: Jim Crow Nostalgia and the Narrative of Black Social Capital
Melissa Checker Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Memphis To Market to Racism and Back to Market: The Circular Causes of Environmental Discrimination and Why the Jig is Up
Amal Hassan Fadlalla Assistant Professor, Women's Studies, Afroamerican & African Studies, Anthropology Transcending the Nation: Engendering Muslim-Sudanese Identities in America
Roger Lancaster Professor, Cultural Studies, George Mason University The Magic Circle Jerk
Nancy Maclean Professor, Department of History, Northwestern University Southern Dominance in Borrowed Language: The Regional Origins of American Neo-Liberalism
Gina Prez Professor, Comparative American Studies Program, Oberlin College “Yo soy el Army”: Latinas/os and the New American Militarism
Dorothy E. Roberts Professor, Institute for Policy Research, Northwestern University School of Law The Racial Geography of State “Child Protection”

Sponsored by Paloheimo Foundation

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