Monday, February 20, 2012

Robert J. Sampson’s "Great American City"

Robert J. Sampson is Henry Ford II Professor of the Social Sciences at Harvard University and Director of the Social Sciences Program at Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Great American City: Chicago and the Enduring Neighborhood Effect, and reported the following:
Ford Madox Ford’s quip is okay by me. Page 99 is from Chapter 5 and lays out a central claim of the book so I quote a portion of it directly:
…I argue that a structural logic emerges that implies three broad ideas or theses that are interlinked:
  1. The “tangle of pathology,” or what today we would call social dislocations or social problems, has a deep neighborhood structure and connection to concentrated inequality.
  2. Neighborhood social disadvantage has durable properties and tends to repeat itself, and because of racial segregation is most pronounced in the black community. I would add a related implication or subthesis: black children are singularly exposed to the cumulative effects of structural disadvantage in ways that reinforce the cycle.
  3. The “poverty trap” cycle can be broken only with structural interventions of the sort that government or other large organizational units (e.g., foundations) are equipped to carry out.
The purpose of this chapter is to pursue these and related arguments, setting the stage for later analyses. I emphasize the big picture by showing both stability and change in neighborhood stratification and by showing that Chicago is not as unique as some claim. Inequality is durable and multiplex but not inevitable or natural, generating direct implications for theories of community-level processes, the social reproduction of inequality, …neighborhood interventions (thesis 3), and causality in the social world.
The book is based on fifteen years of research from the “Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods.” I unify a diverse set of behaviors and life outcomes previously studied separately within a general theoretical framework of what I call the “neighborhood effect.” The book examines neighborhood effects on violence, collective efficacy, moral cynicism, child heath, civic engagement, disorder (“broken windows”), leadership networks, residential mobility, and social altruism, among other outcomes. The analyses are situated in concrete places that ground the ideas, with a focus on “The 21st Century Gold Coast and Slum.” The final section of the book articulates a systematic theory of context followed by a revisit to key Chicago neighborhoods in the wake of the Great Recession.
Learn more about Great American City: Chicago and the Enduring Neighborhood Effect at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue