Poverty Knowledge: Social Science, Social Policy, and the Poor in Twentieth-Century U.S. History

By Alice O'connor | Go to book overview
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THIS BOOK is the product of my own somewhat unconventional pathway into the historical profession, which has taken me back and forth between academic and more “applied” research and policy settings, and leaves me with many people and institutions to thank.

I first began to explore the history of social scientific ideas about poverty in my doctoral dissertation at Johns Hopkins University, with support from a Woodrow Wilson Foundation doctoral fellowship. I am grateful to my advisor, Kenneth S. Lynn, for the often spirited, always instructive conversations we had about my research in progress, and to Ron Walters for his careful reading and generous assistance in shepherding the dissertation through. I also learned a great deal about both social science and social policy while working at the Ford Foundation, which put me in touch with a wide variety of social welfare policy makers and practitioners, as well as with a great many scholars from outside my own discipline. My thanks to several foundation colleagues who encouraged and helped me to pursue this inquiry in the first place, including Gordon Berlin, Shepard Forman, Charles V. Hamilton, David Arnold, Mil Duncan, and Susan Sechler, and to the interdisciplinary group of scholars with whom I had the pleasure of working on the Project on Social Welfare and the American Future, especially Fay Cook, Edward Gramlich, Hugh Heclo, Ira Katznelson, Jack Meyer, Robert Reischauer, and William Julius Wilson. At the Social Science Research Council, I also encountered colleagues and interdisciplinary working groups who urged me to incorporate what I was learning about social knowledge in the making into my historical research, including Martha Gephart, Leslie Dwight, Larry Aber, Sheldon Danziger, Jim Johnson, Melvin Oliver, and Rob Hollister. I am especially fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with historian Michael B. Katz, who as archivist to the SSRC Program for Research on the Urban Underclass conducted several vital oral history interviews, and whose writings on the history of poverty and welfare offer a model of scholarship I can only hope to emulate.

A National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Chicago’s Center for the Study of Urban Inequality gave me the opportunity to reflect and follow through on what I had learned from these professional experiences, and to expand my original inquiry into a study of knowledgemaking institutions and politics as well as ideas. While at the Center, I had the opportunity to engage in ongoing discussion about my own and related research with Rebecca Blank, Christopher Jencks, William J. Wilson, Jim Quane, Susan Lloyd, Tom Jackson, and other participants in the seminar on race and poverty cosponsored by Northwestern University. The Russell Sage Founda


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